Looking at various topics that have been covered by both journalists and bloggers, I’ve noted a common theme in which journalist deplore bloggers’ habit of speculating about subjects instead of “just picking up the phone” and asking those directly involved (examples here
and here). The implied (and sometimes expressed) view of bloggers is that of lazy amateurs.
It struck me though, that asking questions of total strangers is both a distinctively journalistic activity and one that implies and requires a special kind of professional license. In fact, “Journalists do interviews” comes much closer to a definition of what is distinctive about journalism than formulations like “journalists report news, bloggers do opinion”.
Starting with the professional license, it’s generally accepted that journalists can talk to anyone they want, ask them questions and report a summary of their responses, with some selected quotes. This is quite something, when you think about it. If I called someone unknown to me personally who happened to be of interest for some reason, and started asking them questions on the basis that I would like to write about it, I don’t imagine the results would be very pleasant. The same license that allows journalists to do interviews is embodied in a whole set of formal and informal institutions including the press conference, the “background briefing” and the “leak”.
When journalists write about themselves as “breaking news”, what this normally involves is talking to a number of people and distilling the results into a coherent “story”.
The second part of this is perhaps more important than the first. There’s no obligation on journalists to report everything said to them; a major part of the journalist’s role is to select what is “newsworthy” and relevant to the story being told. There’s both a formal code of ethics and a set of informal conventions surrounding this.
The other side of this “gatekeeping” function is that newspapers and other media organisations are expected to cover anything that meets this definition of “news” (though they are often a bit coy in cases where a rival has beaten them to the punch). What this means is that journalists have to distil, from interviews, and to a deadline, a readable, and at least half-way accurate, story about a topic of which they may know little or nothing when they start. This is a difficult skill to acquire, and something we should remember when we complain that, on any subject where we are well informed, the media stories we read or see are often wrong in at least some important detail.
By contrast, on the relatively rare occasions when bloggers and other non-journalists do interviews, the practice, almost invariably, is to publish the result verbatim. More generally, bloggers typically don’t claim a gatekeeping function – the norm is to quote extensively and link to what is not quoted. On the other hand, there’s no obligation to cover any particular topic.
This difference in approach seems to me to get much closer to the centre of things than “journalists report news, bloggers do opinion”. In economics, for example, the distinction between news and analysis is largely meaningless. The information from which journalists and bloggers work consists mainly of official statistics and statements put out by governments, companies and organizations of various kinds. Here, for example, is the release announcing the Rudd government’s recent stimulus package.
Bloggers typically go on from here by briefly stating, or linking the relevant facts and then providing some analysis. Added value, beyond the analysis itself, is likely to consist of more links to relevant information or to further commentary.
By contrast, the typical straight news story would consist mainly of (what are presented as) quotes from government ministers, and reactions from the opposition, business and so on. Even when simply restating the governments announcement, journalistic convention requires that it be presented in the form of a series of statements, presented as if taken down by reporters. Press releases are routinely written to facilitate this.
Conventions like this differ a bit between media outlets and between countries. In the US for example, it would be normal for the main story about something like the stimulus package to include an interview with a person selected somehow to represent the impact on the average person, say the owner of an insulation company. In Australia, this kind of thing would typically be done, if at all, as a separate story.
Links: Legal Eagle makes much the same point Art School Confidential about making calls to strangers.
45 thoughts on “Picking up the phone”
Journalists also adhere to a code of ethics, more or less, when they use interviews in their stories. Bloggers have no such guidelines.
I’ve had people about whom I’ve written in a blog complain that I relied on media reports instead of picking up the phone to call them for ‘the truth’. It reflects widespread confusion in the community about what blogging actually is. An awful lot of people don’t use the internet to read news or blogs and they tend reflexively to believe that if someone publishes anything about contemporary events, they are ipso facto journalists. Tim Dunlop for example was frequently called a journo by commenters on his old News Ltd blog, no matter how often he said he was nothing of the kind.
I’ve edited to include a bit more on ethics. I don’t think it’s really true that “bloggers have no such guidelines”. The formal content of the AJA code of ethics is very limited – for both bloggers and journos, the ethical code is mostly a matter of norms shared by a particular group rather than formal rules.
