Back in June I distributed an online survey to find out how journalists with blogs felt their work had been affected by the technology. 200 blogging journalists responded in total, from 30 different countries.
The responses paint an interesting picture: in generating ideas and leads, in gathering information, in news production and post-publication, and most of all in the relationship with the audience, the networked, iterative and conversational nature of the blog format is changing how many journalists work in a number of ways.
However, this is by no means universal, and there are notable variations between industries and sectors.
Over the next week I will be publishing the results on the Online Journalism Blog, covering a different stage of the journalistic process in each post. But to begin with, here’s some academic context:
Blogs and journalism: a little background
Blogs have become part of the editorial furniture. As of this year, 70% of US newspapers (PEJ, 2008), 85% of UK news organisations, and 44% of European news organisations (Oriella PR Network, 2008) were offering journalist-authored blogs, and all the signals from editors and management suggested these figures would continue to rise.
A number of studies have focused on how newsroom cultures have reacted to the rise of the online newsroom (Boczkowski 2004, Friend & Singer 2007, Paterson & Domingo, 2008), and how news organisation blogs themselves have adopted the format (Singer, 2005; Robinson, 2006); and much has been written of the potential of blogs for journalism as a whole (Gillmor 2004, Wall 2005, Beckett 2008), but few have looked at the perceptions of journalists themselves of how the blogging has affected their processes – a gap this research aimed to address.
Although blogs have existed for over a decade, in their short history the format has undergone a number of generic developments: beginning as lists of links to similar sites, then becoming more diary-like, with accompanying cults of personality (Blood, 2000) and more recently increasingly adopted by news organisations, who have started blogs by their own journalists, employed bloggers on their staff, teamed up with blogging and citizen journalism operations (Gant, 2007), or targeted them for takeovers (The Outlook 2007, MacManus 2008).
It might be argued that this has in turn affected the generic qualities of blogs once more, and more recently there have been suggestions that blogging has lost its relational focus in the jostle for attention (MacManus, 2008), or that successful bloggers curb their creativity in the consciousness of a wider audience (Lowrey & Latta, in Paterson & Domingo, 2008) while much of the personal material that was previously published on blogs is now being published on ‘lifestreaming’ and ‘microblogging’ platforms like Twitter (Perez, 2008).
Of particular interest to this research is what has happened to journalistic processes in this meeting of cultures, particularly as some theorists have argued journalism is in a process of adapting in the face of technological, social and economic changes (Lowrey, 2006; Wall 2005; Robinson 2006).
Lowrey (2006) sees blogging as an occupation, noting that bloggers see themselves as part of a community that shares values, rituals and language, organising conferences, and exploring codes of ethics. As Singer notes (2005), professional journalists have had to negotiate this occupational culture alongside their own, and these cultures differ in important ways.
Blogs, for example, are typically opinionated, while US journalism at least aspires to objectivity (this is not the case in the UK – see Hampton, 2008); blogs treat the audience as a co-creator, while traditional journalism treats them as a passive recipient; and whereas blog journalism is incomplete and fragmented, traditional journalism is structured and closed (Lowrey 2006; Wall, 2005: 162).
Ultimately, Lowrey argues, it is “the organisation of production [that] is the most fundamental distinction between journalism and blogging” (2006: 480), and this is what this research is primarily concerned with.
To consider whether journalists feel blogging has affected their working processes an online survey was distributed in June and July 2008. A self-completing survey method was chosen due to its efficiency, scalability and global reach (Robson, 2002). A diverse range of distribution channels, both public and internal, were used in an attempt to attract a diversity of respondents, and both open and closed questions were used to draw a large response and allow respondents to answer in their own terms (Bryman, 2001).
Respondents came from all sectors of the news industry. Almost half of respondents worked in the newspaper industry, and a third were online-only or freelance. Television, radio and magazine journalists accounted for the lowest proportions. Half of respondents worked in the US or Canada, and a further fifth in the UK, with the remainder coming from mainland Europe, South America, Australia, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.
The journalists covered a wide range of sectors, and most covered more than one. Local journalism made up the largest proportion (43%), but media and technology correspondents also contributed heavily. Along with a number of well-represented areas such as business, politics, lifestyle and culture, there was a ‘long tail’ of small numbers of respondents covering ‘Other’ areas ranging from education and health to travel and the environment.
In analysing the data I have attempted to take these factors into account and to use the differences between industries and sectors as a valid finding in itself, rather than focus on the figures coming from the entire sample. It is important to note that generalising from this study should be done with caution, given the diversity of nationality, industry, sector and blogging experience of respondents. The study is intended to highlight a number of areas that warrant further research.
The study takes as its structure the three elements identified by Quinn and Lamble (2007) as constituting the basic parts of the journalistic process: generating ideas, gathering information, and production. It also looks at the relationship with the audience, and post-publication, both of which are frequently identified as areas undergoing change as a result of networked technologies such as blogging (Gillmor 2004, Bruns 2005, Beckett 2008).
If there’s any research you think would add to the context of this study, please let me know in the comments