Wednesday, July 16, 2008


A NEW TWIST TO ROLLING OVER: One of our favorite news blogs, Honolulu Advertiser reporter Derrick DePledge’s “Notebook” is back reporting news that for some reason doesn’t rate an article in the paper.

Today his blog contains the original reporting that Ed Case will not be running against Maize Hirono for the 2nd Congressional District seat and that State Senate President Colleen Hamabusa has not, as had been rumored, signed the anti-rail petition.

The reason we bring it up is that the current unusually fierce local conversation about just what the journalistic ethics say about Doug Carlson’s paid blogging has now morphed into conversation about the nature of blogging itself

One of the contentions seems to be that a blog has to be one thing or another. And those things break down into whether a “blog” can report news or whether somehow whatever it contains it’s just opinion.

And if it is the latter why should “bloggers” have rights of journalists as expressed in the recently passed shield law, allowing reporters to withhold the names of sources.

Even Joan Conrow who prompted much of the discussion by touching on the subject said:

(M)y blog is my personal opinion. It is not journalism. I try to uphold certain journalistic standards, such as accuracy and honoring off the record requests, and sometimes there's original reporting. But it not journalism. It's a blog. And the two, as I noted in Monday's post, are very different.

But wait Joan- you're selling yourself short. Is your blog “just” personal opinion? In the very column that spurred her to say this, Joan reported on the situation in Guatemala and pointed to some excellent coverage of it.

So, as we’d like to think we do, Joan mixes opinion with true reporting and good journalism -sometimes “original reporting” as they call it- as do Derrick, Ian Lind, Hunter Bishop, Larry Geller and even Doug “I’m just a blogger” White. They all do not just review and analyze news items that have peaked their interest but do original reporting in their daily columns.

And that reporting is often the most informative in the islands, even when they express their opinions too.

In the short six months we’ve been “blogging” we’ve “broken” news using the standard ethics and reporting skills taught in journalism schools and done enough news analysis and secondary reporting that we know there is information being disseminated- the very definition of newswriting.

The term “blog” has it’s own connotations but are they ones that define the medium? Does the use of “blogger” software define the content by using a definition of something that in many ways defies definition due to the plethora of its uses?.

No. Like the value of any technology we can only define it by looking at what it is and what it can be, not by a preconceived set of realties and possibilities based on and derived from the last technology.

What’s beginning to emerge among professional journalists and non-professionals who have developed good journalism skills, both corporate and alternative, is a style of news reporting that often reports the item and comments on it, much like but freer than the old standard “news analysis” format.

The opinions may be as out front and outrageous as our little corner of the blogosphere or it can be as understated as Derrick's where he will mix the news he is reporting with a little good natured humor. Or they can be like Joan's where the opinions are strong but the news reporting is evident one day and the reverse the next..

What they all have in common is the reporting. And while it is more challenging to the reader to try to separate the reporting from the opinions in some cases, the best blogs are the ones that make apparent in style and content presentation which is which.

In a good “journalistic blog” there is little or no conflation between the facts and opinions. We’ve attempted to try to make sure that all “news” we report, whether original or regurgitated and compiled, is self evident as news just as the opinion part is quite obviously our take on the subject.

Mixing news and opinion is even a mainstay of standard journalism. When we read news analysis pieces in the corporate and alternative press we don’t consider them to be “just” the opinion of the writer.

Why should doing it on line make it any less of a journalistic endeavor?

After reading Joan’s entry on the subject on Monday a few times we have to disagree, if we are understanding her correctly. As long as the journalistic standards are there- the subject matter being accurate and the proper context being given and the myriad other things that, as Joan says, go into reporting news- why should the use of software that is designed for the “blogger” define the content as opinion from the outset?

New media changes reporting styles as Marshall McLuhan famous proclamation “the media is the message” implies. And so, just as when mass printing of broadsheets came along it created it’s own style of headlines, multiple stories and all the other things that have developed into today’s standard newspaper, just as when television came along it brought with it a format that has it’s own way of singing the song of the news, independent, on-line news writing is developing it’s own style.

We may be in the infancy of the platform but that may be all the more reason not to restrict it with inapplicable formats of the last medium

That doesn’t mean intentionally reporting false information or taking the news that is reported out of context or violating people’s privacy or any of the other absolutes that reporters learn. It just means that expressing an opinion along with the news is a valuable commodity as long as it’s clear as a bell which is which.

