The second part of the results of my survey of blogging journalists looks at how blogs have affected how journalists generate story ideas and leads.
Blogs and news ideas: “The canary in the mine”
For blogging journalists, blogs have disrupted the traditional processes of journalism in a number of ways.
Respondents spoke of a clearer perception of audience needs and interests as a result of comments and visitor statistics, which in turn fed into the choice of topics and angles to cover.
In some cases ideas were posted by journalists on their blogs and the development of the story guided by reader feedback, often changing in the process, or in some cases resulting in stories being covered which would otherwise fallen through Tuchman’s (1978) ‘news net’.
There is evidence of an increasing disintermediation of the editor’s role – understandably, as the editorial role of determining the reader’s identity and needs is undermined when writers, through their blogs, have a closer, more immediate and reliable access to that information.
The mindset of thinking for a single medium – typically print, radio or television – was also changing. Some spoke of thinking in terms of multimedia or interactivity, in turn opening new approaches to some ideas and leads.
The often highlighted (McNair, 1998; Allan, 2004; Deuze 2008 [PDF]) reliance of journalists on public relations firms, pressure groups and diary events is also being affected: respondents spoke of a broadening of the range of contacts and of the sources of ideas for potential stories.
Many mentioned getting story leads from comments on the blog or through private communication initiated via the blog. Others noted the ease of accessing contacts through other blogs, and the ability to build trust with sources through their online output, all of which represents an important challenge to traditional theories of news processes which rely on routinisation, predictability, and an “understanding that society is bureaucratically structured [which] furnishes the reporter with a ‘map of relevant knowers’ for newsworthy topics.” (Allan, 2004, p62). For some reporters, that map is being redrawn along networked lines:
“As a freelancer, blogging gives me a headstart on my MSM [mainstream media] colleagues. While they are plowing through press releases and assignments from editors, I do my digging online. Also, bloggers themselves are often great stories because they are passionate, knowledgeable and accessible.” (Respondent 174, US, freelance)
At the same time there is a framing of blogging and the blogosphere in old media terms. For many respondents, the most important change brought by blogs was an increased need for speed. Spotting trends early, or following the “chatter”, were also identified, suggesting that the ‘herd instinct’ of mainstream media remains.
Blogs are sometimes “the canaries in the coal mine,” noted one. (Respondent 69, US, Online). Some respondents also spoke of using blogs in the same way as they had previously relied on the trade press for leads and expertise.
Finally, journalists used their blogs (and microblogging platforms such as Twitter) as a way to source case studies, in the same way as previously done through other channels.
More detail in the following table:
Has blogging affected how you generate or find story ideas? Let me know in the comments.