In case you didn’t believe me

By , 30 October, 2008, 1 Comment

I wrote on Monday that blogs will add to, not subtract from or replace, existing media forms like the narrative or the investigation because people still want to know facts and tend to process facts best in narrative form.

Today, I listened to a great NPR session with Nick Lemann (Dean of Columbia’s J-school, and my professor in a class on journalistic methods and ethics this fall), Andrew Sullivan (Atlantic writer and blogger extraordinaire) and Tina Brown (former editor of Vanity Fair and a newcomer to the blogosphere). Here’s what this trio of media giants thought:

Even on the blogosphere, people aren’t giving up on the need for information and analysis, for Linkdefinitive answers in the way Jeff Jarvis et al contend. They just verify information in different ways. Lemann reminds us that the biggest web traffic still goes to the “established” sites. Sullivan says that among amateur blogs, the winners are still people with expertise in some niche, people you can “trust and verify” because they give you the links to their sources and encourage readers to correct them. If print professionals get you to trust that they tell the truth because of their personal intelligence, bloggers earn trust by transparency and humility.

Yet Sullivan just wrote in the Atlantic that blogs are a bit postmodern, based on cultivating a back-and-forth of opinions that might in a theoretical aggregate contain the objective truth, but not in any one place you can hold in your hand or read from start-to-finish. But, he says, just as postmodern criticism has failed to swallow up all of academia, blogs cannot and should not swallow up all of news production: for some things, people still like and need the fixed narrative.

Sullivan, Lemann and Brown make the same point in the NPR spot–newspapers shouldn’t mimic blogs by getting more vitriolic, going all-digital or cutting stories to 150 word blurbs. They should worry about finding better ways to finance the kind of in-depth, objective-fact reporting blogs don’t do.

I often talk about media convergence. What I mean by this is not that one form will win out and everyone will go there, but that news organizations will learn to produce some combination of old and new media so that individual journalists can work across platforms. Sullivan is a great example of that–a magazine man who is also a full-time blogger and understands the difference between the two forms. Lemann is getting there–he used to think blogs were the end of journalism, now (in this NPR spot at least) he thinks they are the “golden age” for free discourse and commentary, but should not and cannot replace old school investigations.

At the individual level, then, convergence is moving along fine. Even at the institutional level, many newsrooms are learning to strike a cross-platform balance. The issue is one of financing that balance and that’s the one area where I thought this NPR dialogue covered new and controversial ground: late in the session, the group discussed the possibility of more public financing for print media, akin to the funding streams for NPR and PBS. I hadn’t really thought about that, since newspapers in America have never had state aid.

But is there any inherent reason why public financing for print should be unacceptable when we already do as much for broadcasters? I’m still not sure what to make of the proposal, whether it’s feasible and whether it would help the situation. What do you think?

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