Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Tom Abate on the nature of journalism


Posted by Tom Abate on February 24, 2006 08:05 AM | Permalink
at his blog: "MiniMediaGuy: A conversatoin about new media business
models." Tom Abate is a business reporter for The San Francisco Chronicle.

(415) 777-6213

Dress Rehearsal

I'm warming up my thought processed for my appearance this coming Thursday
at the New Communications Forum in Palo Alto, where I will appear on a
panel that discusses the difference between journalists and bloggers.

It seems to me the place to begin is by defining journalism, which
includes gathering and presenting details of wars and political
controversies, disasters and heroic acts, crime and social movements,
sporting events and celebrity antics, hobbies and cultural trends,
business and scientific developments and all the many things that invite
interest, alarm or curiosity.

But there is some other connotation to journalism, a sense of mission or a
higher purpose, clearly not always achieved, that once earned the press
the title of the Fourth Estate.

It is in this light that I would like to think about the differences
between journalists and bloggers, and those mainly boil down to the
obvious: journalists are paid, have health plans, special access and
privileges and work in highly structured organizations that have codified
rules of behavior. In the best instances these rules encourage trust on
the part of the public. But that trust may be eroding. And the
bureaucratic inertia that infects all large institutions makes the
traditional Fourth Estate slow to embrace new media tools and thinking --
and creates an opening for bloggers.

As for bloggers, they run the gamut from a few hugely successful sites
like Talking Points Memo and Instapundit, to literally millions of hobby
blogs that stigmatize the entire blog movement as the domain of ranters
and ravers. And while a middle tier of blogs are rising -- as alternatives
to trade press or as online culture zines -- that are powerful enough to
threaten the status quo, for the most part even the best blogs are small
businesses -- with all the challenges that implies.

I will suggest that the differences between journalists and bloggers are
not so important as thinking about how to accomplish the higher mission of
journalism. In an advertising-supported environment how does any media
undertake the unpopular and difficult issues? I'll have some thoughts
about how the people we now call bloggers should rename themselves
something along the lines of personal publishers -- and add some thoughts
about how these small businesses can create the systems that will enable
them to make a living -- and a difference.

Tom Abate
'Cause if you ain't Mass Media, you're Mini Media

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