Blogging journalists pt 7: Discussion and conclusion: “The writing on the wall”

The final part of the results of my survey of blogging journalists relates some of the findings to wider research into blogging and journalism, and also looks at some of the differences between sectors and industries.

Blogging has grown and developed considerably in the years since the studies of journalism blogs by Robinson (2006) and Singer (2005) – indeed, three-quarters of respondents had only started blogging since that research was published (in that time the BBC, for instance, expanded from its first blog in December 2005 to 43 in less than a year (Hermida 2008 [PDF]))

Respondents frequently spoke of a rapid transformation by their employers from resistance to blogs to wholesale adoption, in which commercial considerations have played an important role. These ranged from search engine optimisation (blogs help improve the rankings of news websites on search engines such as Google), to “bringing readers back more often”; “a cheap way of getting lots of content online and … resulting ad impressions” (Respondent 113, UK, freelance), to a perceived opportunity to make money, and a way of protecting against the threat from citizen media and the declining state of the news industry itself:

“They went from forbidden to encouraged in a year. Why? They saw the writing on the wall. We’re moving from an newspaper and Internet firm to an Internet and newspaper firm.” (Respondent 38, US, newspapers)

“It’s gone from: What are these things? / This is kind of stupid to put so much time into. I don’t want to waste my time, I’m so busy…to “I’ve got a blog. I’ll put it in my blog. We can blog, blog, blog.” (Respondent 47, US, newspapers)

There is evidence of ‘news repair’ (Robinson 2006) or normalisation (Lowrey 2006, Singer 2005, Wall 2005Hermida 2008 [PDF]), as journalists seek to reassert and redefine their own work against those of independent operators, but there is also a widespread acknowledgement of the role of the former audience in identifying, researching, verifying, and correcting the news.

The evidence also supports Robinson’s contention that “The notion of who is a source – and what they can say – has evolved online” (2006: 74) – which sometimes means that the blog is used as a place to publish rumours and unverified information with the aim of readers contributing to its verification.

Friend & Singer list a number of advantages that journalist-bloggers identify in the blog format, including “the ability to share information that does not fit in the limited news hole of the traditional media format, to incorporate more voices in their reporting, to get potentially valuable feedback from the public, and even to counteract media corporatization” (2007: 136).

Matheson (2004) adds speed, depth and informality.

To these can be added new ways of pursuing stories, access to a broader field of knowledge and therefore ideas, a multimedia-interactive mindset, and ongoing, fragmented “postmodern” (Wall, 2005) reporting.

How much blogging has changed a journalist’s work was clearly related to the work that they do. Journalists who worked outside of the institutional constraints, legacies and cultures of print or broadcast media – i.e. freelance journalists or those who worked for online-only organisations – were more likely to say that their work as a journalist had been transformed “enormously” or “completely” – in contrast, no one permanently employed by the television or radio industries felt that blogging had “completely” changed any aspect of their work (Hermida’s study into blogging at the BBC (2008) also noted that the first steps in that institution took place within areas of the corporation that “enjoyed an unusually high level of independence from BBC news management”).

Career progression is clearly also an important factor, with blogs acting as portfolios and networking tools for freelancers, while blog literacy and multimedia skills have become professionally important for employees in a converging industry. Many respondents, however, expressed frustration at employers who did not allow for the extra time required to blog, or who did not understand or undervalued the format:

“I am routinely told to put my blogging on the back burner to get work done for our main product (our newspaper). Yet, when I don’t post an update, we get beat by the TV stations or the wire and I look like an idiot for sitting on a story. And, our blog contributions still don’t go toward our daily story count goals, which in essence demeans anything I do on the my blog. I don’t see my employers seeing the light until blogs can make money for them.” (Respondent 63, US, newspapers)

Just as responses differed by industry, journalists covering certain sectors were more likely than others to feel that their work processes had changed.

Blogging sport journalists consistently reported that less change in their processes than journalists covering other sectors. In contrast, media and technology journalists reported a much stronger change in their working practices (this is to be expected, having a more web- or media-savvy audience).

But more interestingly, finance and arts and culture journalists were also more likely to say that blogging had changed their processes “enormously” or “completely”, while journalists covering foreign affairs reported a particularly strong effect on generation of ideas and the relationship with the audience.

Lowrey’s prediction that the journalism community “may try to redefine blogging as a journalistic tool, and bloggers as amateur journalists … (rather than as a unique occupation)” (2006: 493) certainly appears to be supported, as does his contention that vulnerabilities in journalism may be repaired by increasing use of non-elite sources.

The research also supports his prediction that “news organisations will try to repair these vulnerabilities on the cheap by encouraging journalists to monitor blogs, tap the specialized expertise of the blogosphere, and track stories that have staying power with audiences.” (2006: 494).

Although many respondents mentioned how blogging affected their routines in print and broadcast production, further research is needed into how much ‘crossover’ there is, and how much of the transformatory potential of blogging is contained within online channels, or, indeed, affects non-blogging colleagues. Some respondents spoke of blogging as something done “in addition to our ‘real’ job” rather than being integral to the organisation’s journalistic processes.

It is also important to make a distinction between journalists’ perceptions of how their processes have changed, and the content they actually produce. As Matheson points out: while many journalists “are enthusiastic about the potential to rearticulate practice in the new forms that are available online, the texts that these same journalists produce do not show strong evidence of this” (2004: 444).

Finally, these are still early stages in the adoption and evolution of the blog format, with a third of respondents having only started blogging in the past year. In the same way as many non-professional bloggers have developed and changed their approach to blogging over the past few years (MacManus, 2008; Perez, 2008), journalists can be expected to change and develop as they gain similar experience. Longitudinal studies are needed to record that development over time.

Do you know of any research into blogs and journalists? Any questions about this research? Let me know in the comments

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6 thoughts on “Blogging journalists pt 7: Discussion and conclusion: “The writing on the wall”

  1. Pingback: Media companies don’t encourage blogging « Media Luddite

  2. Pingback: Citizen Media Watch » More conversation needed on journalists’ blogs

  3. Cass

    Thanks for this comprehensive overview – I've enjoyed reading the different installments and seeing how journalists' perspectives towards blogging are evolving!

    Reply
  4. Pingback: Blogging journalists pt 6: Blogging and the audience relationship: “The best stories are a result of incredible conversations” | Online Journalism Blog

  5. Leonardo

    Thanks for the posts, Paul, they really help me with my work.
    I develop similar research in Brazil in my Master’s in Journalism at Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, with the professor Dr. Elias Machado. The purpose of my research is to define and distinguish the journalist weblog from the characteristics of its process of verification, production and circulation, and how your own deontology was being established. For this, I’m using the methodology that one developed and applied by the Group of Research in Journalism Online (GJol) of the College of Communication of the Federal University of the Bahia (UFBA), who is based in Case Study as illustration. I will analyze eight brazilian journalistic blogs using this methodology. I hope that the results will already be with me in February 2009.

    Congratulations for work, and thank you again.

    Leonardo

    Reply
  6. Pingback: Culture Clash: Journalism’s ideology vs blog culture | Online Journalism Blog

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