“Replacing professional news”: As if

We feel it is incumbent on us, as content curmudgeons, to deflate a rapidly-ballooning myth.

During the World Trade Center bombing (which we resist the temptation to abbreviate as “WTC” à la Oklahoma City’s sobriquet “OK City”), news sites were essentially unavailable due to high demand (NUblog passim). Average Webloggers provided the useful service of simply jotting down what they heard on TV (sometimes without even links) and, in the case of actual New Yorkers, writing their own recollections of what was happening around them.

The former case helped out because many millions of people could not actually watch TV (office workers and pretty much everyone in New York itself who did not have cable), and not everyone listened to radio. (Online radio sites were equally unreachable.) The latter case helped out because it gave us highly specific and uncorporate personal narratives that television in all countries ignores by nature.

But let’s not get carried away here. At some kind of Seybold conference recently, we read this exchange:

– Cutbacks in newsrooms and overseas bureaus are hurting our ability to get news.

– [I]t seems we’re going to have to replace professional news, then.

Those who fail to read NUblog archives are condemned to repeat them. We wrote over a year ago:

[Jon] Katz goes so far as to say “anybody with a computer and a modem can be a journalist and use the open protocols of the Net.” Um, no. Anyone can publish. That doesn’t make you a journalist. A writer, yes. A publisher, sure. A contributor, a participant, a blogger, a (content) creator. But journalism requires more acumen than your typical Weblogger or contributor to a mailing list could ever put together. If that’s a value judgement, so be it. The ability to use a Font menu does not make you a designer; reading and writing do not make you a journalist.

Let’s be realistic here. Twenty-eight-year-old kids with laptops and sexy Web-design jobs – so sexy that their bosses write them up in British newspapers without disclosing the conflict of interest – simply are not foreign correspondents. Generally, they aren’t even foreign: Now that Kottke and Metafilter have been officially crowned as the ultimate imaginable Weblogs during crisis, perhaps NUblog readers could help us out by nominating five kottkësque or metafiltric Weblogs each from, say, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Jordan, Israel, and Saudi Arabia – Weblogs, in other words, that could ostensibly replace professional news.

And by the way, how many of you read Arabic, Urdu, Farsi, or Pashto? (Are you even aware of how very difficult it is to publish online in those languages?)

With the greatest possible respect (“shout out”) directed at IndyMedia (“the peeps”), it ain’t never gonna happen. You can’t even hope for “professional news” journalists to write their own blogs; they’ve got better things to do, like filing for their professional news employers.

We love Weblogs enough to write them. But consistent with the history of new media (we mean that literally – media that are new), Weblogs add to existing media tropes and are not locked in a fratricidal battle against whatever came before. And if this sounds like a contradiction of our latterly musings about online newspapers, well, online newspapers are still newspapers, but blogs are not professional news.

Posted on 2001-09-26