Recently, my old boss, Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at NYU, penned a response to Michael Skube, who said that by and large, bloggers rely on published reporting from established media outlets and don’t provide a great deal of original reporting on their own. Opinion and argument is the currency of the of blogosphere, not reporting — a statement that seems rather self-evident if you spend any time on the Internet.
But that’s not good enough for Jay. He had to go and find examples of bloggers doing journalism to show that there is so reporting on the Net. In the process of finding 14 examples — including me, which I’ll deal with in a moment — Jay attempted to put to rest Skube’s claim. Instead, he proved it.
Some of the bloggers mentioned in Jay’s piece, especially the ones doing “real” reporting, are already reporters in “real life.” Josh Marshall was a Washington journalist before he started Talking Points Memo. Michael Yon was a published author before he started his blog and today he’s supported by a combination of reader donations and freelancing to places like The Weekly Standard and Fox News. (They’re reprinting his dispatches, but presumably he’s getting some cash for this.)
Others are no doubt providing a public service and even doing some journalism. Good for them. When I started Back-to-Iraq, almost five years ago, I was hopeful that my brand of online journalism, supported by the public, would take off. That’s not been the case. Why? Because doing journalism is expensive.
Josh has investors. Michael freelances and embeds himself where his costs are mainly paid for by the U.S. government. (Food, transportation around Iraq, connection costs, etc.) And as for me, I stopped getting donations long ago — I got kind of bored by the hustle required — and I support myself by freelancing. And that brings me to my point. Jay’s list of 14 sites proves Skube’s central idea: there are very, very few blogs out there doing what might be called original reporting. A friend of mine called it the Yertle-the-Turle Syndrome: “bloviator on top of bloviator on top of bloviator on top of one lowly reporter, buried at the bottom of the pile, gathering the facts of the matter,” he said.
As for me, I am not a “blogger.” I am a journalist who chose to blog to make a career move. I am still a journalist, proudly embedded in the so-called mainstream media, which generates about 99.9999% of the original reporting today. When I was first getting ready to go to Iraq in early 2003, many reporters called me and asked me why I was doing it, why blog? “I blog,” I said, “for the same reason I don’t use a manual typewriter instead of a laptop. It’s the best tool for the job.” I still believe that in my case.
The articles that Jay linked that I wrote were all done when I was in Iraq for TIME Magazine. I’m not sure why he didn’t link to my reporting from April 2003 during the invasion, when it really was just for the blog, but there you go. I’ve been a journalist since 1990, when I started at the Arkansas Democrat in Little Rock. I have a degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and I’ve worked for The Associated Press, the New York Daily News and freelanced for more newspapers and magazines than I care to remember. (They include New York magazine, TIME, Boston Globe, Newark Star-Ledger, Die Zeit, Washington TImes, San Francisco Chronicle, Singapore Strait-Times and others.) I’m working on pitches for Esquire and others right now. Almost every day I’m engaged in shoe-leather reporting here in Lebanon and the wider Middle East and I try keep my opinions presented on this blog backed up by my own reporting. (It’s not a perfect system; sometimes I rant.)
Blogging can be really great. It’s empowering for the individual, you can do some risky stuff (you need to watch your facts, ethics, etc.) and it allows you to get your stuff out there when you can’t get the stuff in a magazine. The culture has moved in such a way that including blog clips is perfectly respectable to include now for a writing assignment. But equating the average blog with journalism done by seasoned pros at the The New York Times or the Washington Post is wrong. It cheapens what costs money and time to produce and it reduces the value of the “product.” It helps turn news into a commodity that makes journalism worse because newspapers can’t figure out how to make money off it. And if they can’t do that, they’ll close down or scale back coverage — to the detriment of all. Tragedy of the commons and all.
So, blog away, but please leave me out of the lists showing bloggers doing journalism. A blog is just a medium after all. Is everyone on TV a news anchor just because they share a studio? Of course not. So at the risk of sounding elitist, just because I have a blog doesn’t mean I’m in your club — or you in mine.