Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Blogging and peer review

As often happens this post is the result of a number of conversations with friends and colleagues, specifically on blogs and their utility. I like to think that despite my blogging ways I can at least nod to impartiality, although I'm probably not.

The big conflict building at the moment is the difference in value between journalism and blogging. They exist in a similar space, some blogs have broken impressive stories, love or loathe him Guido Fawkes has launched a number of stories which have led to the downfall of important political figures. Others have fascinating analysis of news, and fill the role of commentators extremely well.

Right now I have around 50 blogs on my roll, it would be more, but I've found the maximum number of open tabs my laptop can handle is around 50. I'm hoping for a new laptop soon however, so I imagine this will balloon in the near future.

In this list the only traditional media I have is the New York Times, the rest are bloggers, many of whom post links to traditional media which I can then follow up on. The reason the NYT makes the list is because I have an interest in American news, but not so much that I want a huge number of sources. The overview is good enough.

Fundamentally, I trust bloggers more than I trust the media, for one reason. Peer review.

Bloggers exist in a fiercely competative space, far more so than journalists. They are linked to multiple outlets, Facebook, Twitter, Stumbleupon, the list is virtually endless. When I post the majority of comments come back to me direct from one of these sources, rather than the comment feed built into the blog. I also occasionally find (via the magic of google) people have been discussing my pieces elsewhere.

Journalists tend to have a single outlet. This might come in a variety of formats, hardcopy and online, but its still a limited pool. So the competative nature is slightly different. They also tend to get information direct, in the form of press releases, or interviews with primary sources. This legitimacy is a strength, but increasingly bloggers are able to access these same sources, so its declining.

The other thing is that bloggers fight. Because the niches are small, there is more chance of shoulders being bumped, intentionally or otherwise. Bloggers are also far more likely to get called on mistakes. A journalist having to print a correction is enormously different to a dozen other blogs in the same niche pointing out your follow.

The Huffington Post is an example of where blogging might end up. Its an aggregated blog, which looks like a traditional media outlet. And its massive. Dozens upon dozens of articles, contributed from a variety of sources, it is as responsive as the biggest newspaper and arguably better written.

Blogging is the long tail of journalism. Niche blogs, read by small audiences in the most part, offer an endless variety and of course endless quality. But because of the need to secure the small audiences poor quality blogs quickly die off or are ignored. There's a vested interest in bringing down your opponents and the only real way of doing that is by exposing their errors to the audience.

The level of depth for a blogger is infinite, a journalist has, at best, a single slot a day to write about one topic. I could spend the rest of my day writing piece after piece, going into greater in depth on a single topic, or dozens of topics.

Someone once came up with the joke "What's the difference between a cult and a religion?" The answer being "Membership". Is the real difference between bloggers and journalists simply readership? Or is it something else?

I'd be interested in whether people have strong opinions on the difference. I realise theres a strong debate over quality, but is there something deeper which seperates journalists and bloggers?

UPDATE: A former colleague of mine Fred Stephens pointed out that there's another difference, journalism is a commercial product, wheras bloggers are just doing it for the sake of it. I think that has a dual impact, it certainly opens up the long tail, but it also allows for the quality of blogging to be exceptionally low vs journalism.

Obviously some bloggers do make money, particularly through micro advertising, however in the main they are not writing solely to make money. They would keep writing even if they didnt make the money.

Blogs have also died by trying to commercialise. Once again hat tip to Fred for the reference, when the Mobile Industry Review Blog was bought up and the owners tried to use it to make money through a subscription. Despite a very good public profile no one wanted to pay for the blog and the experiment ultimately failed. Paying was simply a step too far, even though the product was recognised as being excellent.

So theres another difference, journalists are a commercial entity, and people will pay for their product, bloggers lose their credibility and audience if they ask people to pay.

Also, I'd like to point out, the comment didnt come from the comment feed, but instead I got sent a direct message. So I'm right about that at least.

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