It’s notable that one specific AJA rule is that journalists should identify themselves and their employer – this is very much part of the professional license I mentioned.
Do journalists really pick up the phone as much as they say they do? Or do they piece together from faxes that come in? And actually, do they get out around the town or do journalists just pick up the phone? I dont think there is any clear distinction of what a journalist does and as for the code of ethics, there are plenty of instances of ethics being cast into to the wind….
I found myself thinking about the actual ‘picking up the phone’ part – and other methods.
I think there has been considerable change in the concept of a ‘total stranger’ and it is more acceptable for someone who may not regard themselves as a ‘journalist’ (or maybe they are), to get more information from the source (if that’s what they are interested in doing), as their profile should be immediately available online. I get quite a few questions from both journos and bloggers via email and Twitter. Anyone with sense in this area will have a good online profile available and thus they will not feel like a ‘total stranger’ to me.
This is obviously only relevant if someone DOES want to contact the source rather than provide analysis of existing news, which is also perfectly fine in the right context.
As a slight aside, it seems to me that journos have been seeking to denigrate bloggers ever since they realised their cosy monopoly on telling people how to think about current events was comining under threat. The ability of experts in a field to blog instantaneously on a matter shows up the ‘jack of all trades, expert in none’ nature of most journos. In this context, it is much more important to know which way a demand curve slopes, for example, than having license to phone a small businessman for an opinion and then write nonsense in the paper.
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I’m surprised that there has been no comment about the couple of large elephants in the room.
This for example “journalists report news” is obviously false, and I would have expected an economics blog to pounce on it gleefully and not be sidetracked by irrelvancies about possibly minor differences in work habits cf bloggers.
Journalists sell eyeballs to advertisers.
On behalf of their employers.
There are least 3 major elements that separate journos and bloggers in those sentences as represented by the words ‘sell’, ‘advertisers’ and ’employers’.
This comment by Ken, “Tim Dunlop for example was frequently called a journo by commenters on his old News Ltd blog, no matter how often he said he was nothing of the kind” got close to the crux.
Remember the brouhaha some time ago when Tim’s independence from News Ltd was seen to be threatened?
The essential difference I see between hired journos and bloggers, at least currently and mainly, is the comparative independence of the latter.
Method is minor.
What also astonishes me is the non objectiveness of some journos and how susceptible they to be snowed by propaganda coming from a few notable sources. There has been so much anti science happily published about by journos its really quite pathetic the depths they will go to please the editorial boss – Id also like to know what role does the editor really play and how many journos are just yes men and arent really interested in the real facts of a matter? Id bet quite a lot.
More interested in avoiding litigation than in presenting the real news in many cases (or eg with local newspapers that have completely moved away from presentin any local news at all ie writing home beautiful pieces, such as how to keep your driveway steam cleaned and gorgeously made over, to keep the advertisers happy.
I would also go as far as saying there are many blogs Id trust over journos and news these days. Trust Mr Murdoch? – sure cant. Not when he keeps the Piers Ackermans and the Miranda Devines in regular employment.
Oddly enough, while journos are employed in the main to “sell eyeballs to advertisers” (fred, #7), they don’t feel that they are in any way compromised. They feel they are independent and it is only ABC journalists who are biased.
One point of differentiation between bloggers and journalists is the notion of balance. A journalist may espouse to some form of balance in stories that are opinion based, or that can claimed to be about an ongoing debate. The journalist may claim to be airing one side of the debate, or alternatively, may provide selected opinions from a weak side to counter the strong side. The most annoying tactic in today’s national journos is one of selective quoting of the stronger side in order to artificially weaken the argument presented.
The bloggers have no such notion of balance. By and large, the arguments are made in a manner that may support the notion of balance more honestly than the journo version. The bloggers are more likely to provide links to a detailed argument from both the weaker side and stronger side, while adding the narrative glue often missing from paid journalism (in Australia). The reader of a blog may follow up the links and come to their own conclusions, much like the manner in which older texts were once read.
Blogs don’t guarantee anything better than traditional journalism but they do provide a vaster world of information to tap into. The reader is still left with the task of making something of it all.
