Journalists Struggle with Web Logs
March 30, 2009
Gina M. Chen asked, “What do you think?” at the foot of her essay “Is Blogging Journalism”. You can read her write up here. My answer is, “Nope. Web logs are a variant of plain old communications.” Before I defend my assertion, let’s look at the guts of her essay is that “fear of change” creates the challenge. She asserted that blogging is a medium.
Web logs are not causing traditional media companies to collapse. Other, more substantive factors are eroding their foundations. Forget fear. Think data termites.
Okay, I can’t push back too much on these points, which strike me as tame and somewhat obvious. I also understand the fear part mostly because my brushes with traditional publishers continue to leave them puzzled and me clueless.
The issue to me is mostly fueled by money. Here’s why:
First, when there’s lots of cash around, it is easy to dabble. Now some people dabble in technology and others dabble in other activities. Those who dabble in technology become comfortable with some aspects of technology and the ready cash smoothes the harsh edges. After all, technology doesn’t really matter because there’s money to buy happiness or a cocoon. But when the cash runs out, it is not fear that takes over. I think the problem becomes one of thinking. The old way of thinking does not produce cash so the old thought processes are broken. Fear may be one manifestation, but there are the charming traits of litigation (much loved by traditional publishers and media companies), anxiety (endless discussions about what to do after the barn has burned down and the horses are gone), and hostility (directed at me when I point the end of traditional media in my goosely Web log).
Second, the time shifting screws up the existing business processes. Let’s face it. Traditional media are slow. I watch the local news in Harrod’s Creek. Let me tell you that it is lame and late. I “see” what’s happening using a range of online services that are on my devices most of the time. The only reason I make a screen go dark is due to inputs from my wife or a power failure. I watch Twitter streams for the area in which I live. I describe Google as a limping dog because its news service is less and less useful as I shift to real time systems. Time has made the existing methods in use at media companies looking like a turtle going across the race track at a Formula One race. If the turtle gets to the other side, its in the wrong place and still a turtle.
Third, users are falling out of love with certain methods of conveying information. This is not just a green issue. The younger people with whom I spoke this week in Houston, Texas, at a city sized medical center want crunchy information. Lugging around hard copy just doesn’t ring the chimes of the folks with whom I spoke. Most profess a love of information, but newspapers and books are not in their hands. The children of some of the people with whom I spoke don’t read unless there is an outside force exerted and some consequences. So, this blog stuff is cultural.
My view is that traditional media have tried to learn. Many have experimented, become agile, and bought start ups and funded pizza and beer Fridays. The result is that not much has changed. Now the money is drying up. Is blogging journalism? Make it what you want. I think it is the same old communications function making use of available technology. Period.
What’s search? The only way to work in this new environment is by finding information. We’ve seen the impact of that technology on every day work patterns. Now the companies built on those patterns are imploding. Not much anyone can or should do in my opinion.
Stephen Arnold, March 29, 2009