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Blogging and Journalism: The Bad

January 15, 2010

In much the same way that blogging is helping journalism, it is also detracting from the profession. Professional journalists who are trying to transition from print to online publication are able to provide new information to their audience faster and in a madder that forces them to be accountable for the information they present when they use blogs. However, journalists that turn to the internet are also forced to compete not with their fellow professionals, but with a new breed of ‘citizen journalists’ who are less versed in the standards expected of good journalists and good news.

The blogs of citizen journalists are putting traditional newspapers out of business. With the newspapers go the journalists, and with the journalists may go journalistic integrity and the set of ethics behind the profession. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is a prime example of how blogging and other online media can be the downfall of even the most established newspapers.

The P-I was put up for sale in early 2009 after publishing in the Seattle area for 146 years. The Hearst company decided to sell the paper after it posted a $14 million loss in 2008. When no buyer was found, the paper was shut down, and a campaign to develop seattlepi.com into a competitive news source began. According to an AFP article, of the 150 staffers at the paper, 20 were kept on as editors for the online content, and another 20 were selected to work in the advertising department. A P-I article on the paper’s closure states that the content of the P-I’s website will be created by citizen bloggers and prominent Seattle residents, and will feature links to “other journalistic outlets”.

Over 100 people lost their jobs with the closure of the P-I, and were replaced by citizen journalists who were willing to do similar work for little or no compensation. And what of the news? At seattlepi.com, one can find articles related to the Seattle community, but very little national news outside the realm of entertainment. You can find a forum for moms, profile pages for local animals, and an entire section devoted to prominent photos of LOLcats from the Seattle-based icanhascheezburger.com (that’s right, in addition to being the home of Microsoft, Amazon, and Nintendo, Seattle is home to the LOLcats).

In my personal opinion, I feel that personal blogs have a place on the Internet. They can work to unite families and friends, share stories to acquaintances around the nation or the world, or can operate as a means to share a message or opinion you have to a community of interested users. To conclude that this type of reporting is the same as journalism, and can operate as a replacement for professionally researched and written articles, is pure vanity on the part of the citizen journalist. It’s an assumption that what you have to say is not important to only your network, but to a mass audience.

People have complained for too long that journalists are losing their objectivity, and are inserting their opinions or biases into their writing. As professionals in their field, Journalists receive training on how to avoid this problem. As human beings, it’s not always possible to completely remove ourselves from what we do, especially in writing (which in any form functions as some small expression of the self). However, journalists work a little harder and maintaining objectivity. So a shift toward citizen journalism, which gives an untrained individual a space to write what they like and publish this, via blogs, for the world to see, cannot realistically be considered a better form of journalism. People are objective, biased, and self-interested. In the case of the P-I, anyone can contact the blog department of the site and ask to be a writer for what was once a professional newspaper.

This shift toward blogging and citizen journalism also leads professional journalists to attempt to keep up, and compete, with their non-professional counterparts. It is not uncommon to find breaking news on Twitter rather than your TV lately. This can be beneficial, as I discussed in my previous blog post, when communications are limited and something important is going on, as in Haiti on Tuesday and Wednesday. However, the materials that are drawn from social media sources like Twitter posts are not always reliable, and often don’t represent what the professional media would present.

This issue arose during the Fort Hood shootings, when Tearah Moore began tweeting from inside a Fort Hood hospital while victims of the shooting were being brought in for treatment. Ms. Moore published multiple tweets and pictures to Twitter during the event, which were picked up by the media and used in reports where official information was not available. Moore was criticized for providing inaccurate information and for violating patient privacy by posting a picture of  a victim with (inaccurate) information about his wounds. Moore’s Twitter profile was open at the time she posted this information, and has since been protected, however, her bio statement, “You can try to stop me, but it’s not gonna work!” pretty much sums up the ideology behind her actions. Citizens believe they have the right to publish their ideas, their opinions, and whatever they please online, because they are granted freedom of speech. Words like “libel” and “slander” aren’t considered, because they don’t have the professional training that provides an understanding of the rights of others in relation to their freedoms. This way of thinking breeds news that is sensationalist, rather than informative, and journalists may have to turn to similar tactics to gain attention.

The pictures of the victims of the Haiti earthquake from theparkerreport Twitter account are provided by a professional journalist. They feature graphic images of bodies lying in rubble that are far too detailed, personal, and disturbing to ever make it to TV screens or newspaper pages, yet with a couple of clicks, and right from the New York Times website, a reader can access these. Families that are searching for their loved ones may find photos of their crushed bodies published for the world to see. One’s personal tragedy can be another’s page view. The overall negative effect of blogs on journalism is both a loss of working professionals, and a loss of journalistic ethics for the sake of preserving business. 

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2 comments

  1. […] The Blog Just another WordPress.com weblog « Blogging and Journalism: The Bad […]


  2. […] Rachel Davis suggests blogging and other aspects related to citizen journalism are removing objectivity from the news, and are forcing professional journalists to compete with writers who are willing to work for free and are often unfamiliar with the ethics behind journalistic writing. […]



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