” while journos are employed in the main to “sell eyeballs to advertisers” ), they don’t feel that they are in any way compromised. They feel they are independent and it is only ABC journalists who are biased.”
Maybe some of them ought to note the words of Chairman Rupert who is in no doubt he controls both the news agenda and its slant.
And then perhaps some self examination may be in order.
Rupert Murdoch says his entire empire is going green — while telling its audience to do the same — because it’s “simply good business.”
Last week, the media mogul pledged not only to make his News Corp. empire carbon neutral, but to persuade the hundreds of millions of people who watch his TV channels and read his newspapers to join the cause. Messages about climate change will be woven throughout News Corp.’s empire….
Yes, as Murdoch said in an exclusive interview on his climate plan, even Fox News’ right-wing firebrand Sean Hannity can be expected to come around on the issue. …… He’ll see, he’ll understand it. As will Bill [O’Reilly]…”
Pretty blatant statement of power and control.
“If I called someone unknown to me personally who happened to be of interest for some reason, and started asking them questions on the basis that I would like to write about it, I don’t imagine the results would be very pleasant”.
As part of one of my MBA units I had to do just precisely that, setting up, carrying out, reporting on and analysing interviews with people involved with two separate organisations with no prior connection to the course but which had to be approved as acceptable (basically, substantial enough) for the assignment. I was interested to find, and I reported, that a couple of times the interviewees thanked me as I left, completely unprompted. Instructor feedback on my assignment told me that this was quite a common reaction. Furthermore, it is easier to succeed with that sort of interview as a private individual than to get, let alone pass, a job interview.
“Pretty blatant statement of power and control.”
But I cant get out of mind (and I dont think I ever will) – the images in Murdochs news that glorified war (including diagrams and cross sections of tanks, bombers, strategy ,maps with red arrows etc) and the push to Iraq.
Thats the problem – we should have enough news sources and enough truly independant journalists (the braveheart types) so that we dont have to wait for Chairman Murdoch to “come around” to a nobler fairer worldview…
but alas, we dont.
A very large part of a journo’s daily brief is to handle the ubiquitous press release and too often the discerning reader will get nothing more than that regurgitation – slabs of direct quotes that are obviously taken direct from the publicist.
Magazines and local rags are the worst offenders in this advertorial support. Bloggers free from this ‘direction’ are in the lucky position of following their nose and their interest wherever. Those bloggers who post should not hesitate to pick up the phone cos it’s more than many journos do.
Al Saracevic, the San Francisco Chronicle‘s deputy business editor, once said that “In America, bloggers don’t go to jail for their work. That’s the difference between professionals and amateurs.” (He had in mind two colleagues of his who’d been hit with 18-month prison sentences because they wouldn’t testify about where they got their leaks in the Barry Bonds case.) Source: Andrew Keen, The Cult of the Amateur, Doubleday, NY, 2007, p. 49.
Agree 100% with your comments – good journalism also requires a willingness of the editor and the publisher to invest in it. If you pay lackeys to sit at desks and compile a mindless regurgitation of press releases (and how often do you read the news and know thats all you are getting? eg the coal industry’s view of impending doom and drastic GDP falls due to carbon tax) and we know press releases can be worded to put any organisation in a favourable light no matter what dirty dealings they are really up to (AWB would have put out some beauties..).
It costs money to get good quality incisive journalism, but when you get it – its a breath of fresh air and it can move mountains. Bad journalism costs less and can mislead, distort, lie and help install politicians who favour tax cuts or short term benefits for big businesses (big advertisers too). There are a lot of journalists who know this but need to sell out to get paid.
Pr Q says:
Pr Q identifies the difference b/w journos and bloggers as the cultivation and citation of primary and secondary sources:
People who read the news want a story, not a theory. This reduces journalistic “news” to the publication of abstracted quotations about newsworthy events, coaxed from news makers amongst the elites or news takers in the populace.
The cultivation of sources takes time and skill: background knowledge, street savvy and the personal touch. YOu have to get to know your way around a beat. Bloggers seem neither willing or able to do this because they lack the authority of representing a news agency (a lack that freelance journalists seem to overcome without much trouble).
