Medium and Content II: Tweetstream Boogaloo

Responding to my earlier post on New Media and journalism, Steve Silberman writes via Facebook:

Sure, but there’s a larger point in her point that may have been clumsily expressed, and a smaller point that is missed in your smart post. There’s journalism, and there’s journalism. Things like Twitter are more like tools for journalism than journalism themselves — facilitators, as you say. But the best kind of journalism enables us to see … Read Morethe Really Big Picture. Blog posts sometimes do that, but much more rarely than the loud voices celebrating the death of Old Media would suggest. And the equation of blogging and journalism — advanced by such self-serving bloviators as Ann Coulter — misses out on the value of in-depth reporting and thoughtful analysis *by other sources than the primary author.*

I’m glad he brought this up, because I was planning on expanding on this point anyway and he gave me a nice segue.

First off, I should clarify that I’m not one of those loud voices celebrating the death of Old Media. I don’t think print journalism, particularly long form print journalism is going to die, and I don’t think it should die. Different media have different advantages and disadvantages, and it would be just as ridiculous as bloggers to dismiss the advantages of magazine reportage as it is for advocates of traditional journalism to decry blogging as an opposing force to journalism.

So I think Steve is sort of right but sort of wrong here. For one thing, a blogger cannot go for the kind of depth you can get from a long article in a single blog post, but blogs have their own way of going after the really big picture; it’s all about narrative, and making sure that there’s some kind of continuity from post to post. That’s not inherently a superior or inferior way of approaching the big picture; it’s a different way, that services different needs. But if you read the front page of Talking Points Memo for a month and then come back and tell me that they’re not advancing a certain sensibility about how politics in America works on the macro scale, I’m not going to believe you.

One of the most important tools at a blogger’s disposal for advancing that larger narrative is linking, which is why I’m a little puzzled by Steve’s assertion that “the equation of blogging and journalism … misses out on the value of in-depth reporting *by other sources than the primary author.*” Actually, in my experience, it’s been newspapers that steadfastly avoid citing outside sources whenever they can, except in nebulous terms like “some bloggers.” That’s one department in which they’ve been improving, but I think it’s fair to say that bloggers have been ahead of the curve in their eagerness to integrate other people’s reporting to paint on a bigger canvas.

In fact, linking can be its own form of journalism, which Scott Karp calls link journalism. The Drudge Report isn’t the best example of this, but it’s the most well-known, so I’m going to use it anyway. The front page is all links, but which links Drudge selects, how he frames them with his word choice in the headlines, and how he arranges the links in font size and location on the page all contribute to expressing his worldview in a very specific way.

Of course, Drudge is a hack. He frequently misrepresents the content of the articles he links to, or elevates non-stories over more valuable information. But that shouldn’t be taken so much as an example of the unviability of link journalism as an example of its potential. If Drudge can distort one’s perception of the 24-hour news cycle that much just by arranging and mislabeling links, imagine how informative and comprehensive a version of the Drudge Report that uses link journalism in an ethical and factually accurate manner could be. Again, I’d point to the front page of TPM as a good example. If you want an example from Twitter, check out NYU professor Jay Rosen’s tweetstream, or the NewsJunkies Tweetstream. Or go to publish2, which is a platform designed specifically for link journalism.

Look, none of this is a substitute for writing a good article–but nor is a good article a substitute for showing your readers a snapshot of what a whole host of credible outlets are saying. The point here is that journalism is more of an interdisciplinary craft than ever, and those who think that the only way to go is print or web stuff are just limiting both their own options and their capacity to inform the public.

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