When I saw that David Weinberger had put up a video blog entry critiquing an article on Cnet by Charles Cooper, I was worried we would hear the wounded (and boring) “blogging will eat journalism” refrain. Cooper claimed the the credentialed bloggers’ “coverage” of the convention was lackluster, and I agree. In particular, the few entries by Weinberger I read really didn’t do anything for me. So, what I was expecting was something along the lines of “we did the convention the way it should have been done.”
Imagine my surprise when I find that Weinberger has articulated my position better than I might have hoped to. Just before the convention, I was asked for comment on this momentous occasion: credentialing of bloggers as real journalists for a national event. I was reluctant to fall into punditry, because it seemed like a set-up. Here were people who were obviously not journalists going to play them at a convention. Cooper’s assessment was pretty much a foregone conclusion.
Weinberger makes what should be an obvious point: bloggers are not journalists. I would like to think that the convention blogging brings an end to this debate, though I know it won’t. I think some of the more interesting blogging came from the people who were there as participants rather than as bloggers-with-credentials. Participatory journalism is an old term, but one that makes a lot of sense when we think about how weblogging relates to traditional reportage.
Weinberger correctly elucidates some of the reasons blogging isn’t journalism: no editor assigning stories or selecting them, no pretense to balance, and no appeal to a mass public. Blogging is, like journalism, “public writing,” but that doesn’t mean that the two are identical. I would add some others ways in which they differ. The idea of a “journalist” and journalism as a profession came about in part through educational credentialing (most journalists now have a college degree, and most in journalism), and professional organizations with a set of codes and ethics. And, of course, journalists make their living reporting the news. Bloggers, by and large, are not journalists.
The funny thing about this is that I completely understand why the journalism/blogging dichotomy is important to journalists — many of them feel as if their jobs are being devalued by technological advances, and rightly so. The 24-hour news cycle and tabloidization of news coverage are serious threats, and I can see why the incursion of blogging might seem to some like a plague of a million Drudges.
What I cannot understand is why so many bloggers are interested in being equated with journalism. I guess part of it is that “legitimate” journalists have a particular social primacy not shared by bloggers. Bloggers are seen as nerds, hobbyists, or fad-followers at worst, impresarios or dilettantes at best. Yet, most bloggers are also newsies, and actually care what journalists say about them.
This is where Weinberger’s response rings hollow. He says to Cooper: if you don’t like my blog, don’t read it. But in responding, he admits that it is not as easy to walk away from a commentator who commands an audience through the traditional media. It seems to me that bloggers, as much as they would like to cast themselves as the new rebels, are at the same time hoping for the parental pat on the head from enthroned journalists, rather than being satisfied with the respect and readership of their own small audiences.