A few thoughts on the difference between blogs and news

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I am on my way to a conference called Facing the Fracture: The Media and the Economic Crisis at Columbia University sponsored by the Roosevelt Institute and I wanted to run a few thoughts on blogging by you. What I am going to say applies as much in the political blogosphere as it does in the econoblogosphere. Here’s what I am thinking.

Blogging and journalism are separated by three main differences:

  • Goal: judging vs. recounting
  • Business model: analysis vs. access
  • Source of authority: Collaborative filtering vs. branding

When I got into the blogging business, my goal was to hold my feet to the fire by putting my analysis on paper in a public forum. I figured that doing so would hold me accountable and that the mere process of doing so would improve my analysis and help me learn more about the topics which interested me.

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Implicitly, the goal from the outset was to judge economic and political events by providing a defensible analysis of what was going on around us. So, on some level, blogging is a judgment-oriented product. As time went along and my blog became better-known, the exchange of ideas between me and you, my readers, and between all the other bloggers became the real source of collective learning and judgment.

On the other hand, traditional journalism seeks to recount events in a relatively neutral voice. It is up to readers to interpret the information.  This model is problematic in times of economic and political turmoil because people are looking to make sense of what is going on around them.  In my view, the recounting objective is one of the key elements which caused American journalism to lose credibility in the run-up to the War in Iraq and during that war’s first years.

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But more than that, in today’s world, recounting depends on access. And it is this nexus of the desire to recount via access journalism which has weakened the objectivity of journalism. How can you recount a story objectively, when your narrative depends critically on interested parties? You can’t. So your account starts to take on a propaganda-like feel. Readers come to distrust the account and to look elsewhere for more transparent analysis if not objectivity.

And this is the key to blogging.  Blogs are by their nature subjective because they depend on analysis to judge and predict outcomes. You have to take a view. You can’t just recount.  Inherently, this analysis and judgment lends itself to a more critical investigation of issues during volatile times – and I think this is something a lot of people want, if only for the transparency of a process untainted by the need for access.

My last thought is on how blogs gain authority/notoriety.  When I began, I can tell you that no one knew me from Adam. I had zero authority, no readers, few connections. All I had was ideas, analysis and judgment. Over time, those qualities and my love of the subject got me noticed and pulled readers in to the blog. Ultimately, I feel like I succeed or fail based on merit.

And the same is true with pretty much every other econoblogger out there.  What I see is a collaborative filtering in which the blogging community weeds out the more spurious information and the better analyses flourish. This is the future of the Internet in my view, because collaborative filtering harnesses the talents of the entire web in a more decentralized and less-hierarchical way.

On the other hand, in traditional journalism, an individual like myself would attach himself to a known brand and through this association receive a baseline level of notice. It’s as if the media company for which the journalist writes has done an initial screening. They are vouching for my baseline level of competence and authority via their own institutional reputation.  In the economics world, "The Economist" magazine has been a leader of this model because of the anonymity of its authors. But all major media outlets use their brand to promote their staff writers, conferring instant credibility onto them.

Anyway, those are my thoughts for the time being. The one point I feel most passionately about is the degree to which access journalism has reduced media credibility in this century. Blogs exist for a reason – and this is one of them.

Is there anything I am leaving out? What have I got wrong? I would love to hear what you all have to say.

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