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Friday, January 21, 2005

About That Harvard Conference On Blogging, Journalism and Credibility

An august group of journalists, academics and bloggers that includes a number of Media Bloggers Association folks - Robert Cox, Dan Gillmor, Jeff Jarvis and Jay Rosen among them - are having serious and meaningful dialogue as this is written about the relationship of blogs, the MSM and the ethics which define and govern professional conduct within, among and between each sphere. You can and should listen to as much of the conversation as possible here.

In the meantime, there has been some controversy in some quarters of the Blogosphere over various aspects of this conference. To be honest, I have not been able to follow the various threads of the controversy. I've looked over the list of participants and the schedule and I am quite impressed with it, even as I note that, like lots of others "out there," I probably could have suggested any number of alternative folks who could/should have been invited instead or in addition to those present now.

That said, I just ran across this observation on Ed Cone.com from John Robinson, editor of The Greensboro News & Record, regarding some of the issues being discussed at Harvard:

"As far as this editor of a small daily can tell, the discussion of whether to blog or not blog, whether to adopt open source journalism or to maintain a gatekeeper role is moot. The gates have been breached and no amount of workers are going to rebuild them.
"The only viable option for a news organization that values its readers time and tendencies is to go online, solicit and encourage citizen journalism, and enable the process in which citizens get the information they need to govern themselves, to paraphrase Bill Kovach.
"How? Tell the truth, be independent, be transparent, tell the truth, put your readers needs first, be proportional, tell the truth, and monitor the powerful. I didn't make that up, of course. "It's common journalistic parlance that I think Kovach and Rosenstiel articulated. (I don't have the book by my side here.) Do bloggers do that? My observation is that some do and some don't, just like some traditional newspaper journalists do and don't. (Don't get me started on broadcast journalists.)
"So, where does that leave us. You open the doors and talk to readers. They, in fact, know more than we do. I listen to the conversations around me when I'm outside of the newsroom. Do they talk about the inauguration? Hell, no. They talk about their children being transferred from Aycock to Lincoln Middle School.

"Do they talk about cancer now edging out heart attacks as the No. 1 killer? For God's sakes, no. They talk about their daughter's soccer game, the new coffee shop downtown, the best pizza in town (uh, I stole that from your wife). Imagine if they talked with the newspaper -- and by newspaper, I mean all of the platforms we use -- about that.
"Think of the value of a newspaper that talks to readers, listens to readers, lets readers in the door to tell other readers that, dammit, the best pizza is at Vito's and, by the way, did you know that Terry Grier is interviewing in Dallas? That here is this interesting plan to develop the north end of downtown? That here's the story of an American GI from Greensboro who was almost killed in Iraq, in his own words.
"News is a conversation, not a lecture. My readers know more than I do. Journalism is a function; blogging is a form.
"Look, we're going to continue to pay staff members to 'cover the community,' to monitor the powerful, to give voice to the voiceless, to shine light in dark place, to do all those things that people like me got into the business to do.

"That's journalism. That's giving citizens the information they need to self-govern. Readers are smart enough to believe us. If we're good, if we blog wisely, if we let readers in the door and help us, if we tell their stories and let them tell their stories, they will trust us. It's all good.
Everything else is BS."

I come to these matters as a newspaper journalist by profession and a blogger by choice. Whatever else he says, Robinson is precisely right that the choice of to blog or not to blog has already been made for the MSM. Open source journalism is no longer a possibility, it is becoming a reality. People in the MSM have no choice but to come to terms with the Blogosphere and all that it represents about the past and future of media.

Like Robinson notes, some bloggers do the same thing as traditional newspapers and broadcast news media - they provide information and commentary about current events and personalities. How exactly that looks when the focal point of consideration is the ethical code isn't clear yet, but the sooner bloggers recognize and embrace their opportunities and obligations as our society's principal source of news commentary and reporting the better it will be for everybody. Put simply, that means our mantra must be "get it right, now." And be prepared to accept the consequences when we get it wrong.