December 28, 2004

How to write good on yer blog…

I missed this item published just before Christmas: Steve Outing follows up his advice for journalists with advice for bloggers, i.e. what bloggers can learn from journalists.

His list brings up an old question: Is blogging journalism? Here’s another: Should it be journalism? Or: Can it be journalism?

I think it’s clear that blogging may be used by/for journalism–from mining bloggers as sources of information to offering the public a level of interactivity unknown until now (open-source journalism).

What’s interesting about Outing’s list is that it is a curious mix of excellent advice and what I take to be a curious desire to see bloggers become more like journalists. Bloggers blog. Journalists report. These are different things although there are many areas in which the two cross paths and share goals.

His good advice:

1. Do more original reporting.
2. Ask before you attack.
3. Be accurate.

I think these are self-explanatory.

His bad advice:

1. Find an editor.
2. Find a code of ethics.
3. Consider journalistic style.

As I have said before, what separates blogging from journalism for me is the role of editor–a trained, experienced editor. Not just anyone good at rooting out stylistic errors will do. Where are bloggers to find such people? Further, is finding and employing them worth turning the dynamism of blogging into the hard slog of (good) journalism. The beauty of blogging is that for some bloggers the answer may be “yes.” Blogging is what the individual blogger makes it.

To be effective, a code of ethics requires an institution of some sort (a bunch of people agreeing to it creates an institution). I admire all attempts to establish propriety. But such attempts are attempted by someone or some institution. Since there is no institution at this point, that leaves the writing of a code to someone(s). Who? Why them? …and a dozen other like questions. Here’s a sample developed from the code of ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists.

The basic news writing style developed for specific historical and technological reasons. This is a new era. The internet is a new technology. To suggest that bloggers write snappy headlines or inverted pyramid style is, well, a bit silly. This is old-school (rhetorical) thinking. The rhetoric of this style is exactly the one-way communication from those who know to those who don’t paradigm that interactivity challenges. Besides, don’t you enjoy the individuality of good blog writing?

6 Responses

  1. J Steele 

    Maybe there is an emerging market for blog editors? Perhaps a clearing-house of editors with areas of particular expertise (similar to Connections @ 411)?

    (Not that I have the qualifications to be an editor, but I’m always looking for ways to get rid of this day job!)

  2. J- Perhaps. My dissing of the idea comes from an assumption that is nota good one: news type editors are necessary to create good blog journalism.

    So I’m being a little dumb because later in the entry I make the case for blogging being blogging and blogging journalism being its own thing (or at least I think I do). So why not independent blog editors? I’m sure a way could be found to make it work without slowing down the blogging process. Perhaps the wiki is a good example.

    But it seems to me there would have to be some kind of institutional recognition so that blog readers, and journos who wish to make us of them, might know that they’re dealing with an edited product.

    Of course, this assumes an edited product would be “better”–the same assumption Outing makes. And I’m not so sure it’s a good assumption.

  3. Anna 

    “Should it be journalism? Or: Can it be journalism?”

    How about providing/exposing training and other (including editorial) support to help those bloggers who might _want_ it?

    For example, while Poynter has online courses, they’re lightweight, “peripheral” ones that don’t look as though they cover the basics. And the IRE currently doesn’t have any membership category that would permit entrance to citizen journalists. And some of us live far from where journalism courses are taught.

    J Steele, I’ve been hoping for an online “piecework” editor who’d charge (PayPal?) on a per-minute or per-post basis – and, ideally, also make the “before” and “after” text accessible on his site, so others could both
    a) see what a great job s/he does,
    and
    b) recognize how their own work might improve.

    The blogging tool could give 3 choices – publish, save as draft, submit to editor – and for the latter, provide a list of editors – currently online, or maybe ones you’ve used/liked in the past – you’d select one and it would get emailed to them (and a price would be magically agreed on, incantation TBD).

    “assumes an edited product would be ‘better'”

    There is plenty of unambiguously crappy writing out there; some of us who recognize and regret the ‘quality’ of our contributions would be grateful for help in doing better.

    BTW I think the “ideas and infrastructure for blogger journalism” discussion could be very productive, and needs a larger set of contributors.

    and Andy, any chance that you could teach the first online “citizen journalism” class? with lots of applied homework, of course…

  4. Anna… Well, you just dropped $$$ into my lap! I’ll propose just such a class for the fall intersession.

  5. Anna 

    On code of ethics for journobloggers, and its similarity to the herding of cats –

    ISO9000 quality standards for companies provide a good equivalent. There have levels of ISO9000 certification – Level 0 (the most lenient) is basically “Say what you do and do what you say”.

    No reason bloggers can’t have a BSO Level 0 certification that does likewise – provide a template checklist, and the blogger can say “yes”,”no”,”it depends” for each item, and add more items and explanations as s/he desires.
    Thus the bloggers still have complete freedom but the reader still gets guidance, and a handy as-yet-nonexistent “Level 0 certification” icon could allow the reader to easily tell the certified from the occult.

    As for the $$ on your lap, try not to count it before it’s hatched; I bet things will have moved fast enough that by then (fall intersession is a year from now?) something else will already be in place.

  6. Re: ISO Interesting idea.

    Re: next fall…yes, but college students are behind the times. I’m still surprised how many have never heard of a blog before my class (maybe I shouldn’t be). And if can get an open-source thing going in Springfield, fall might be the right time. Who knows?

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