Blogging and/versus journalism

There has been no small amount of debate regarding the journalistic legitimacy of bloggers. Considering the kind of crap that stands as print and broadcast content, it's kind of funny that "traditional" journalists feel affronted by bloggers lack of perspective. But this issue of perspective and journalism is something every communicator should consider.

Blog content lines up very nicely with what passed for journalism throughout history, especially Revolutionary America. Even Ben Franklin got into pissing contests with political rivals and competing newspapers under his own name and under psuedonymns like "Silence Dogood" and "Poor Richard." But that was the infancy of a free press in the United States and, eventually, some civility prevailed. Some, I said, not a lot.

The American press has always been something of a Wild West shootout and our most revered journalists were generally curmudgeons. Consider, for example, Mark Twain, Ring Lardner, Sinclair Lewis, Ambrose Bierce and William Randolph Hearst. Only in the latter half of the 20th century would journalists try to put on the mantle of civility and perspective. This was brought about primarily by the expansion of broadcast news on radio first, then television. Reporters like Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite established a standard for "fair and even" reporting, even if it did have a political bent. Print reporters moved to emulate the "respectable" newsmen and push for objective reporting.

That, in essence is what bloggers are bringing back to the table of journalism. Until the rise of weblog journalism in the last presidential campaign, the mantle of civility on print and broadcast news was looking rather tattered and there was little effort to maintain the image of objectivity. The yellow journalism of bloggers is forcing the news media to look at itself with a critical eye and maybe start to improve. Hard to say, though. They are a bunch of sheep. They may try to emulate blogs.

Which brings us back to the debate. Are bloggers legitimate journalists or just loud mouths with bullhorns? That will be totally up to the reading public. If the consumers of information decide to legitimize electronic rants as truth, then they will be legitimized, even if they spew nothing but verbal manure. The consumer is the deciding factor.

So, folks, start engaging that critical thinking that separates us from the animals. Are you reading stuff because it agrees with your world view, or because it makes you think? You are the ultimate arbiter of what is really news and what is propaganda.