Bloggers frequently provide secondary output (analysis and comment) superior to te stuff churned out by opinion journos. But op-ed journalism has always been regarded as a second rate form of journalism, below news reporting and investigative journalism. “Talk is cheap”, “comment is free but facts are sacred”.
Before bloggers start thumping their chests about the imminent end of the MSM they should ask themselves a couple of pointed questions:
– When have bloggers broken a news story or at least scooped journalists?
– When have news journos derived their copy off bloggers?
We bloggers all know that the answers to those questions will be – after a long, uncomfortable pause and a good deal of foot shuffling and throat clearing – rarely, if ever.
So current affairs blogging remains a fairly derivative, if not second rate, activity. Particularly when it is anchored on partisan ideological reaction rather than corroborating quotes or substantiating statistics. (A big reason why my blogs/comments are so lengthy.)
Mind you plenty of what poses as news journalism is not much better than derivative. Many news stories are published on the back of PR releases, rehashed talking points of interested parties or drip fed by authorities with their own agendas.
One area where bloggers get the jump on journos is scientific anlaysis ie blogging which utilises scientific methods to derive interesting and novel information from statistics published by various agencies. Sci-blogging requires some familiarity with algebra, statistical methods and excel spreasheets. Not something that typical bloggers seem comfortable with. Although nerdy beardy academic bloogers like Peter Brent, Tim Lambert, Steve Sailer and the Good Pr do pretty good work in this area.
I a point to derive predictions when ever I blog or comment – this is where scientific bloggers can really add value, even if their predictions are refuted. And whether refuted or confirmed one should use the update function to maintain accountability, by crowing “I was right” or crying “I was wrong”.
I mean, what do we have to lose if we are refuted – our highly unpaid moonlit jobs? I’m mortified, mortified.
Jack Strocchi # 18 says
“When have news journos derived their copy off bloggers?”
I believe I coined the phrase “back down Barnaby” in a blog somewhere and the next day it was in a headline in the news!Is that a co-incidence? No one asked me, quoted me, or paid me for it.
I think some journos do source ideas from blogs actually. Why would they not?
The compromise that journalists have in relation to what they report and how it is reported was one reason that blogs have become important in the online world.
The News organisations are blurring the two functions; to the point where Janet Albrechtsen deliberately feeds the trolls to make the bosses happy ie she delivers a lot of eyeballs (see #12).
Journalistic skills are about telling a story that people will want to read, influencing events and delivering readers to advertisers. Blogging is about sharing ideas, creating discussion and helping participatory democracy except when it is declaiming from on high.
There is no doubt that journalists feel threatened by the online world. Why would they not when they are under threat and as Andrew Jaspan reported last week the online version of the Age provided nothing to the print media as a payment and neither do bloggers.
The argument that bloggers should just get on the phone and talk is far fetched. Reporters often are told that there is no comment, that what is being said is in confidence and the reporter can’t use the information unless it comes from another source. If the information is leaked then that source will not divulge information next time.
However the distinct difference between bloggers and journalists is that bloggers write, using in the main other written material as their source of inspiration. The phone is not their medium of choice.
As we know the spoken word can be very misconstrued. Written language can be too but ideas which are convoluted or tell lies are rejected by the reader and the blog can become the domain of one. It is not the lonely souls that the journalists dislike but those who take the eyeballs away from their work and whose analysis makes more sense or is more enjoyable to the reader.
I routinely do exactly as the jouno’s suggest, and pick up the phone and talk to people about issues that concern me. And I hold back nothing, regardless of the station that these people have. But I would say that I do not hold interviews. I exchange views, and collect information. The best method for engaging in a conversation is to have a point of view that interests the subject. This requires some forthought and research.
But most importantly I am very reluctant to quote people directly. I do not see this as being fair unless those people expressly give permission or are openly engaged in the debate at hand. We are all equal, each person’s considered view is relevent, and we all have to live with the consequences of our collective actions. So speak up.
