Changes in the way we exchange information and a declining economy continue to hammer America’s newspapers. It’s these factors, and not a dislike for some one editorial position or another that explain the force reductions across the industry.
Regardless of attitudes towards the editorial policies of the daily press, the fact remains that professional news organizations staffed by professional journalists are our best, most reliable, source of major news stories. For all their alleged faults they are the only game in town.
(And what about network news programs? For the most part they seem to deliver information derived elsewhere. The exception of course are video photo-op ‘late-breaking’ stories of car crashes and fires. But the nature of the medium seems to preclude thoughtful, long-form features and backgrounders that we get in the print press.)
Bloggers would be hard pressed for the news they comment on if it weren’t for the stories developed by their professional brethren. But at the same time bloggers have held the professionals’ feet to the fire for not picking up on important, but ignored, stories.
As aggregators bloggers need stories to ‘aggregate.’ Nothing wrong with that. That function is important for bringing to the blogger’s special audience stories that might have otherwise been missed.
As news gatherers and investigators reporters have decided advantages over bloggers. In what follows I understand that there are always exceptions that prove the rule.
One of the greatest is that they are employed. Bloggers often have other jobs or full time obligations. If they don’t feel like writing, or haven’t the time, or are writing incompetently, there is no editor or publisher threatening unemployment. You can’t lay off someone who doesn’t work for you.
Reporters (providing there’s a benevolent nod from some assignment editor) have time to pursue an investigation or write a long-form feature. If they are short of ideas someone will surely ‘suggest’ that they get busy.
I believe that in journalism schools novice reporters are taught how to use all the public sources of information, and what they are…city agencies, public records like property reports, police reports, corporate records and so forth. There are lots of them. My guess is that bloggers are far from knowing them all.
Perhaps a reporter’s biggest advantage is what I think of as an “Implied Authority to Ask Questions.” The reporter can call someone, identify himself or herself as from The Daily Blatt and at least expect to be listened to. (No answers to questions guaranteed, of course.)
If he tells the interviewed source that the conversation is “off the record” or “on background” that source has at least a reasonable expectation of the conditions being honored. But call up a possible source and say, “Hello, I’m Joe Bloggs could you comment on….” click.
For the coverage of local events bloggers may have some advantages over reporters. For the most part they write about material they already know and are interested in. They probably have sources they trust and who trust them; general assignment reporters, coming new to a topic, may may not.
Carolyn’s Community, and One Can a Week do an excellent job, as do our sports guys, Zoom Zoom Tucson, Comic Matters, Tucson Tails, and Views From Baja Arizona… to name only a few. (In my judgement Hugh Holub has provided the best coverage of the border in Southern Arizona.)
To round out the offerings we have enough cranky columnists and their annoyed commentators to satisfy just about any reader.
On a final note, we bloggers are expected to credit the material from which we quote. At least “A NY Times report says” and so on. The expectation doesn’t always go both ways. Sometimes we’re granted no more than “A local blog reports.” Oh? And which blog is that, and what news source is it published in? Attribution should be a two way street.