Friday, December 9, 2011

In Defense of Blogging...

This morning, during a story highlighting the Rick Perry spoof ads that have popped up online, Good Day LA's Dorothy Lucey took an out of the blue, and seemingly mean-spirited, swipe at bloggers, calling them "the people that live in their parents' basements." It irked me enough to Tweet at her that "hard journalism" barely exists these days, especially when "news" programs like Good Day LA rely on sensationalism-- and apparently viral videos-- to help them keep their ratings. The truth is, there is an increasingly finer line between entertainment news programs and "actual" news programs, just as there is a lot of blurring between bloggers and reporters now that technology has advanced the way that it has and just about every news story is first read about online.

Blog, blogger, blogging. These are not four-letter words. Whereas blogging may have once started out as a place for people to post anonymous thoughts, opinions, and yes, usually gripes, it has easily and quickly evolved into the next tier of journalism. It is consumer journalism, but that does not make it less legitimate. In fact, the consumer or "fan" way of thinking has influenced so many of the major sites-- especially in the world of entertainment-- of late. Those usually known for being the ones to break news have taken the blogger lead and "reported" on photos, trailers, short video clips-- things that are not actually delivering anything of note but fun. Taking someone else's original content-- sourcing it, but still publishing it on one's own website-- is a way to get hits to one's own website, to drive the numbers up, but also to bring one's own reader based "in the know" of something cool or funny or talked about. Back in the day, that was a very "blogger thing to do." A blogger liked something he or she found while trolling the internet and wanted to share it with friends. Bloggers are clearly inspiring wide-level changes and getting "bigger" publications to sit up and take notice of the next wave of journalism.
Blogging lit the fire for larger publications to listen to their consumers more and give them what they want. To be in this business-- and yes, it is a business-- you have to be willing to keep an open mind and to be flexible, to change with the times, or you will be marked as stale, slow, and irrelevant.

Now, clearly this could have its downside. Since you don't answer to anyone when you run a blog-- not an editor, not an employer, not advertisers, not a parent, corporate company-- you are free to say and do just about anything you want on the site. You also have a tendency to learn as you go. If you don't have a background in journalism or ethics to begin with (and let's face it, even if you do, you may think "well, this is "just" a blog, so I can get away with more here"), you may make a number of mistakes as you go. You may not think to properly cite sources; you may not know how or why or even who to call for confirmation on stories you hear elsewhere but want to cover on your site; you may not think to call someone for a quote for a story. You may even think nothing of copying and pasting someone else's whole article onto your website and passing it off as your own (I'm looking at YOU, SpoilerTV!). All of these things are absolutely unforgivable and set the whole industry back a million points with just one instance. But just as those behaviors are irresponsible, so is lumping all bloggers together in assumption.

Just yesterday the Hollywood Reporter published a story about a woman who owns and operates a number of law websites that a judge ruled were blogs and therefore not covered under the same rules and safeties that journalists receive when their content sparks controversy, and as much as it may be the unpopular opinion around these parts, as the definitions and laws currently stand, the woman on trial was not a journalist; she was a blogger. They are still two separate and distinct things. By definition, a blogger is someone whose articles lean more toward opinion and commentary, often times including personal anecdotes or accounts. When blogging started, it was meant to be just a piece of a website-- a place where one could host a column devoted to musings and what have you. Journalism, on the other hand, is supposed to be more neutral; since a journalist writes for someone else, he or she should check bias at the door and write a straight-forward news clip. Over time, though, it became harder to distinguish because writers were flocking to blogs, eager to get to use their voices, and yes, their snark, in pieces, and oftentimes the staff on a blog holds the bigger numbers. I don't believe either is better than the other-- we bring different skills and ideas to the table-- and I don't respect those that do or try to pit us against each other.

I used to get offended when a publicist would say a website was "just a blog" and not want to help with content for it. Honestly, if they do that, they're part of the problem. Publicity and journalism-- any kind-- work side by side, hand in hand. One needs the other; you scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours; yada, yada, yada. A failure to work with a site because they're not "big enough" is an antiquated way of thinking and usually leads to said blogger reporting mis-information, rumors, and an extra dose of snark simply because no one is playing ball, so they think no one is taking note of what they write. With such a wealth of content available online these days, all it takes is for one (blogger or reporter) to write a small story that spins completely out of control, but if I'm being honest, that is not what most bloggers are about, though. Most of us just want outlets to share our opinions and find like-minded people (and even those who will oppose us for some healthy debate) to weigh in. We want to build a community.

I identify myself as a blogger, and proudly so. That is why I got so offended by Lucey's snide, glib remark on at-least-it-wasn't-national television. Her attitude at this stage in the game marked what I have been trying to fight since I made the active choice to become a blogger. Because it was a choice. When I decided I wanted to start writing, I weighed my options of going back to school for journalism, or applying for an internship in a newsroom, or finding a mentor at a more traditional paper. I opted not to do any of that but just to start writing. Part of it was because I like to do things my own way-- I like to think outside the box and feel free to use my real voice-- and I've never been one for "tradition;" part of it was I saw the changing tide, at least in the world of entertainment; and part of it was certainly, admittedly, the instantaneousness of blogging. But none of that makes the articles I-- or any other blogger, for that matter-- write any less real.