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Traditional journalists versus the blogosphere

March 8th, 2009 · 28 Comments

There has been a spate of stories in recent days from journalists in the MSM (mainstream media, just in case there’s one among you out there not familiar with that term) wringing their hands over the death of media and therefore democracy, as newspapers shut down, television stations lay off swathes of staff, and radio struggles.

Along with that has been a not coincidental, I think, stream of stories from MSM journalists unhappy about the level of discourse that seems to have come with the rise of the webosphere. Judith Timson in the Globe had a column last Saturday about how web commenting is the new blood sport. The Globe’s health writer, Andre Picard, also had one during the week, looking at how the Internet and the nasty conversations on it are having an impact on science and health. Those are just two of the more prominent ones I noted, but they add to a growing concern about what the new form of journalism is going to be.

It’s a strange time for me to watch this. I teach a course in the history of journalism and so I know that the constant in the business is the level of manic change. And I straddle two universes. I still work in MSM and I also blog. I like both worlds. MSM journalism, at its best, means really devoting yourself to trying to tell a complete story, with all that that demands in the way of rigorously searching out information and distilling it to something coherent for readers.

But the blog world is great too. For me and for many of my MSM friends, it’s been a revelation to be able to have a dialogue with readers that goes far beyond the usual “Here’s my story, what do you think of it?” exchange in MSM. As one of my friends said recently, “It makes me feel like I really understand all the people out there who have been reading my stories all these years. Now I get to hear from them. The problem with most of us is that we only know a limited circle of people and we think everyone thinks like us. But this puts me in touch with whole different worlds.” I know I feel that way, too, and I feel privileged, for the most part, to have such interesting people commenting on my blog.

But there is another side to WebWorld that bothers me, and both Judith’s and Andre’s columns struck a chord as a result.

One is the abuse that gets heaped on journalists who do not write the story that certain readers think should be written. I have really noticed this recently, as people have dumped on me via web for not sufficiently crucifying people like Paul Haden or Judy Rogers or the Maleks. It’s just so puzzling to me. I went into journalism because people interest me and I want to know more about them, good and bad. When I was a kid, I was dying to know what was going on behind every picture window on our block. When you decide you’re going to make a villain of someone, you run the risk of blinding yourself to parts of their story. But it seems as though, in this increasingly partisan world, if you try to write that more balanced, more open story, you’re seen as a dupe, a wimp, a shill.

The other part of the new web journalism that disturbs me is the lack of any kind of standards when it comes to disseminating “facts” and opinions. I know people like to imagine that MSM journalists have no standards, that they’ll print every scurrilous thing that crosses their desk. I just wish all the conspiracy theorists could spend time in a good newsroom, where reporters often turn down dozens of stories of alleged wrongdoing in a month. Why? Because they actually try to check them out, see if they can verify whether any of the information is true, sort out people’s imperfect understandings of how the bureaucracy works and see what still holds water — and only when they can be assured that there’s some validity to they start shaping it into a story.

But out there in WebWorld, people think it’s good enough to BELIEVE something is true — without actually doing the hard work of checking anything — to put it out there as a fact. My friend who loves her new blog world is also disturbed by the conversations she has with some posters who don’t get why they can’t post libellous comments about people using their real names, without providing a shred of documentation.

I’d like to think that, out of the tectonic shifts now reshaping traditional journalism, that we come out with a kind of information sharing that is better. It’s not a bad idea for reporters to have a dialogue with people in the community about how they do their jobs and to accept their input about what’s a story and whose point of view should be included. But I sometimes worry that it’s going to be much worse and than, in 10 years, when the MSM media are dead and buried, information and news will consist of isolated groups of people all screaming out their distorted version of the truth only to each other.

Categories: Uncategorized

  • jimmy olson

    read dave winer on the issues of journalism

    http://www.scripting.com

  • I used to be a news junkie. I’m in my 30s. In my 20s, I subscribed to the Sun, the Globe, and the Economist, and watched at least one TV newscast a day. But the more I learned, the more I despaired at their quality. I started reading blogs, and one by one I cancelled all the other sources of news (though the Economist was replaced by the New York Review of Books).

    I discovered the news had made me ignorant and depressed. Now the tragedies with no larger significance just pass me by. No kids dying, no random acts of violence, less politicking. I understand things better. I have a better view of the limits of my knowledge – and of the diversity and the limits of others. In a democracy where we must work with others, that is vital. I am often shocked by the narrowness and inaccuracy of mainstream reporting when I compare it to the range of perspectives I encounter in the blogs I follow and the books I read. Many online perspectives are wacky. I have come to realize that everyone has a few wacky views; online they are simply more visible. They are an important reminder of the limitations of what I read.

    There is a lot of good journalism out there. But there is also much bad journalism, many warmed-over press releases masquerading as stories. I have come to the conclusion that newspaper reading actually reduces my understanding of the world. I believe I understand the financial crisis better because I learned about it online. The same applies to global warming, to transit and planning, and so on. Not because there’s some big conspiracy or key that unlocks these issues, but because there isn’t. No neat story, no clean narrative, no well-defined beginning and end. Good stories online provide citations in the form of links, they attract a following of intelligent – and often expert – commentary. And a search can almost always find someone who disagrees so that arguments can be compared.

    True, much of what I read online is based on mainstream sources. If real, in-depth journalism withers away, that would be tragic. How the new online model will replace it is still an open question. But the state of the media was already simply not good enough: not good enough to sustain a democratic society. Given the choice between a model that has failed, and one that’s risky, I’ll take the risk.

  • good points.

    the future of journalism, i think, lies in restoring its relationship with its communities that has been virtually destroyed by global corporate media ownership and concentration.

    the interaction you have with readers now is the start of something good that will help the free press become freer and a better service to democracy.

    *my* contribution to the spate is about our responsibility to community papers: “Keep Reading Your Community Newspapers, Or Else” at http://politicsrespun.org/2009/03/keep-reading-your-community-newspapers-or-else/

  • jesse

    I doubt you will see the end of MSM journalism but don’t be surprised if a topic is poorly researched or industry/government shills are cited as being implicitly objective is called out for what it is.

    The local MSM has a history of being biased or lazy in much of its reporting. This is not new but what you are really seeing is a long term consequence of this in the form of cynicism IMO.

    There will always be critics so I wouldn’t take it personally. The best you can do is not suck.

  • What the “democratization” of information spreading — ie the web and blogs — probably means is that it is more important than ever that high schools, university and parents teach the next generations about how to scrutinize what they read (or hear, or see). Most don’t do a very good job, I fear.

    The concepts of reading blog or MSM articles is really the same: you need to look to see if the author used credible sources, spot the arguments, notice the author’s “Axe to grind” and look for some presentation of counter-perspectives (or seek them yourself).

    As a consumer of blogs or MSM you accumulate a collection of authors who you trust when it comes to fact checking and/or not spreading mis-information.

    Good, credible MSM will survive and thrive in this era. NY Times, WSJ, Economist, Globe and Mail are publications with a reputation for integrity. When you want to understand an issue, you go see what they are writing about it.

    There are also MSM publications where I may read some writers, but have real problems with others at the same publication or editorial policies (like running corporate press releases as news, unedited).

  • At least twice in the past 2 months I’ve left comments on the CBC news website that were removed.

    One comment asked if perhaps the mission in Afghanistan was worthwhile, if we’re trying to remake their society one more like ours – in which we lock up our garbage at night, or one in which some poor hapless employee at a big box store can be trampled to death in a shopping frenzy. That comment, after 24 hours, was the second most recommended, but a day later was deleted.
    The second was shortly after a young drunk driver struck and killed two pedestrians near the Burrard Bridge. The majority of comments seemed evenly split between remorse for the families and a lynch mob. But my comment asked what we as a society were saying when we blithely permitted sports bars to be built in industrial parks like Tilsbury industrial park in North Delta. The bar’s certainly not a walkable distance from anyone’s home and nobody (and I mean *NOBODY*) is going to take a bus along River Road to drink there. So why is there a bar there?
    Because we accept drinking drivers, we build (and zone) to anticipate it, and we really don’t make penalties for drinking driving all that severe. So – while the story was a sad one all around, nothing would really change.

    Again, this comment was heavily recommended and yet disappeared the next day.
    The most recommended response was one in which the writer asked if “we” should just jump into a SUV and run the suspect down.
    Great.
    Apparently, that kind of sentiment passes muster for “respectable opinion” at the CBC, but anything that suggests a broader, more enlightened perspective gets dumped. Were I the conspiratorial type, I’d say the CBC did a fine job of making its readers seem like a vindictive, angry, mindless mob…

    So what?
    So when I hear “media types” lamenting the bile spewed on blogs and web sites, all I can think of is their dismissal of my opinion via the “Delete” button.
    It’s galling and insulting to me to hear media types lament the “dialogue” on the web after being subjected to editorial arrogance like this.
    And it’s not just me they’re flipping off.

    Because the CBC effectively told the few hundred people who found the time to read and approve my comments on these topics that their opinions didn’t matter either…

    So please – tell me again… who’s doing what to who?

  • Ideas

    While I respect Frances’ commitment to professionalism and ethics and journalism, to suggest that scurrilous accusations that have no basis in fact are not disseminated every day in MSM is absurd. Four words for you: “weapons of mass destruction.” And how about the banning of the Dixie Chicks from commercial radio for saying something mean about President Bush.

    The same concerns about the “don’t believe everything you read online” cautions you rightfully make can be said of MSM, especially in its earlier years when there was way less scrutiny on owner manipulation of the media, fewer media in general, and less sophisticated ways of lying while telling us it’s the truth.

    I am also concerned that the ongoing concentration of MSM ownership is taking us there again (witness how City Caucus posts on absurd issues appear to have a direct pipeline to the Global TV newsroom).

    So I say, democratize the heck out of the media. The community of journalists, writers and news organizations will eventually police eachother on credible internet sites, as they do elsewhere in the blogosphere.

  • spartikus

    The community of journalists, writers and news organizations will eventually police eachother on credible internet sites, as they do elsewhere in the blogosphere.

    Well, one of the things I try to do in blog comments, one might even say it’s my “schtick”, is to ask bloggers or other commenters to back up unsupported claims with credible citations. Admittedly, it’s a humble effort, but the more people do it, the more the blogosphere will become worthwhile.

    Frances raises excellent and pertinent points about the current state of “blogging”. There are only a handful of bloggers that truly meet the potential of the medium. While his tone is more than occasionally shrill, Glenn Greenwald consistently writes worthwhile and often devastatingly thorough pieces on Salon, and is the blogger I hold up as an example the mediums promise fulfilled. But more often than not, the larger blogs are simply too partisan. One could consider them akin to the political “pamphleteers” of previous centuries.

    But Ideas point is also, in my opinion, extremely valid. It’s not simply new technology that is undermining the corporate media’s business model. The “MSM” has become so part of the established order that genuine reporting becomes difficult for it. There are notable exceptions, of course…but I’ve long given up on the Vancouver Sun or Province for genuine insight in to local affairs.

  • TaxPayer

    I consider the vancouver sun a “dead” paper. It serves no useful purpose in terms of real Investigative News coverage…. just so much pablum for the masses. I haven’t read it for years.. ever since Asper the Younger decided to “run” the paper and the editorials. He became a weirdo “gatekeeper”… myself and many others moved around him and his ilk. We now read the Globe and Mail, The Tyee, and the many great news sites on the Blogsphere.

    Newspapers only remained viable as long as they were funding and supporting the journalists that were hard hitting, independent, and dug deep for the stories and news items that really inform the citizenry . But when they abandoned their fifth column role and became mouth-pieces for political parties, they lost many folks. What a well informed citizen needs is insight and investigative coverage of politics from ALL angles. When you starve people of opposing news they will seek it out else where.

  • TaxPayer

    .. it seems that Raef Mair at the The Tyee also has some views on the situation http://thetyee.ca/Mediacheck/2009/03/09/MediaMeltdown/

  • “….how web commenting is the new blood sport….

    In my experience this happens on two types of sites.

    1) Sites where it is all about preaching to the converted (and only the converted)

    2) proMedia sites where the only attempts at moderation are for profanity, etc (ie. not content).

    The best discussions are those that are actually moderated by the person that wrote the post. I think, for the most part, this site is a pretty good example of that (ie. we know Ms. Bula is watching so we, again for the most part, watch what we say).

    .

    .

    .

  • MB

    An excellent post, Frances, made more inspiring by the excellent comments that followed.

    Barbara Yaffe’s column in Saturday’s Sun painted a picture of the potential collapse of newspapers on the immediate horizon.

    http://www.vancouversun.com/News/will+newspapers+saved/1364267/story.html

    My immediate thought was, What the hell do you expect when the owners decided to inject their own one-sided political agenda into the editorials, to list primarily in one direction, and to increase revenue by increasing ad space at the expense of regular in-depth investigative journalism.

    Quality, apparently, is a marketable commondity ony to the readers, not to the owners. I’ve gotten a better explanation and perspective on many issues — even local ones — from the Globe and Mail, the old Walrus magazine (not the new one), the Guardian, the London Times, the NY Times and a host of others.

    Now Yaffe has implied that a public bailout of newspapers should be on the public agenda for the sake of “democracy.” That is seriously galling when considering the financial woes CanWest is currently experiencing stem from a profoundly undemocratic management attitude and are largely self-inflicted by the insane desire to go deep into debt to collect as many media organizations as possible.

    The Sun has lost many good journalists in the 30 years I’ve been reading it, you among them. When Stephen Hume finally retires (or is given notice), that will be the day I’ll keep my coins in my pocket.

  • A. G. Tsakumis

    A public “bailout” of the media industry, whether papers, otherwise, is indeed galling considering who the suggestion is coming from: Barbara Daffy, Peter McMidnight and a few others make it intolerable when they shovel such nonsense. It stops being opinion when you can’t support it.

    The Sun’s editorial board should be ashamed of themselves. They allowed a certain senior writer, who now, ahem, writes for VanMag and the Mop and Pail, to be treated like crap. So they lose the best civicc writer they’ve ever had in the lead up to an election!!! Brilliant…

    But this isn’t their only problem: Ms. Graham and company do not want the challenging opinion out there–they want pablum, the easy story–gun play on the streets, Dziekanski was killed and that’s tragic (well, duh?)…the days of Les Bewley, Jack Webster, Wasserman, Fotheringham are gone.

    The old time journalists (of which I consider myself one) are a dime a dozen, because it takes too much to put yourself out there with a strong opinion (knowing that you will either be loved or hated). Today’s pablum shoveler wants only to be loved so that when they attend the corporate golf tourneys, on our dime, they’re all used to borrowing some balls…they’ve had lots of practice through the year…

  • Dawn Steele

    Yes, Frances, the difference is we all get to read the colourful things that people just used to mutter under their breath while reading the morning paper.

    There’s some great journalism in the MSM, but there’s also a lot of shallow crap, boosterism and self-censorship driven by the need to make ends meet. Pressures to conform with the organizational culture and to avoid giving offence mean there’s also a rather narrow range of voices. And in many ways the margins have narrowed significantly over the years – the kind of scope that I and my colleagues were given at the Globe 20 years ago doesn’t seem to exist anywhere today.

    The Internet certainly does a better job holding journalists’ feet to the fire re the crappy shallow stuff. It can also potentially provide a lower-cost business model that allows independent journalists or editorial teams to launch new enterprises that relate more directly to their readers, with reduced corporate and advertiser pressures. So there is a positive aspect in terms of increased transparency and accountability and opportunity re the reporting function, although it no doubt makes life a bit more uncomfortable for the reporters.

    This doesn’t deny that there’s a dark side too. The solitary anonymity of blog posting does encourage an uninhibited approach to sharing one’s thoughts. And of course if anyone can be a pundit, it’s inevitable that we’ll get all sorts of whacky stuff, which gets to persist and thrive because a global audience means even the most whacked-out whacko can find a fan club somewhere online.

    I see promise in the Internet – I look at blogs like yours, at some of those run by other MSM reporters and Op Ed contributors, at independents like Sean Holman and indie operations like The Tyee and they give me a lot of hope.

    Finding the right balance in moderating comments seems to be key to maintaining civil dialogue, as others have noted. A preview window (suggestion?) is also helpful in encouraging people to think twice before posting that gut-driven reaction. A good accreditation/watchdog system might also be helpful in giving readers confidence re which blogs maintain high levels of journalistic integrity, and/or highlighting where agenda-driven impostor sites are masquerading as “fair and unbiased” journalism.

  • Dawn Steele

    Ha! I forgot the key piece that I think really adds extraordinary novelty and value to blog reporting – i.e. that wonderfully interactive, iterative, feedback loop thing that can get going when you and your fans seize on a hot lead and start chasing it down collaboratively!

    That used to happen to a certain extent with offline sources but nothing like I’ve seen happening on the blogs. For example, Kim Bolan’s blog on the gang thing in recent weeks has been nothing short of extraordinary – it’s become a key part of the story.

  • urb anwriter

    Just two points today.

    I think people have a very ‘rose tinted’ view of the good old days of journalism; its dedication to solid reportage, its honesty, integrity, and objectivity. Asa Briggs is a good place to start reading on some of that history.

    Second point; the notion that only journalists self-censor. You work in a community – providing a service (say plumbing) – and through your presence in a wide variety of buildings, staff, management, occasions to eavesdrop, you slowly become aware of some item, event, or policy that doesn’t pass the ‘smell test.’ Do you, as a responsible citizen, write/blog about it. Or do you hand it off to a member of the MSM, while knowing in either eventuality that your employer may suffer the indignities visited upon them when the subject of the story determines its origins. And, if you can’t put your name to it, it’s probably heresay anyway (having been burned there myself, and reminded of it here, by a regular) and shouldn’t be touched. So you keep your own mouth shut.

    Aw, shucks, let’s make it three things. Some things, like the drug dealers on Hastings St, I’ve written to ‘Mayor and Council,’ several of them actually. I’ve written to the Chief of Police, offering my assistance – my willingness actually – to point them out, should the VPD actually be interested in addressing the issue. I’ve blogged about, bitched about it, essayed about it. But the same dealers are on the street now that were there 8 years ago. But I guess they are not a ‘gang,’ nor is the DES an area where the VPD, the transit donut eaters, the survivors of CLEU, or the defenders of freedom and democracy (Canadian Border Services Agency, hmmpf) that zoom about the harbour in inflatable dingys care to interfere with business…

    Write on.

  • With blogging, one of the things that takes getting used to is the extreme opinion from certain readers. When I first started writing, I was taken by surprise by the number of vitriolic comments. I’ve come to discover that the extreme opinion does not represent the median opinion. Case in point, almost every comment on GlobeandMail.com. All of my friends read the Globe online and we are nothing like the extremists ranting in the comments. It’s a shame those remarks aren’t moderated more aggressively. Comment moderation is essential for fostering worthwhile debate.

    My experience is that blog audiences are looking for intelligent ideas, expressed through sources, good writing and comments that encourage quality discussion. I think the test of journalistic integrity should be based on the best blogs, not the worst. Clearly there are libelers and rumour-mongers out there. I find it hard to believe that these blogs are well read by people seeking informed opinion.

  • foo

    As a non-journalist, I look on these wailings about the end of the MSM with contempt.

    Before the bloggers, I had to get all my current affairs information from the MSM, because there was no other source. When I came across articles about hi-tech, I would be dismayed at how poorly they represented the reality, and so I stopped taking any notice of that kind of thing in the MSM.

    Once blogs became widespread, I discovered that pretty much everything else in the MSM was as poorly represented.

    One example – as a Vancouver resident, obviously the price of housing is near and dear to my heart. Way back in 2005 when I went looking for info about the housing market, I found many blogs that had detailed analysis of the market situation and the bubble that was forming (eg the long-lamented van-housing.blogspot.com). Even today, after the bubble has burst, you can’t find that kind of analysis of the situation in the MSM.

    Politics is another area where the MSM fail dramatically. Pretty much any controversial issue is treated as a “he-said she-said” story. Maybe that’s what they teach in journalism school, but often even though a story has two sides, one side is correct and the other isn’t.

    Like Geof above, I consider myself a news junkie. I’m the kind of person that subscribes to the papers. I’m in a demographic that advertisers would like. The MSM have gone out of their way to lose people like me, by putting out a crappy product.

    And when professional journalists whine that bloggers just post any old crap without checking facts or doing research, it only re-inforces my opinion that the MSM deserves to die.

    Good quality blogs do far better research and fact checking than any MSM organization. Mostly it’s because the people behind them are experts in their field, focus on what they know, and know where to find the facts.

    But partly it’s because anonymous bloggers are not beholden to their sources to keep them on top of scoops, so they can write stuff that doesn’t please the insiders. MS journalists have become (or maybe always were) way too dependent on insiders passing them juicy gossip, so that it becomes impossible for them to be critical of the people they should be reporting on.

    My final thought – I’ve found way more interesting info about civic Vancouver on this blog than I ever did in your Vancouver Sun columns (or your G&M stuff). Even when professional journalists turn to blogging, the results are better.

  • blaffergassted

    I understand the Asper Twins love the Internet because it’s helping to drive down the wages of their writers.

  • glissando remmy

    “I keep six honest serving-men
    (They taught me all I knew);
    Their names are What and Why and When
    And How and Where and Who.”
    Rudyard Kipling, from the tale of “The Elephant’s Child”, 1902

    The public was failed miserably by MSM in the past decade. Several major stories were ignored, misrepresented or written on order.
    Multinationals cannibalized smaller periodicals and local newspapers in their bid to get the lion’s share of a market they thought they will easily control when the competition would become a thing of the past. One single mistake although; they miscalculated the power of the new Kid on the block, the WWW a.k.a. the Internet.
    Of course the Internet is not immune to censorship and/or brainwashing diseases.
    A recent Trojan horse manoeuvre by the Facebook administrators meant to control, direct and own in perpetuity the personal content of their members failed dejectedly when the whole story was exposed on personal blogs. Facebook backed off, for now…
    The MSM will become less and less used as an information source, not only that it moves at slower speeds than the already embedded blogger but the credibility loss is not going to be recaptured. Think MSM vs. Blogger the equivalent to RCMP vs. Paul Pritchard whose video of the YVR Robert Dziekanski Taser incident made it around the world in a nanosecond.
    Voila! Why not your next topic for discussion? It’s local, it concerns all of us and it affects all of us in ways more vivid than some lost chickens in the city.
    I always wondered, if he was still alive, what would Rudyard say?
    We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

  • Brenda B.

    Canwest journalism has become the repackaging of largely unchecked second-hand material, much of it designed to service the political or commercial interests of those who provide it.

    There specific ways in which pressure is exerted on the practice of journalism, on a daily basis. Stories need to be cheap, meaning ‘quick to cover’, ‘safe to publish’; they need to ‘select safe facts’ preferably from official sources; they need to ‘avoid the electric fence’, sources of guaranteed trouble such as the libel laws and the highly connected political lobbies; to be based on ‘safe ideas’ and contradict no loved prevailing wisdoms; to avoid complicated or context-rich problems; and always to ‘give both sides of the story’ (‘balance means never having to say you’re sorry – because you haven’t said anything’). And conversely, there are active pressures to pursue stories that tell people what they want to hear, to give them lots of celebrity and TV-based coverage, and to subscribe to every moral panic. So goes Canwest, so goes Western Media…

  • Forthingham

    Brenda B writes: “Canwest journalism has become the repackaging of largely unchecked second-hand material, much of it designed to service the political or commercial interests of those who provide it.”

    …. this in fact could be the Corporate marching orders read to Canwest Journalists.

    And after a few years of proffering such puffery on their readers they find themselves on the wrong side of relevancy.

    As for the rest of the Western Media …

    I believe there are good opportunities and business models that will foster good journalism. At the momentum the sate of journalism is in transition, and we are too close to the ground to see the future sources of in depth news analysis … but they will come…

    With blogs and other avenues of publications, one could even make the case that Universities and Schools of Journalism will provide new opportunities for scholars and journalist to practice their craft of investigative reporting without being beholden to over zealous owners and Political ties.

  • fbula

    FRANCES SAYS: Obviously, as someone who has worked inside MSM for many years, I have my own share of anecdotes and complaints about bad practices. You all have them too. And of course it’s easy to find many examples of what you don’t like in today’s frantic cost-cutting climate among some media. But what’s not clear to me is whether you think MSM are hopeless because the basic model is bad — the idea of people paid to do journalism, which entails trying to find out information and then trying to verify it and then trying to shape it into a story. Or is it that you think the current practioners have simply done a bad job with a model that could work under other circumstances?

    I’d like to offer thoughts on many of the other comments here, but that would be exhausting for all concerned. But I will just add one little response to Forthingham above here — do you really think that universities would be untouched by political or economic concerns when it comes to supporting investigative journalism? Increasingly, they are hyper-sensitive about endowments and government funding.

    The fundamental problem that I keep turning over in my head is: Who is willing to pay for good journalism? I don’t see any answers here. It seems to me that the danger of the future is that there will be two kinds of journalism: 1. Journalism supported by those willing to pay for information, which will be primarily business interests. (That’s the way journalism started, back in the early days.) That doesn’t mean it will be bad, but it will be focused very tightly on what that audience wants 2. Journalism that no one wants to pay for, which means it will be either blogs run by people with single interests or junk commercial journalism that supports itself with minimal advertising and is produced with the least investment possible.

  • Michael Phillips

    Hi Frances, I wrote this before I saw your post, but I think it addresses your comment…

    Well first, I find this thread itself pretty inspiring because all of these well thought out and carefully expressed opinions put together make a point beyond opinion, which is that there is tremendous depth of knowledge, variety of perspective and most importantly desire both to teach and to learn among people in general when it comes to the issues we care about. That is what blogging mobilizes at its best and it’s extremely powerful. If social progress is related to the increasing interconnectedness of people, which promotes understanding, sympathy, public organization and public action, then I think the near future will be a very exciting time for us and rude blog comments aren’t really going to impact this structural change, although they are annoying.

    However, I think both blogs and mainstream media are essential. What we want socially, I believe, is opinion of the greatest quantity and fact of the greatest quality. We want access to the most ideas, but we want someone to really try hard to get us the straight facts so that we can interpret them in these various ways. Blogs can do the opinion thing great, no barriers
    to entry usually, instantaneous communication, and for free, but the production of genuine facts typically isn’t free. I don’t think we’re ready to do away with the paid fact-finder yet. It takes time, expertise and organization to get somebody to find out how BC Rail got sold, how much money the DTES efforts are costing etc. and that all requires money and therefore requires generally a price.

    So long as people can recognize fact from opinion and value fact independently, they will be willing to pay a price for fact-finders. But MSM needs to do 2 things that it’s not doing: First, be conscious of the fact that your only unassailable niche is now In-Depth Fact Finding. Don’t tell me something I can read for free that’s all. I should be able to read pretty much any article and tell pretty soon that this is not the free paper or a website or else there is no mystery why your paper isn’t selling for $1.50. Second, find a way to conveniently charge a price for this, maybe a higher price than is now normal. The Province’s Operation Phoenix is exactly what a paper is now for but why a ‘paper’. Tell me how much money we are putting into the DTES, find obvious inefficiencies, interview people about how we can help the destitute better, put it on my screen in my bedroom, and I’ll send you a dollar on my PayPal. So I think rumours of MSM’s death are highly exaggerated.

    PS. I also believe part of the problem with newspapers is an interesting little economic phenomenon. If a newspaper doesn’t differentiate itself from others, the online version will have to be free because if even one other paper has a free online version to promote readership, all other paid newspaper sites with similar content are obsolete. The cost to any individual newspaper of pushing their content onto the internet is virtually nil and if no one else is doing it than you are competing mainly with the paid version of other papers rather than your own and so this is a good way to generate readership. However, once one paper does this everybody must soon jump in and suddenly everyones free internet version is competing with everyone’s paid newspaper version. In other words, the technology of the internet is forcing newspapers to offer free products which collectively compete with their own paid products.

    The only way to get away with charging for an online version of the newspaper is to offer something different from the others, mainly In Depth Fact Finding such as Operation Phoenix, specific interviews, exclusives of various kinds, unique segments. Then you can charge because people can’t get it elsewhere. You might read one interview somewhere for free, but you will still be willing to pay for a different interview on a different subject elsewhere.

    The CanWest business model if I understand it, of information sharing, reliance on newswire and on shallow information, requires pushing so much onto the internet for free and is now suicidal. When everyone is doing this, it only creates the illusion that people won’t pay for MSM, but they just don’t have to that’s all.

  • foo

    Frances, your question “who is willing to pay for good journalism” is easily answered. All of the people who currently buy newspapers. And some more.

    The issue is really “good journalism”. As several of us have commented, we grew up believing that what we were exposed to in the MSM was “good journalism”. Now that we have ready access to the information sources via the internet, it’s easy to do our own research and fact checking, and we have discovered that the overwhelming majority of journalism is not “good journalism”.

    What journalists need to do is stop looking down their noses at the bloggers, and instead take a leaf out of their books. Do research properly, don’t take officialdom’s word for everything, provide some in-depth coverage. Take a stand on the facts.

    The biggest turn-off for me from the MSM is the content-free, he-said-she-said kind of reporting that you find.

    For eg, there was an article in the G&M yesterday (or so), headlined “how to fix the DTES”. An interview with some UBC functionary. The entire article consisted of fluff, with not a single practical suggestion of what might be done; not a single tough question for the interviewee; not a single line suggesting that maybe the interviewee wasn’t exactly coming forward with real solutions. What a complete waste of my time to read that.

    On the other hand, I can read a few blog posts here, together with the comments, and find a whole bunch of practical, implementable ideas. There’s a lot of shouting and partisanship and vitriol, but there’s real information in it all. I’m quite happy to wade through a bit of vitriol and crap if I can come out even marginally better informed at the end.

    Sure as hell I’m not going to pay for the sanitized hot air that emanates from the MSM.

    A lot of people here seem to think the problem is Canwest. I think that’s bogus – this decline is all across the political spectrum, and all over the world. My opinion is that the problem is the mind-set of journalists who believe they’re better than us, the audience, because they have the stage and the “insider” connections. Well, y’all might have the inside connections still, but we now have the stage. And once your connections realise you no longer have the stage, they’ll disappear as well.

  • BC Mary

    I keep coming back to the media failure in the Jasmohan Singh Bains trial. Bains was thought to be the West Coast’s new Mr Big in 2003 … an important crime figure who police tracked right into the BC Legislature on 28 Dec. 2003.

    Police had been listening in on wiretap phone calls between Bains and his cousin Dave Basi when they began to hear strange things about BCRail.

    So Bains is expected to be a key witness when Basi, Virk, and Basi come to trial in the BC Rail Case.

    Neal Hall mentioned that Bains was expected to go to trial himself on drugs charges “sometime in 2008”. So I watched carefully for that. Nothing.

    Then in December 2008, an astute follower of my blog overheard a comment at a Basi Virk hearing. He looked around the Supreme Courtroom and saw no media there, and decided to tell me about it.

    Frankly, I couldn’t believe it: Bains sentenced to 9 years? When did this happen?

    I held the story back for 2 days (just as you said, Ms Bula) … “trying to find out information and then trying to verify it and then trying to shape it into a story”. I was astonished to find it was true.

    Jas Bains had gone to trial in June 2008 in Victoria Court House … just a few blocks down the street from CanWest’s Times Colonist. In August 2008, the jury had found him guilty. And in September 2008, the judge sentenced him to 9 years and a huge fine.

    That’s how – 6 months after it happened — I, as the blogger BC Mary — broke one of the biggest BC stories ever. My headline was: JASMOHAN BAINS SENTENCED TO 9 YEARS.

    But nothing happened. My regular readers were appreciative. Nobody in Big Media picked it up. Two more months went quietly by.

    What kind of a news media wouldn’t have noted this story in the first place? wouldn’t have noted it on a blog or in comments (like this)?

    Then one day, something I said to Ian Mulgrew caught his attention. He must’ve done what I did: confirmed the story, then wrote it up: DRUG DEALER LINKED TO LEGISLATURE RAID IMPRISONED. Vancouver Sun, Feb 17, 2009 … 8 months after the trial.

    I love this line: “This significant event went apparently unreported until it appeared on citizen journalist Mary Mackie’s blog [http://bctrialofbasi-virk.blogspot.com/] and was brought to my attention …”

    I have enormous respect for journalism, Frances, but I’m darned if I can understand how such an important story could be treated this way — especially when there’s gunfire in the streets and the politicians are making speeches about fighting crime.

    Oh. And there’s been no further mention of the Bains story in Big Media either.

  • Pest

    What? The Blogosphere missed the story of the Bains sentencing? What are they trying to cover up? I saw a mention of it on B.C. Mary’s blog, but other than that NOTHING!!! After all, British Columbia has way more bloggers than court reporters from Big Media. What are they trying to hide???????

    Sorry, couldn’t help myself.

  • Forthingham

    BC Mary — keep up the good work. The whole media take on the basi/virek trial stinks…. something tells me that someone has gotten to the prosecution’s office.