To get an overview of blogging’s impact on both traditional journalism and the practice of PR, I interviewed Steve Outing, a well-known expert in the field of online media and a noted digital journalist. Outing, who has been covering online media since 1995, is a senior editor at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, and an interactive media columnist for Editor and Publisher Online. He is US editor for Poynter’s group blog, E-Media Tidbits.
Ochman: How do you keep up with all the media, online and off, these days? A lot of people are wondering if we have to grow another head.
Outing: My media habits have definitely changed. In the last year or so, I get as much of my intelligence and news about what’s going on from blogs as from regular sources.
Ochman: What’s the impact of blogging on traditional journalism?
Outing: Over the last 10 years, traditional journalists have been learning the lesson that the Internet is a two-way conversation with readers as opposed to just talking to them.
Blogs support his conversation between audience and journalist. That trend is influencing mainstream media. On my blog the other day, Katja Riefler cited a newspaper article in a German paper that was very critical on an online news service in Germany.
The editor of the online news service being criticized wrote an editorial and readers were invited to discuss it; bloggers stepped in with their point of view. The author of the original article came back and joined the conversation. This is the way journalism is going in the Internet Age. And that is one of the effects of blogs.
I sometimes think about bloggers as like alternative press, but maybe with a larger megaphone. The way things have spread throughout the blogs is pretty remarkable.
Some people have a very narrow definition of blogging. And much of the journalistic potential that I envision strays pretty far from that definition. (Besides, I’ve never liked the word ‘blog.’) Maybe we can come up with a new word to describe journalistic blogging.” Anyone got any good ideas?
Ochman: A woman who works for a Fortune 500 company said at one of my seminars on blogging for business that she was mortified to learn that bloggers with no editors could say whatever they want about her company. Since most blogs are unedited, what are the checks and balances now with blogging?
Outing: Outside of the news industry, bloggers are an opinionated bunch. Typically they write independently; they’re usually unedited, unfiltered voices. Controversy is considered to be a good thing in the land of blogs.
The best bloggers will rise to the top because their content is brilliantly written and well edited. Some blogs will even be edited pre-publication (especially blogs published by news organizations). To say that an edited blog (and that would include this one) is not a blog is just bizarre, in my humble opinion.
Blogging is still relatively new. Even among the top tier 5% bloggers, most are not making a living at it. Not many are doing it fulltime. It is not a fad, it will be around for a while.
Ochman: What impact will bloggers have on the US Presidential convention coverage?
Outing: Blogging is getting to be more and more mainstream. You hear about blogs on the news now.
There will be some very different perspectives coming out of having bloggers at the conventions. Wonkette will have a very different perspective. Ana Marie Cox is the irreverent writer behind Wonkette, and her writing and attitude is a joy to read — well, assuming you enjoy seeing politicians on both sides of the aisle getting skewered and don’t mind the occasional profanity and frequent use of questionable-taste humor.
I read wonkette because she’s who she is. She’s very funny. It’s really hard to tell if she is a Democrat or a Republican, she keeps it pretty balanced.. Most bloggers have their politics on their sleeves.
Another milestone blog is AP’s. Surely this must be a sign that blogging is mainstream. Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press reporter Walter Mears and colleague Nancy Benac will be providing “running commentary, insight, and news tidbits” from the Democratic and Republican conventions later this summer.
Their AP feature, called firstname.lastname@example.org, is being offered to AP clients as part of the wire service’s political coverage, and will open for business the Sunday before the conventions open and run through the final proceedings on Thursday night.
This is the first blog to be offered by the AP. Mears has reported from every U.S. national political convention since 1964 and spent most of his 45 years with the AP covering politics; Benac has covered 10 conventions. Mears retired in 2001, so the blog is his temporary return to news coverage.
Ochman: How do you find the bloggers you follow and how many do you read?
Outing: I follow about 20 blogs daily. I tend to find new ones I like through posts on other blogs. . Often one blog mentions another, and there are the blog rolls that a lot of bloggers have. I use Feed Demon as a newsreader to scan blog headlines.
Ochman: Do you still read press releases?
Outing: There has definitely been a drop off in number that come in email, and I get hardly any regular mail. Most of what I get is fairly targeted from people in my industry.
I definitely find some stories breaking in blogs. There is a great talent pool in bloggers.
Ochman: Are bloggers being watchdogs to the traditional press?
Outing: The Trent Lott story is example. People in mainstream press didn’t think it was important enough to keep the story moving.
Lott praised Senator Strom Thurmond’s segregationalist platform when he was a presidential candidate in 1948. Newspapers did not immediately notice the remarks but bloggers kept up the campaign and the outcry eventually forced Lott to resign as Senate majority leader in 2002.)
Ochman: Why aren’t newspapers keeping up with trend to have blogs and have reporters use photo phones to quickly get stories online?
Outing: Media has traditionally been a fairly conservative industry and slow to change. The vast majority of income still comes from print. Even though the Web is exciting and news organizations are getting more diverse, the money still isn’t there.
To get money into digital journalism