Adding Nuance to the Journalist / Blogger Relationship
Posted by chanders on August 18, 2008
I’ve finished the first (very rough) draft of a chapter for my dissertation. Actually, it probably won’t be a chapter– probably, it will be an appendix. But it still feels like an accomplishment of some sort.
Here’s an abstract. If anyone would like to see the whole thing, feel free to email me.
In most of the writing about the relationship between journalism and blogging, one fact has become something of a commonplace. Journalists report, bloggers comment on that original reporting. Blogs are, in the words of Robert Niles, a “parasitic medium.” (Niles 2007) As Murley and Roberts document [pdf], bloggers in 2006 engaged in original reporting in only 6 percent of the time, and this number fell to five percent when only “political bloggers” were included in their sample.
If we examine this relationship from the within the newsroom, however, a slightly different story emerges. Based on my research in Philadelphia this summer, I argue that the diffusion of a story– centered around the arrest of four Philadelphia homeowners– shows us that, while the causal arrow between journalist = reporting and blogger = commentary is generally accurate, the actual process is far more complex than often acknowledged.
In this paper, I offer what I believe to be the first newsroom-based account of the manner in which a news story “diffuses” across a variety of digital media spheres. Over the two week period around which this paper revolves, I watched how a simple story about the arrest and detention of four Philadelphia homeowners moved from activist websites, to the alternative press, to the inner pages of the Philadelphia Daily News, the city’s daily tabloid newspaper, to major national blogs and—almost, but not quite—to the front cover of the aforementioned tabloid. My methods during this time period can be placed into three general categories—primitive “network analysis” (i.e., using the online search engine Technorati and newspapers’ own web statistics to document how stories about the arrests linked to other stories); second, qualitative content analysis of the ways these different stories were framed; and finally, observation of the meetings and decision-making processes of journalists and bloggers themselves, often in real time.
My central findings can be summarized as follows: an activist-journalism site broke the Francisville story, but this fact only problematives the notion of “breaking news” in an era of omnipresent media. Contending activist groups used journalistic criteria to draw boundary lines between them. An alt-weekly and a daily tabloid were the key media during the diffusion of the story. Blogs add context and reframing to reported stories, often by linking back to their own previous coverage. Individual journalistic authority often matters as much, if not more, than institutional authority. Bridge bloggers played a major role in moving the arrest story from local to national blogs. Institutional journalistic culture can play a key role in the diffusion of a news item. The concept of the “freelancer” further calls into question the division between blogger and journalist.
NB: Niles writes in the comments below that he’s actually argued the opposite– that blogs are NOT a parasitic medium. That’s correct, and my statement above was a misrepresntation of his more complex argument, which you can read in full here.