Why mainstream media don’t get it

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There are articles that make you nod your head all the time you�d fear getting stiff neck. I just read and reread one an hour ago. It’s by Bob Cauthorn and it discusses blogging by mainstream media. The article sums up, in an acerbic tone, how most mainstream media outlets fail to understand blogging.

Some of the points in the article were points I’ve already raised before, including in this discussion in Abe Olandres’ site on what constitutes a blog. There are people who complain that at times, my letters or memos can be harsh but boy do I wish I could write like Cauthorn.

Now, Cauthorn is one guy you should listen to. Not only are his writings sensible, he is also (for people who do not weigh arguments based on its merits but on the so-called curriculum vitae of the proponent—isn’t this a fallacy of authority?): the former vice president of digital media at the San Francisco Chronicle and the third recipient of the Newspaper Association of America’s prestigious Digital Pioneer Award. More importantly, he “is generally considered to have delivered the first profitable newspaper web site in 1995.”

Here are parts of his post that I particularly like:

Currently, there’s a rush among traditional media outlets to get into that wicked bitchin’, snaps inducing “blogging thing.” Almost all of these efforts are agonizingly misguided.

Buzzword compliance is a big deal in traditional media….

Publishers, editors and broadcasters feel precisely naked if they are not participating in the trend of the moment. They yap about innovation and then simply shamble along, following the lead of others.

He went on to discuss how the reporters’ notebook fad in the early eighties, which he described as “reportorial dim sum,” is being resurrected as media blogs.

If media companies start telling their staff to blog, he said, “reporter resentment shall follow too. Just yesterday, Variety’s Brian Lowry wrote a scathing piece about what a pain in the ass it was to try to blog something like a press tour just because some goon with a title has inter-generational aspirations.”

“The point from inside the newsroom is: a seasoned journalist like Lowry is already telling us everything he feels needs to be said. The point from the readers perspective is: why are you giving us more of the same old crap all chopped up and calling it pate?”

He then exposes the core of mainstream media’s misunderstanding of blogs: They “adhere to the old top-down, we-talk-you-listen-punk publishing model.”

“The majority of the time, media blogs deliver more staff voices that are already published and broadcast ad-naseum.”

He then says “one wonders if spending any staff time writing blogs is a prudent use of resources when American newspapers and broadcasters should be throwing all their energy at fixing the creaky mindset that is losing them audience every day.”

Cauthorn says the “DNA of blogging is a complicated matter that touches on being outside voices and taking personal control of the media. But at minimum the DNA of blogging has to do with distributing the conversation. Contrary to that, the DNA of mainstream media–to date–is all about dominating the conversation.

This statement describes not just the failing of many of the current mainstream media blogs but also the opportunity blogging offers to community papers.

I’ve always been saying that blogging will be a big help to community papers because it allows readers more involvement in the news media process. Blogging will help these papers become a better part of the community by encouraging conversations. The conversations can then be included as pieces for the printed publication. Papers can then use blogs as venue for community discussion and the paper as “greatest hits” compilation of the conversations, which Dan Gillmor, of We Media fame, suggests.

Blogs are better venues of conversations than web fora using forum software (at least in the printed publication’s point of view) because the format makes the posts self-contained and easier to print as opinion pieces. It’s a bit harder to recreate in a printed page on a regular basis the discussion thread of a forum–the paper version will be out of synch after a few issues and you’d need to reprint parts that have been printed already in order for new posts to make sense.

My wife‘s leading the blogging drive at the Sun.Star website. I started blogs there early this year (including the second version of Leon Kilat: The Cybercafe Experiments) but these fizzled out.

I told her (of her work, only blogging isn’t off-limits for discussion at home, by mutual agreement) that Citizen Watch can only be considered a success when there are more reader postings than staff written ones. Right now, readers are more comfortable writing their opinions as comments. Maybe in a while, we’ll be seeing more reader-written articles.

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2 Comments

  1. Leon,

    That was a nice commentary on MSM blogging. The problem with readers when MSM starts blogging especially in our setting is that they get awed by the columns. In the process, they resort to provide mere comments which are not altogether bad but does not and may not necessarily entirely reflect their views.

    But that’s the point of blogging. You go beyond making comments and come out with your opinion on the matter. In that way, blogging empowerment is enhanced.

    MSM would then have to compete with the bloggers in the marketplace of ideas and comments. They may be seasoned in the writing craft but no one has a monopoly on ideas, great or small. And that is why I believe that blogging is this generation’s most liberating influence. We have seen that in the US. I hope to see it here.

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