Fantastic post JQ
[…] John Quiggin takes up the issue and points out the distinguishing characteristic of journalists is the license to use the phone and to get interviews. Studs Terkel is a example of a person shows what can be done. In other words interview do not have to be limited to the new cycle and can be of ordinary people. […]
“jack strocchi Says:
February 8th, 2009 at 5:46 pm
– When have bloggers broken a news story or at least scooped journalists?
– When have news journos derived their copy off bloggers?
We bloggers all know that the answers to those questions will be – after a long, uncomfortable pause and a good deal of foot shuffling and throat clearing – rarely, if ever.”
It happens all the time.
At North Coast Voices (a small regional blog)we are mildly amused whenever the local media piggybacks on information found in our posts and frankly chuffed with the much smaller number of instances when the national media runs with our ‘scoop’.
One difference between bloggers and journos is that bloggers usually cite or link to the media source, whereas most journos take unique information from blogs without citation or link.
This journalistic habit hides the growing influence blogging has on the dissemination of data/information.
If you doubt that journalists trawl blogs for ‘newsworthy’ infomation just go peek at a few website meters/monitors which record blog visitor stats – the MSM is usually represented there regularly.
Robert @ #16, yes, but in Malaysia a blogger can go to jail if his comments are seen as a threat to the ruling party. Raja Petra Kamarudin who blogs as Malaysia Today was arrested in September 2008 under the infamous Internal Security Act but ordered to be released two months later by the High Court. In a country where the mainstream media are tightly controlled, blogging is having a major political impact as an alternative avenue of reporting and analysis. There are certainly issues, however, of ethical reporting by this means.
[…] The discussion going on around the place centres on the hoax on Quadrant by Crikey journo Katherine Wilson. Catch up on the discussion at Skeptic Lawyer, Larvatus Prodeo and John Quiggin. […]
Oh yes, Marginal Notes @ #25, the San Francisco journalist was talking specifically about the American situation. Outside the West, it’s different. Antony Loewenstein in his book The Blogging Revolution refers to bloggers in the Middle East and China who’ve been jailed or threatened with jail. Actually I can think of a few bloggers (and combox trolls) in Australia – not to be found at civilised venues like this website, of course – who are so criminally irresponsible that I wouldn’t mind too much if they got into legal difficulties …
Isn’t this a moot point? Blogging and journalism aren’t mutually exclusive properties are they?
As Theodore Sturgeon said, “90 percent of everything is crap.” IMHO this is equally valid whether applied to either journalists or bloggers.
There are lazy journalists and there are lazy bloggers, and a small fraction of both who are worth paying attention to.
Sorry, that should be THERE are a small fraction of journalists and bloggers who are worth paying attention to, APART from the lazy ones (i.e. not including them). 🙂
John – I’m not actually sure I’m either saying or implying what you claim I am here. I had better do a follow-up post, I suppose, at some point.
Meanwhile, my consistent claim is simple: on those occasions when bloggers find themselves in receipt of information (You can call it news or gossip – I really don’t mind) that may impact on others’ reputations, they ought to make an effort to confirm it before publishing on the Internet. That’s not least because no blogger can make any kind of guarantees about what will happen to that information once it’s published online. Even if they decide they’ve made a mistake later, the “facts” they’ve published may have circulated in ways that are beyond their control.
Journalists have – built into their professional practice – some very simple methods for confirming information. One is: they call people in order to confirm things. I think that bloggers could profit from considering doing that or something similar before publishing things they think they know about someone to a global audience. A pretty mild proposal, I would have thought. The suggestion seems to have offended a widespread view that bloggers have nothing whatever to learn from journalists. It’s fine to hold that view, but it won’t be any defence against a defamation suit, or ethical disapprobation. It’s also a little hubristic, IMHO.
I don’t really buy this:
First of all, if you talk to journalists, they’ll tell you that they often get short shrift when they ring people too. Professional license or not,
people don’t have to talk to journalists. Frequently they choose not to. Being abused on the telephone (or in person) is part of the price journalists pay for quality information. If there is any “license” extended to journalists by the rest of us, perhaps its for this reason: we understand the social value of the high-quality information that comes from confirming information.
Second – well none of us have to “imagine” the results of bloggers calling people to make sure of something. We could just try doing it. If someone’s reputation is at stake, I rather imagine they might be quite keen to clear things up if possible.
