I know what you’re thinking. Not another blogging vis-a-vis journalism post! But the question keeps cropping up, like recalcitrant weeds. A college freshman asked me for my thoughts last Thursday, and today it was a high school
senior’s junior’s turn. Term paper season, I guess.
This is what I wrote earlier this afternoon:
We’re comparing apples and oranges here, I’m afraid.
Blogging is a (new) medium of information, in the same way that novels are a medium, or letters or diaries or movies or plays or poetry. Journalism is a particular use of information, whose essence is verification.
Thus, blogs can be journalistic —- but they don’t have to be. In the same way, some movies can be journalistic (think of documentaries, for example) but don’t have to be.
Much of the excitement over blogging has to do with the empowering sense it gives "ordinary people" —- that is, non-professionals —- when information technology and the new culture being created allows them to take an even more active part in the public discourse, in the shaping of public opinion. And I say, good for them! And good for all of us. Let a thousand blogs bloom.
But it is important to recognize that blogs don’t need to be journalistic to become an important part of the opinion-shaping process. In fact, it is precisely the non-journalistic, indeed non-traditional, aspects of blogging that recommends it in the first place.
Having said that, we must also recognize that some bloggers have written journalism of a very high order. Michael Totten has reported from Iraq and Lebanon, filing matchless dispatches that will put the work of the largest news organizations to shame. Willy Prilles of Naga City has posted many entries about Bicol politics and culture that both surpass any newspaper’s standards and meet his loyal readers’ expectations. We can multiply these examples any number of times.
We must also note that even avowedly "personal" blogs can produce journalistic work at times (that is to say, posts that can be subjected to verification). In the aftermath of the Glorietta 2 explosion, for example, many "personal" blogs hosted eyewitness reports or on-site photos —- making them truly the "first draft of history."
Can journalists blog too? Of course they can, but they do so —- we do so —- conscious of the credibility risk we take. If we publish news-oriented blogs, but do not follow the same standards we keep in the newsroom (verifiability, fairness, accuracy, and so on), readers may in time find our actual work less credible, less believable.
Can bloggers and journalists co-exist? They can, and they should. Indeed, bloggers have helped to keep journalism honest, by applying a collective and real-time fact-checking process to some controversial stories. A story by Dan Rather of CBS News on George W. Bush’s military record (or lack thereof) is an infamous example. At the same time, bloggers feed on the news reports and opinion pieces published by the media; for many bloggers, the work of media is the starting point, the point of departure.
Can blogging replace journalism? No, or at least not if we take our civil liberties and the democratic space seriously. Journalism, as an institution, is privileged in the Constitution precisely because of the role it plays in keeping the public informed or, more accurately, in informing the consent of the governed. This role is not easy; because of what is at stake, journalists come under pressure all the time. Journalism as an institution helps protect journalists as individuals from that pressure, something unorganized bloggers can’t do —- at least not yet.