Side By Side On My QWERTY Keyboard

Tim Redmond’s public flailing against Craig Newmark has garnered a few notable responses. Locally, there was a thread over at the SFist, in which mystified San Franciscans responded. More prominent, however, is Anil Dash’s rant against predictable liberalism and defensive newspapers.

But what I see here in all these reactions is hostility and divisiveness from both sides. (I still remain as baffled as Dave Barry was by a Chronicle reporter’s recorded comment, “I have podcasted. I’m not a complete idiot.” And I have, in a few private incidents, been privy to outright hostility from print reporters when trying to piece together a story.) The journalist boosters note the online paucity of what Crooked Timber’s Henry Farrell has identified as a a “comprehensive, neutral and authoritative argument” (emphasis in original). The online boosters decry how out-of-touch the journalists are, pointing out the new playing field requires people to keep current and unfettered. But both parties share an fascinating and one-note view: the reactionary need to keep both forms separate and discrete, as if bloggers and journalists should be neatly arranged into some red state-blue state dichotomy.

Yes, newspapers will dip their toes into the podcast arena, as admirably as the Chronicle has. But they will do so without understanding the podcast’s personal, subjective and, one might argue, authentic and perhaps unpolished form. Because there are innumerable blogs trying to get to a story first, the blogger will leap to get her hands on a story quick. But because the work is rushed, there will be mistakes and corrections — the possibility that misinformation might sneak through the cracks and be further disseminated.

But at the risk of allowing my idealistic side to come through, isn’t this all pretty silly? One would think that journalists, many of whom are intimately familiar with the innovations of gonzos like Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson and George Plimpton, would embrace an alternative after decades banging out the same who what when where why template. Likewise, one would think that the bloggers and the podcasters would see the creative and informational value of limitations, much less holding onto a story until more confirmed information has come in.

As someone who has worked both sides of the spectrum, I’m wondering why, in all the ink that’s been spilled on the subject, so few people are willing to put their bile aside and contemplate some hybrid of the two forms. You want to talk Web 2.0? Let’s try fusion. What if the newspapers hired more bloggers and podcasters? What if bloggers set self-imposed limits on their content or made more phone calls instead of relying exclusively on Google search results?

Anger, arrogance and dismissiveness might make a writer feel good and drum up some initial attention. But take it from a piss-and-vinegar guy like me: it’s the ideas, multilateralism and flexibility that will stand the test of time. I fail to understand why the blogging/journalism war has become as inflammatory as the situation in Beirut. Surely, both sides have much to learn and benefit from each other.

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  1. My point is not to whine about lost revenue but to say that the world needs professional, paid reporters. I don’t care if they work for blogs (where some do, and they do a fine job) or for print or for some new medium that doesn’t exist yet. What I’m saying is that Craig is hurting newspapers that actually pay and train people to provide the basic information we all need about what the people who run this country are doing. And he isn’t offering an alternatives.

    The type of medium doesn’t matter. What matters is that you can’t properly cover government, big business and the power structure with volunteers doing it on their own time. That’s elitist and crazy.

  2. Tim: Thanks for stopping by. But I have to ask. Is it not equally elitist and crazy to assume that unpaid volunteer bloggers or podcasters can’t cover an event with the same gusto or thoroughness as journalists?

    In the interests of getting behind how both sides of the debate, how do you define “professional.” If you’re defining “professional” as an expert who is paid to do the work, define the expert nature of that work. Because from where I’m sitting (in the litblogosphere, at least), I’ve seen reports, author interviews and thoughtful takes on any number of literary subjects. This is all happening independently of Craig. And, at least in the case of litblogs, litbloggers are allowed to thrive because newspapers have severely diminished their book coverage. Although I will say that, in the Bay Guardian’s case, the monthly supplement Lit features more book coverage than most (and as a regular reader, I commend you for this).

    The other thing you’re forgetting about, Tim, is that if volunteers are each working on a tiny piece of the puzzle, you have a case of peer-to-peer journalism — not unlike what happened with the SETI @ Home project. Let’s say P2P Journaist 1 talks with one source, while P2P Journalist 2 talks with another. For anyone else looking into the story, it’s extremely easy with Technorati to follow links and find out what’s been talking about. And podcasting allows for the release of audio. Granted, I will confess that private and anonymous sources fall by the wayside through this approach. But you literally have a potential reporting pool of thousands, if not millions, willing to chip in. How indeed can an alt-weekly with a staff of 30 compete with a pool of thousands?

    What I’m suggesting here to you (and to the bloggers) is not to discount EITHER side on this debate.

  3. My question is, in the Bay Guardian’s redesign, why didn’t they spend any time adding features and functionality to the web site? In Tali Woodward’s follow-up to my reporting on the Harmon Leon-Tom Walsh dust up, there were URLs at the bottom of the article to SFist and Too Beautiful, Mark Pritchard’s blog. But they weren’t even linked! While it’s a minor point, it’s the kind of detail that really sticks in my craw as somebody who gets 80% of his news online (it would be 100% if Muni had wifi).

    I know that the Bay Guardian sells online ads (the rate sheet is how I found out that SFist is getting more monthly traffic than the BG now). Well, I could think of a dozen ways to engage readers, get traffic from aggergators and searches, maintain city directory listings and classified ads combined with user feedback, publish content daily and expand into multimedia. All of which would create more ad inventory to sell at cheaper prices, lower overhead and higher margins. Local small businesses are desperate for affordable, locally-targeted advertising opportunities.

    I love the BG, I’ve written for the BG, but I’d hate to see the BG die because it refused to adapt to a changing media environment. Except for the actual stories, I pay no attention to the rest of the Bay Guardian. I’ve got ChowHound for restaurants, the Squid List for cultural events, Fecal Face for the art scene, Upcoming for everything else, and of course I’ve got all my pornography and prostitution needs over-served online. I can even browse it all on my cell phone now.

    If I were publishing something on newsprint, I’d be taking a long, hard look at my entire business model right now. I’m not saying to stop printing the paper, but it’s obvious that dead-tree publishing isn’t exactly a growing market. Where the hell else are you going to find new revenue streams to pay for professional journalism if not online?

  4. No, I don’t think the SETI model will work. I think that all this talk of old and new media isn’t relevant here. There will always be a need for reporters — people who go out and dig for information — and I may be old fashioned, but I think work is generally done better (and by a more diverse group of people) if you actually pay for it. I, for example, have two kids; there is no way I could have a real full-time day job and also cover San Francisco politics in my (non-existent) spare time.
    I’m not saying that citizen journalism is irrelevant, or that bloggers haven’t done wonders covering and breaking news, or that bloggers aren’t journalists (many of them are). And I agree that in the litblogosphere, there is great work done. But in the end, you need to pay people a living wage to do political/investigative reporting, and I think we will reach the point where blogs do just that. I can see, for example, DailyKos hiring a full-time reporter to cover the next presidential race; why not? But Craig will never do that.
    I also think Craig is creating an empire that keeps others out. I don’t like that in any business. I respect you, and Kos, and MyDD, and Atrios, and the other good bloggers because your REALLY create community — by encouraging others to join in. You never see bloggers doing anything that knocks other bloggers out of the game.

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