That puts the onus on the reader- where it essentially is in any news reporting venture- to do two things. First is to verify that the newswriter is giving factual information and is a reliable news source and second to be able to see when the column goes from factual presentation to opinion.

And making that clear is the responsibility of the “blogger”

There is a new news song being sung in communicating what events have occurred to a mass audience or at least a new tone and timbre to an old ditty. That doesn’t mean the new standards violate the tenets of good journalism. It just means that journalism is evolving along the lines people say they want when they criticize the corporate media for not allowing for a much deeper understanding and more context in the news.

The internet trolls don’t get this. They criticize the opinions un-factual and disagree with the factual material. Critical reading isn’t their strong point.

But no one writes for the trolls. For the critical akamai writer and reader blogs can be a more contextualized way of news reporting. And for discerning the biases of both reader and writer.

The era of the “myth of objectivity” of the press is over and may it rest in peace. It was a post war concocted con job to sell newspapers to a more aware and more dubious public to begin with.

Despite the subjectivity of the decisions of what and where to present as news, reporters and editors have maintained that they were striving for 100% objectivity. And now 60 years later those who move up the corporate career ladder actually maintain that, unlike we normal humans, they have no opinions of their own.

Perhaps in the future people will be criticizing reporters who don’t give their opinions on the news they are reporting because only by understanding the psyche of the reporter can we know the context and biases of why they are reporting on their subject and the prominence in their publication in which it is presented.

That’s a bias that is always going to be there due to the nature of the beast- the physical limitations of communicating via technologic means. News reporting always contains innumerable subjective processes that all the journalistic standards in the world won’t change.

And so maybe we should be embracing the news “plus opinion” format as one that suits the human condition rather than denying it.

Perhaps the “New Journalism” Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thompson envisioned 40 years ago was just waiting for the right medium to reach fruition.

Offering opinion about the news we report doesn’t degrade the quality nor the accuracy of that news that’s reported. And it doesn’t mean a “blog” that contains opinions can’t be the pinnacle of news reporting.

In fact, it may be the future of good journalism.


Andrew Cooper said...

I agree! Some participants in our conversation, here and over at Joan 's Place, consider blogs to unworthy of serious consideration, far below that of traditional media. I strongly disagree with this stance. While there are a lot of blogs with family vacation pics, description of fido's latest antic or similar aimless writing, there are a few that represent true journalism. Blogging is just a format, what is presented in that format can be art, opinion, commentary or serious journalism. Don't let the format define the medium, it is the writer and the content that counts.

Anonymous said...

an addition point, not to be overlooked nor overstated, is the interaction between trolls, anon and public posters in the comment sections. sometime the added value of such action/interaction is what makes the post/site worth viewing(and commenting on).
folks gravitate to the blogsite that meets the needs of the reader; bloggers post what interests them and reflect their values. response from readers is purely by choice. to sign or not to sign is another subject. great subject nonetheless but lets not beat the poor horse; it's on it's last legs! peace,.......jt

Anonymous said...

"The internet trolls don’t get this. They criticize the opinions un-factual and disagree with the factual material. Critical reading isn’t their strong point."

Criticizing your opinions is fair game. Your standards re "facts" are at best lax. Clean up your act and you might find your "trolls" stop giving you such a ration of s--t.

Anonymous said...

and PS

an internet troll is merely looking to disrupt. Offering evidence of inaccuracy or the rest of the truth is not trolling. It just pisses you off.

Joan Conrow said...

Good analysis, Andy. It's very difficult to try and characterize all this, and I tend to resist characterization, anyway, as it's inherently limiting.

I think Andrew sums it up nicely when he says: Don't let the format define the medium, it is the writer and the content that counts. And that's really what it comes down in any form of written expression.

Katy said...

My main problem with "trolls" is that, by defintion they use personalized attacks instead of addressing ideas and opinions. The effect of this is that others, who are thoughtful and prone to engage in intelligent discussion and debate, get turned off because they don't care to be subjected to deragatory personal insults. Who can blame them?

The real shame is that these trolls are intentionally trying to inhibit productive discourse and expression.

Those of us who place a value on free expression refuse to censor them because it goes against our principles, yet they are intentionally discouraging the expression of those with whom they disagree.

What to do?

Anonymous said...

Andy's work often is little more than a personal attack. Is he a troll?