Lastly, while I am emphatically not making any sweeping claims about the “laziness” of bloggers in general (or even their “amateurishness”, given that some bloggers do make money from advertising), I’d like to ask you a couple of questions, if I may.
Given that material published on the Internet is so efficiently archived, easily searchable, endlessly republishable, and accessible in principle to anybody with an Internet connection, what responsibilities do bloggers have when it comes publishing information about individuals? Do you think blogospheric norms are sufficiently well-developed around this area? Have you never seen a blog post that gave you pause, and made you think that some bloggers don’t have a well-developed idea of the possible consequences of publishing information?
I have to say that I’m very surprised that people are so defensive about this. I’ve been accused of thinking about things in terms of a tired or hackneyed frameworks. But what I find tiresome is the attitude that takes every criticism of what bloggers do – however constructive – as an attack on the value of the blogosphere in general.
I should say quickly, John, that I’m not accusing you of hubris or being overly defensive, but I do think that you perhaps misconstrue what I was trying to say.
[…] the debate late but with power is John Quiggin in this post. It is well worth reading in full. Says Quiggin: Starting with the professional license, it’s […]
Minor point in the scheme of things, but you touched on one of my pet hates: journalists reporting as direct quotations statements that they have only ever seen in a press release. They are knowingly reporting an untruth: not only do they have no knowledge that the person quoted ever said, they know well that those statements are usually drafted by a PR person.
A more correct way to report would be “According to a press release issued by Company X, So-and-so said ….”
Speaking of untruthful journalism – has anyone noticed the shift in the attitude of the SMH to Kevin Rudd’s policies and fiscal stimulus package…or am I just imagining it? Why do I always suspect Murdoch allows a honeymoon period (just like he did with Obama) and then puts the boot in if it isnt a conservative government? The old Murdoch slant has to come out doesnt it? The papers should give some respect where respect is due. Im sick of reading two bit journalists like Paul Sheehans slanted opinions of policy especially when it makes sense and its necessary.
I just wish he (Murdoch) would get off the one one eyed tone he establishes in all his media. Its just so plain predictable and as well it shows no respect at all for our political leadership (except when conservatives are in power).
Your project for the Federal electionYouDecide2007 was groundbreaking in terms of many of these issues. As a citizen journalist I found it challenging to act as news gatherer, feature writer and commentator.
The politicians had even more difficulty. Few took up the opportunities for media releases or interviews that were offered. Barry Haase, the member for Kalgoorlie, basically ignored online politics though he did respond to letters to the local paper. All attempts to get any sort of responses from him to questions, often directed to multiple candidates, failed.
Video interviews were the most powerful part of the new armoury. I let them speak for themselves without a raft of questions and did virtually no editing except overlays local footage that seemed relevant.
Have you formally or informally evaluated the project? It certainly made some news that was picked up by the MSM.
It may be worth repeating that blogging and citizen journalism are not synonymous. Recent twittering, such as that related to the bushfires, has shown that online evolution is outpacing our traditional ideas of news reporting and journalism in general.
I think what is really awful with todays media is that even important politicians themselves cannot get their own views into the media and instead the so called political view of their party (or of themselves) is provided by media employees ie regular journalist commentators who make a habit and a living of being more extreme and more flamboyant and more divisive (and more like charicatures) hence political reporting in the media has a much more inflammatory tone than direct political discourse.
I do know one politician that wrote a very good piece for the SMH and which I thought was very good (and they do write releases in attempts to be heard) but lamented “it actually took a jounalists strike for the media to publish my article.” Thats pretty sad considering he isnt a minor politician.
[…] John Quiggin recently wrote about the difference between journalists and bloggers. This article highlights where opinion and journalism collide. It is by Cathy Alexander and Colin Brinsden and it reports on the views of some economists on the Government’s stimulus package. The headline is of course the grabber: ECONOMISTS have raised concerns the Federal Government’s cash handouts to millions of people will be blown on pokies and plasma televisions. […]
John Laws and his radio show comes to mind. Just as some people think bloggers should behave like journalists some people thought John Laws should behave like a journalist. And just like John Laws the bloggers argue that such people have misunderstood the medium and the product and claim that they are not journalists and shouldn’t be regarded as journalists. It would seem to me that John Laws and John Quiggin have a lot in common. 😉
We’ve even had instances where we’ve asked politicians a question about some strange going on and they have either (a) told us lies, or (b) ignored us and then…. you’ll never guess what happens next, will you?
