So what use is blogging in journalism?

There are growing signs that blogging is a useful, if not important tool to use for those hoping to get into the media in Ireland and this can only be a good thing. If aspiring writers in any area can cut their teeth online they may find it much easier to move over to a newspaper, magazine, book or whatever else; their blog may also help expose their talents to the ones who matter most in their respective fields. So what happens then, once that young blogger breaks through to become an accomplished professional? Would their blog fall by the wayside? Would it become a personal rant? Or is there more potential in blogging than a virtual portfolio?

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As bloggers we need to look at ourselves objectively

The debate rages on, as always, about blogging and the media. The Dublin riots was a high point in the world of blogging for 2006; it was one of the first occasions in Ireland that bloggers and self-proclaimed Citizen Journalists got one over on the traditional media. I have been one of many to applaud what I saw as a victory for blogging, but after much consideration I think the whole situation really amounted to a failure on the part of the traditional media rather than a success for bloggers.

I recently undertook an extended essay as part of my degree course; my chosen topic was on blogging and citizen journalism and it raised the question of what threats they posed to the traditional media (TV, radio and print) and what challenges both faced in the future. I entered the work with the opinion that citizen journalism will never, could never and should never replace its professional cousin but that it was likely to find itself ranked amongst those three in years to come. On completing the essay I am now less optimistic on the issue.

For me blogging is of growing importance to the media and so far it is under-used by the Irish media in all its forms but blogging cannot sustain itself as an independent part of the industry.

Firstly what potential I see in the medium. Blogging is a place where marginal stories have a home; while articles in newspapers are chosen based on the public interest (which is the pleasant way of saying ‘what interests enough of the public to bring us a profit’) blog topics are chosen on the basis of publisher interest (audience comes after the publishers interests). Blogs also act as a ‘Fifth Estate’; a watchdog to the watchdogs. In a country where the media is becoming increasingly consolidated it is important for a democratic and independent voice to be available to all; one that will criticise the media monopoly rather than avoid discussing it. Out of all the uses, however, what I feel is most interesting is the possibility of blogging as a training ground; where journalism was once a trade it is now education-based. For many this process is text-heavy and lacking in any real hands-on experience. Blogging requires no level of discipline (other than a willingness to publish) but it can provide people with their first taste of writing for an audience, and the more one writes the more their abilities should improve. As discussed previously it can then become a base-point for people to find out more about the writer and consider their form and style.

Now for the negatives; blogging is unreliable, unviable and abused. There is no guarantee or in fact likelihood that a visit to a blog or citizen journalism site will produce new information; generally they consist of other peoples news regurgitated. Citizen journalists hoping to have a go at news gathering lack time, money and training which is something that professionals have in abundance (well, not always). Finally when blogging does produce a story or writer worth reading it is swiftly taken out of its hands (but this isn’t something most bloggers would mind because more coverage is a good thing).

What all this means is that Blogging becomes no more than a resource to journalists and the media; a point of reference. A journalist might discover a story on a blog, or they might use some footage discovered by a citizen journalist. An editor might find their next big talent online too but either way blogging is picked up and put back down by the traditional media at their command and no-one else’s; basically any growth in citizen journalism is quickly undercut.

The problem with the debate on the future of blogging is that it is carried out by bloggers. When people discuss the viability of social media and citizen journalism they are met with varying degrees of support but never total opposition; people who blog aren’t going to see it as a sinking ship or a stagnant art form. What bloggers need to do is realise what the medium is capable of, and do so realistically. Blogs, in my opinion, are here to stay. The beauty of them is that they have no set direction and no set rules. With that in mind (and probably as a result) they have no potential whatsoever to become any more than they are. They will grow in popularity, numbers and size. The projects and ideas detailed in them will grow in magnitude and concept but they will never, ever be able to pose any threat to the traditional media. We can only hope that the traditional media quickly recognises the advantages blogs can have for their own transparency and development.

Blogging is generally a reactive ‘industry’; they react to events, news, discussion; Journalism is a pro-active industry, it finds information, facts and figures. Both industries dabble in the other side but neither will ever cross the line completely.

Below is a copy of an interview I conducted with Irish Times columnist (and self-proclaimed neo-Luddite) John Waters; as you can see many of his points are valid and usually unheard in the blogging community, much of them are no more than common sense when you compare the two mediums; that said I do disagree with him on many aspects especially in regards to his overall scepticism on blogging and the Internet.

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Newstalk and interactivity

There’s a small wave of anger amonst a vocal minority of Newstalk 106 listeners at the recent introduction of premium text rates. The new system means that listeners wishing to contribute to the discussion must pay 30c for the privilege. The website has nothing about it (in fact the contacts page still features the old text number) but apparently Eamon Dunphy has been one of many critical voices so far.

Of course those that see this as a rip-off have to realise that it’s not really; there are still numerous ways of contacting the show, be it e-mail, telephone or (good luck to your interactive aspirations if it comes to this) post. That’s not to dismiss their point, though. Texting into a discussion is a handy way of throwing your hat in the ring, and where many aren’t within reach of an online computer most are in possession of a mobile phone. The question you now have to ask yourself is this; is voicing my point of view worth 30c? Maybe this, besides being a money spinner, is a handy way for Newstalk to cut the fat out of the texts they recieve.

For all of those cursing the actions of the station, keep in mind that you don’t have to text in, and if you and a substancial enough group decide not to then Newstalk will be forced to rethink their strategy pretty sharpish.

One interesting blog that could help ease the interaction-worries of listeners out there is this one; The Right Hook Blog. If it is genuine then this site was created with the sole intention of forming a talking point for those wishing to continue a specific debate long after the show has aired; a nice idea. Of course the design of the site would make anyone suspicious of its authenticity (was this ever mentioned on the show)? Couple that with the fact that the site was supposed to foster debate from the 22nd of March onwards and so far has failed to do that, and you can be sure that if this was indeed a genuine idea, it’s one that has been put on the back burner for whatever reason.

Perhaps Newstalk should give serious consideration to the development of forums, presenter blogs etc. in order to combat any image they may gain as un-interactive?