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Bill Brown

A complicated man.

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There’s a perennial debate whether blogging is better than journalism. I’ve avoided talking about it or really delving into the matter because it’s nonsensical on its face. If you’re not familiar with the topic, Dave Winer is perhaps the biggest advocate of blogging as journalism but there are dozens of bloggers coveting the title as well.

To me the whole issue is crazy. Journalists find stories, they break stories. Bloggers comment on those stories. Their “reporting” typically consists of what they did over the weekend. The best bloggers might write essays about subjects that aren’t reactions to articles, but these are most often most alike op-eds than articles. I’ve never encountered an investigative blogger. Ever.

Why is that? I think it’s because bloggers aren’t getting paid to blog and they don’t (typically) answer to anybody. They can spend time discussing inanities with abandon. Those journalists who are also bloggers do blogging as a sideline, not something for pay. I would wager that most bloggers would bristle at having assignments, writing on a deadline, and being edited. If they didn’t, they would all be journalists. I’m sure that they like the casual nature of blogs and the liberties they can take with subject choice.

Are the two online genres mutually exclusive? Of course not. Journalists can report on interesting subjects and bloggers can provide the context and commentary that journalists cannot. Journalists typically don’t link off the site because the sites are designed to keep people there not shuffle them away. Plus, no journalist would ever link to another site’s articles to provide additional context that he or she couldn’t.

Bloggers don’t have such restrictions and they can aggregate across newspapers and non-traditional sources. They can also link to primary sources, like Udell noted, to let the readers judge for themselves. Journalists don’t typically do that—despite Fox’s pronouncements otherwise.

It’s like what Kevin O’Connor said about disintermediation in his book The Map of Innovation—I’m working up a full review on this book and will post it in the next couple of days. The airlines thought that the Web would usher in an era where intermediaries would disappear and they could sell directly to the public. He notes that that didn’t happen because few trusted the airlines to give them the best price on a given route.

A lot of people, bloggers especially, don’t trust journalists to give the whole story for a variety of reasons. They look elsewhere for other interpretations of the same story, other points of view. Bloggers fill that need and there are quite a few who have built up substantial audiences because of it. But even they don’t make any pretense that theirs is the final word or that their readers don’t continue along the chain of context providers.

That is why blogging and journalism are not mutually exclusive and why there will always be a need for both. Bloggers are the editorial writers of the new generation: a way for people to get different spins on the facts that journalists report. Only now there’s many thousands of them and they’re not syndicated except from their own sites via RSS. Anyone can offer up their editorials and anyone else can subscribe to to them. It’s like what the desktop publishing revolution did for the publishing industry: there’s nothing special about blogging per se except that the tools have made it cheaper and easier to get your words out.