How far we've come

As I move into my sixth year of blogging, I still stumble every now and then when I think about just how much the media universe has changed since way back then.

One of the things I mentioned on the Inside PR podcast is that 2007 is the year we'll find out whether the blogosphere or the New York Times will win in one of the Long Bets placed five years ago. Click that link for the full story, but if you want the summary: in 2002, proto-blogger Dave Winer placed a bet with Martin Niesenholtz (CEO of NY Times Digital) to this effect:

"In a Google search of five keywords or phrases representing the top five news stories of 2007, weblogs will rank higher than the New York Times' Web site."

If that prediction proves accurate, Winer wins (and the proceeds are donated to the W3C); if the NYT still triumphs, Niesenholtz wins (proceeds to the Times' Neediest Cases Fund).

One of the questions that struck me when I was reminded of this the other night, is whether Martin Niesenholtz would have placed his money on the same side if he were making his bet today.

In five years we've seen a huge shift in attitudes at mainstream media outlets. The homepage of today's NY Times, for example, is positively littered with blogs, feeds, and opportunities to engage in the conversation. A long way from the dry online presence of the NYT five years ago.

Digging through my own archives in search of something else, I was reminded of an even bigger shift in attitudes at a different media giant. In this post, less than four years ago, I quoted from an article at the Online Journalism Review:

A journalist working for a major media company decides to start a personal Weblog in his spare time. His blog becomes popular (or not). His association with the media company is stated, but discreetly. He has the usual disclaimer: This Weblog is the opinion of Joe Journo, and not the company he works for. But what does the company think? If it's CNN, Time magazine or the Hartford Courant, it doesn't think -- it acts, killing the Weblog for reasons stated (and unstated).

CNN killed correspondent Kevin Sites' popular Weblog from Iraq. Time killed freelancer Joshua Kucera's personal Weblog, and most recently, the Hartford Courant killed former-columnist-turned-travel-editor Denis Horgan's Weblog. A CNN.com spokesperson told OJR previously, "CNN.com prefers to take a more structured approach to presenting the news. We do not blog." (my emphasis)

"We do not blog." Ha! Visit the CNN site today and you'll be able to find a whole host of blogs, podcasts and feeds. And Time magazine, of course, just caused a frenzy of back-slapping in the blogosphere with their "Person of the Year" issue, featuring "You" as their icon of choice. The Time site now prominently features links to the "Time Blogs" in their side bar.

I like to think that at least part of what's going on here is that we're gradually getting past what Robert Niles at the OJR calls: "The silliest, and most destructive, debate in journalism". The debate Robert derides is "that of "mainstream" vs. "citizen" journalism".

He's right to describe this as silly and destructive. It's a pointless argument that just will not die.

Yet while I agree with Robert's headline, and fully support the vigour of his overture ("Let's quit arguing the merits of "mainstream" versus "citizen" journalism and instead work together on "better" journalism."), I find that I can't quite side with his conclusion that "Journalism is journalism, no matter who does it, or where."

I don't think that's right. It has taken me a good while to think this through, and I've written about it a number of times before, but I'll try to reframe the thought here for what it's worth.

My issue with this point of Robert's argument is that, to my mind, journalism is not journalism no matter who does it. "Mainstream" and "citizen" journalism are different (and complementary) things - and vive la difference!

While I agree that the debate is silly and destructive, I'm inclined to think that way because so often it is framed as a "vs." - the implicit assumption being that one or other must triumph in some kind of blogs vs. MSM ultimate smackdown.

That's just plain wrong. One doesn't replace the other. It's the logical operator in the debate I'm taking issue with here - the whole "versus" thing.

I've been making this point so often over the last five years, I've even been tempted to rename this blog "AND Logic". That's what is at work here - AND logic, not OR. The two things are different, can co-exist, can even complement one another to their mutual benefit. (Which is kind of Robert's point, in the end, but we get there by different paths).

What I do here is not journalism. I work with a lot of journalists - I've some idea of how that particular sausage gets made. It sure ain't the same thing as I'm doing here.

Some of the best, most thoroughly researched blogs are worthy of the epithet "citizen journalism", for sure - but they're still blogs (and hurrah for that!).

My old friend David Akin phrased this best, just a few short months after he started blogging (in 2003):

"The output of a blog and the output of a journalist may, indeed, be similar but they are not the same thing nor, really, is it fair to compare them in a meaningful way.

Journalism, unlike blogging, is a process and a system that involves more than one individual. Journalism must be done by a writer, an editor, a researcher, a publisher, and a host of others." (my emphasis)

Journalism is a process. What I do here is write.

Or to butcher an old comment from Oscar Wilde: