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Notes & analysis: The Role of the Reporter session

April 7th, 2004 · No Comments

I’ve previously posted my partial transcript from the session I attended on The Role of the Reporter, a Bainbridge Island Humanities Inquiry Event.

In this post I will summarize the points that seemed relevant to weblogs and use quotes taken from the transcript.

Weblogs were not mentioned in the session, as far as I can remember, except for Matt Drudge who was referenced with some disdain. Panelists referred to the Internet as both “a blessing and a curse”. I think that the blessings included being able to receive contact and correction from readers, as well as obtain sources. Tracking down plagiarism on the Internet is easier – making that a blessing also. Plagiarism itself however happens much easier on the Internet – I think that was called a “curse”.

After the session, I am more convinced that blogs could provide effective reporting. If the connection and credibility between the press and the public is broken, why couldn’t a weblog writer have at least the same credibility, if not more? At least two of the panelists mentioned that the public or those they interview become suspicious and question their newspaper’s funding source/ownership, skepticism fueled by belief that the paper will be biased by financial considerations, whoever holds the purse strings buying bias. Webloggers, at least amateur ones, writing on the side in their spare time, would be free and clear of this taint and skepticism. However, as I’ve realized even while working on these pieces, professional reporters have time that many bloggers don’t have to pursue stories and sources. Professionals have a *Rolodex* too and access to sources simply by press credentials, relationship and reputation – but then again bloggers may be experts themselves or have access to experts whom the mainstream media does not consider. Philip Dawdy from the alternative Seattle Weekly, at the session described how he asks different questions and finds different sources and angles when he writes: bloggers could also provide distinct coverage. I think that the personal voice of a blogger could provide power and perspective that the professional reporter, lacking credibility, doesn’t have and can’t provide.

Without providing further analysis, I’ll let the quotes below (taken from the transcript) speak for themselves, writing short comments in italics beneath some.

What Weblogs Can Do Too:

Reveal The Things That Are Hidden and Out of Sight

Rick Jackson (SPU-academia):

I approach newspapers passionately…my appreciation for all that these three and others do…to bear witness in the world to what’s going on, to show us the things that are hidden and out of sight – to find the people who are overlooked, outside the circles of power, the full range of human experience…show us, not just tell us, what going on in the lives of the people, both in institutions and individual people

If this is what reporting is, then a blog is a great way to “bear witness to the world” of these “overlooked people”

Find Something That’s Wrong & Help Change It = Big Joy

Philip Dawdy (Seattle Weekly):

…ultimately that’s the big joy when you find something that’s wrong..and it changes as a result of what you’ve done…when it does happen it’s mighty sweet…

Why not get “big joy” from a blog too?

How Weblogs Can Improve Reporting:

Help Repair Lack of Credibility and Connect to Public

Rick Jackson (SPU-academia):

….if this group in the room is representative of society as a whole, most of you don’t believe what we’re saying…most of you don’t believe [journalists]…we’re at a time when the disconnect between the public and journalists is enormously acute…

that disconnect both breaks my heart and leaves me asking is there an opportunity for journalists to connect to the public in new ways…

Could weblogs be this opportunity for journalists to connect to the public in new ways – and for new sources to be created also?

More Space, Less Limits Than Paper

Larry Johnson (Seattle P-I):

sometimes on any given day I might get 8 stories in the paper and a column of briefs – how are you going to inform the public when that’s all you get…I don’t see a solution in sight right now.

There are 192 foreign stories each day that the P-I doesn’t publish – why not put at least some of them on the paper’s web site or farm them out to blogs?

Competition Makes It Good

Larry Johnson (Seattle P-I):

journalists are lazy…unless you have competition you’re not going to have good journalism.

In some places, blogs will be the only competition to the local paper

Personal Opinion Included

Larry Johnson (Seattle P-I):

I’ve seen some of the stories on-line and I’m jealous. Sometimes they are better written and cover issues the the U.S. ones don’t cover. Even the British press has more of reporter’s opinion than we could get away with in this country…

A blog has obvious bias. Perhaps it would be better in many situations than a supposed-neutral reporter – and more like this envied European reporting…

Reporters and Bloggers: Common Requirements?

some may disagree with me on these…

Continual Education

Brad Knickerbocker (Christian Science Monitor):

Bill Moyers [quote]– there’s nothing better than journalism to turn life into a continual course in adult education…

Dave Winer on What is Journalism?:

Live a knowledge-thirsty life. It’s important.

Lover of Language and Nosiness

Brad Knickerbocker (Christian Science Monitor):

I need to be in love with language and literature and you have to be basically nosy – the two requirements to be a journalist…

I like to write and yes, I’m a bit nosy too…


Brad Knickerbocker (Christian Science Monitor):

the most important quality a reporter has to have is humility. you’re trying to explain what can’t be explained…you need to be humble about that.

I appreciated that he mentioned humility as most important. I think humility is a crucial quality for bloggers.

Analysis Is More Than Sounding Off

Brad Knickerbocker (Christian Science Monitor):

it’s easier to rant on about opinions than to do reporting…analysis includes a good perspective not just sounding off…

I’m guilty of posting an occasional rant and I think there is a place for ranting in blogging, but reporting, whether in a weblog or in a newspaper, should be solid, with research and substantiation, not just off-the-cuff commentary.

Why Weblogs Are Needed:

Desire for Alternative Media

Philip Dawdy (Seattle Weekly):

there’s been a lot of growth at papers known as an alternative weekly … they’ve become increasingly popular – our circulation has gone up 5 to 6 % in the past year

alternative media: why not blogs?!

“People Can’t Get Back at Us”

Jim Fallows of The Atlantic Monthly was quoted as saying (during his keynote address on Bainbridge Island in February):

What is really unusual in our line of work is that people can’t get back at us.

“People can’t get back at us?!”

How To Fix Problems in Journalism?

Brad Knickerbocker (Christian Science Monitor):

The way to fix it is don’t read it.

so if we don’t read it….what else can we read…;)

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