A few thoughts on the difference between blogs and news

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.

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.

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.

15 Comments
  1. Anonymous says

    Further split Traditional as follows…

    Legacy Traditional Media: Facts (TRUTH) presented, and then political parties asked how they intend to react to the truth. Heavy political coverage only during election times.

    Current Traditional Media: Two politcal views presented on a topic but no facts given. When politcal points are presented the press does not refute anything as being untruthful. Politics all the time, not just during elections.

    1. Edward Harrison says

      ranger, do you think that Legacy/Current split owes to the fact that the political/economic agents are driving the agenda? Having not seen the process in the Nixon/Heath/Regan/Thatcher days, I wonder how it is different today.

      If you look at banking, business or politics, all of these groups have talking points which they use to drive the media debate. That makes it difficult for the media to react with substantive and objective news that is not tainted by this agenda. I see this as a recent development where PR is much more sophisticated – almost like advertising and corporate branding, if you will.

      1. Anonymous says

        I don’t think the political/economic agents are driving the agenda, as much as amplifying controversy to sell papers.

        However, I agree that the talking points (propaganda) are much more evident. Seems that the term ‘spin’ and been replaced by talking points, but I think truth has fallen by the wayside.

        To sum up:
        Traditional Media want to stir up the controversy.
        Politicians want to use the media to advertise their talking points.
        Bloggers want to use the new medium to voice their knowledge.
        The audience wants to listen to blogging to find out truth missing above.
        And bloggers beware, the politcians want to use the blogosphere to futher advertise their talking points.

        BTW, I appreciate your blog trying to stay on topic instead of using it to futher your own personal politcal agenda. Many thanks Ed.
        RT

  2. Smack MacDougal says

    News media defend the status quo. Reporters perceive events from the prevailing paradigm of the establishment.

    If a journalist holds a degree in with a major journalism and a minor in economics, that journalist shall see events through Keynesian economics eyeglasses.

    Many other establishment paradigms exist — government intervention, pro-socialism, military intervention, and the like.

    Mainstream news reporting only recounts the parts of events, as seen from angles favorable to their storytelling, that they want others to see.

  3. Michael Jung says

    Have nothing to add here. Except that bloggers can have access; example is TechCrunch/Michael Arrington. Or Robert Scoble and Dave Winer who developed their own personal brand in the tech space. Arrington ‘does it’ already 5? yrs? And Scoble&DW even longer. And that is a massive timespan in Internet age/speed.

    Huge personal investments and sacrifice turned into huge personal assets.

    1. Edward Harrison says

      Yes, some bloggers do have access. In our space Andrew Ross Sorkin does and this has opened him up for criticism. The thinking is that he is compromised by this access as he cannot report without limiting that access.

      Michael, give me your read on Arrington. He seems like an ‘establishment’ figure. Does that change what he does or bias him? TechCrunch seems to do more opinion stuff than Mashable for instance. So it’s not clear to me that access has subverted anything in his case.

      However, as some of the commenters above suggest, I think that there is an establishment paradigm which access journalism enhances. This creates a pro-establishment which contributed to the housing bubble and tech bubble before it.

      1. Michael Jung says

        Can’t better describe Arrington as Arianna did in 2008 for Time’s 2008 list of ‘important people’.

        “Michael Arrington, a former corporate attorney who, via his TechCrunch blog, has become one of the most influential figures on the Web, is the quintessential blogger: intense, passionate, consumed with his subject, opinionated, sleep-deprived, forward-thinking, easy to irritate and apt to air his grudges in public.”

        http://www.time.com/time/specials/2007/article/0,28804,1733748_1733758_1735848,00.html

        In my own words. He is not only an accidental tech-writer, opinion-writer, analyst, and scoop hunter. He accidentally drove public ‘exposure’ for startups in the tech-sphere through coverage on blogs and other destination sites to an extreme – with its consequences (personally and professional).

        He realized very fast the potential, and while TechCrunch became THE daily source for the new around SilliconValley not only for me, but VC and Entrepreneurs too, he was and is on the drawing board to build something substantial.

        With fame and success came not only the fan-boys and girls, but haters, critics and foul apples too.

        But so far, he and the team behind the scenes handled it very well.

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