Journalism and blogging: Should the two mix?

January 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Press Gallery’s end of year party celebrates the end of another grueling year in politics and the news media’s duty to report what happens in Parliament. While recent years have seen an unhinged gatecrasher and the Great Wine Theft, it is usually a civilized affair where journalists and politicians mingle affably. I count myself lucky to get invited but I guess that comes with working for an organisation that funds journalists to go to Asian countries.

Whilst enjoying the generous hospitality of Parliament’s journalists, it is always interesting to catch up with former colleagues and friends. On this occasion, a senior Radio New Zealand journalist declared to me that journalists should not be blogging. I naturally disagreed. Blogs are another tool for journalists to engage with readers by expressing themselves with more colour and personality than they would normally have licence to do.

But many news industry traditionalists believe blogging and micro-blogging undermines a journalist’s reputation for objectivity and integrity because blogs are, by their very nature, opinionated. It’s an issue that does reveal one kind of tension as the ‘legacy media’ tries to come to terms with the disruption to its industry caused by the internet, evolving information and communications technology and changing consumer preferences.

The day of the Press Gallery party, the Australian union representing journalists was invited by its New Zealand counterpart, the EPMU, to launch a new report on the future of journalism entitled Life in the Clickstream 2.  Given the conversation I was to have later that day about blogging, it was fitting the venue was the RNZ boardroom in Wellington.

As an aside, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance that commissioned the Life in a Clickstream 2 report is the same union that embroiled itself in an actors’ labour dispute over The Hobbit. But I’m not holding that against them because with respect to journalism, the report is an excellent snapshot of the state of the media industry in Australasia.

As the report shows, fragmenting audiences, declining advertising revenues, shrinking news room budgets, falling newspaper circulations and job cuts are all symptomatic of the current hard times faced by the media industry and harbingers of continuing turmoil ahead.

In Australia, 700 journalists have lost their jobs and sales of national and metropolitan newspapers are falling nearly 3 percent each year. While advertising revenue is growing for pay TV and online advertising, it is relatively sluggish for all other media. In an MEAA survey, 91 percent of respondents said they would not be willing to pay for news online, compared to 3 percent who would with 6 percent saying they didn’t know.

But there are some positives. Smartphone and tablet platforms are increasingly seen as potential sources of revenue for news companies either through subscription or advertising or both. The Australian newspaper is selling its iPad application for A$5 and in the month after its release, reported sales of 8500 downloads. The newspaper’s owner News Corp has since made iPad applications available for its other Australian metropolitan papers and is planning to launch an exclusive iPad-only newspaper called The Daily. Meanwhile over here, Stuff.co.nz has launched free iPad and iPhone applications while the NZ Herald reports its free iPad application has been downloaded by 24,000 people since it was launched in June.

I also found it very encouraging that the Life in the Clickstream 2 report devotes a pretty comprehensive chapter to online tools, particularly social media. In the chapter’s introduction, it quotes The Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, a leading New Media advocate, saying “a failure to experiment is more dangerous than trying new things”. There is an explanatory section on Twitter and microblogging. Facebook and social networks, crowdsourcing, Wikileaks, expert directories, live blogging, user generated content and content sharing are also explored.

Perhaps the section that resonated most with me concerned how news organisations can use social media and microblogging platforms to distribute news content and how this was changing the way news reaches audiences. As British journalism academic Paul Bradshaw put it: “Everyone is a newspaper boy now.” In the MEAA survey, an astonishing one quarter of respondents said they got their news through Twitter and Facebook. It seems logical that this proportion will only increase as the use of social media grows in popularity.

The report notes the problem that the traditional or legacy media model, in that it packages its content to its audiences regardless of whether or not it interests or concerns them. The report goes on to say the consensus among many media thinkers is that breaking out of this mindset and rethinking the way content reaches audiences is the only way forward. Does that mean that journalists should be blogging? Perhaps it does.

Post script: Coincidentally after I finished this piece, I found this Columbia Journalism Review article via Twitter. Google News product manager Krishna Bharat says “journalists should think of themselves as part of the larger media conversation”. I couldn’t agree more. But what do you think?

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