That’s right, the local Rupert Murdoch News Ltd Rag trots out the spin and spun version of the same point, regardless of the reality, and the ‘Radio Rupert’ ABC follows.
Hang on and don’t give up. Apart from the fact that Rupert, in all his genius, managed to lose 10 Billion dollars in the last half of 2008, it is important to remember that despite our politicians grovelling to his fools, he is having less and less influence on genuine Australians and he is also going broke.
Sucks to be Rupert!
I agree re Ruperts media. He manages to publish articles by every biased organisation under the sun from global warming sceptics, real science poo pooers, ideological nutcases, one eyed fossil fuel lobbyists, sycophants of large business politicos, and the would be destroyers of public services and regulation. Move along with your tawdry press Rupert.
A few messy thoughts:
The power of a good blog comes as far as I am concerned from
a) expert opinion
b) good analytical minds and
c) the ability to let me into their lives by great personal blogging.
d) good writing
You don’t have to behave like a journalist to do any of this; indeed several people above have shown how much direct questioning opens a huge technical can of worms. How do you deal with off the record comments? What if you are lied to? How do you go on to get a more rounded view… etc.. etc.. and you find yourself learning the craft of journalism and spending a lot of time.
Having said that, I do think a couple of questioning methods can help. The obvious one is to check the facts. The other is to build understanding – if you don’t know how, say, genetic engineering helps in the manufacture of tiddly winks, you can profitably ask them that know.
In that case, as a blogger, you can point to your blog to get some credibility. Believe me, journalists who dont work for Fairfax, Murdoch or the broadcasters find it hard to get time and attention too.
The model is not print journalism but radio – much longer quotes, people speaking for themselves, minimal lines from the reporter etc. I really notice in my own writing that I am essentially often writing radio, particularly when I clip other sources and quote at length. Indeed, I would rather to do this to let the sources speak for themselves.
It is nonsense to say that bloggers don’t have an ethical system, and that journalists ethics are stronger or more clearly defined.
We don’t plagiarise. We cite our sources. We corrborate from other online sources. We run comments, we don’t change them, and we only censor for clear reasons.
In some ways, a good blogger’s work is cleaner and more honourable than a journalist’s; we are constantly having to “take their word for it”.
What we don’t do, of course, is take the trouble to build contrary cases accurately, which helps to explain why the blogosphere is disfigured with regiments of straw men.
I have to say, there’s a great deal of ignorance among the blogoratti about what being a journalist involves. If you’re in a newsroom, your nose is to the grindstone for pretty well most (if not more) of the eight hours of your day you’re required to make an appearance – calling, reading, writing, re-writing, calling again, helping other journos, dealing with subs’ queries across the multiple stories you’re required to submit. And unless you’re an op-ed columnist, you ARE doing multiple stories in one day. Sure, you get invited to pissy lunches here and there, especially if you work in the business section of the paper; but it is not, as they say, all beer and skittles.
Journalists frequently have to (try to) understand a shedload of information in a very short time, then call people and demonstrate to those people that they know what they’re talking about so they can get decent answers to decent questions. There is little time to consider the ills of the universe and whether one’s work will be considered one of these ills the next day by some nong who’ll pick on one mistake – or merely something they don’t like the sound of or disagree with.
It is, unlike blogging, a full-time job. Thankfully, most journalists still get paid for doing it.
[…] of months back in the wake of the Quadrant Hoax, with one of the best contributions being that by Quiggin, in my […]
[…] information, but I still think that it may mean occasionally picking up the phone. Notwithstanding John Quiggin’s point about journalists having a kind of professional licence that excuses such intrusions, if bloggers […]
[…] information, but I still think that it may mean occasionally picking up the phone. Notwithstanding John Quiggin’s point about journalists having a kind of professional licence that excuses such intrusions, if bloggers […]