Report!

Report!
: Doc Searls challenges bloggers to get off their duffs and report.

Take the Air America story: There’s nothing stopping a blogger, Doc says, from getting to the bottom of it and calling the station or the guy who took them off their air or their lawyers or their hosts. And when a blogger gets that news, thanks to RSS and Technorati, to name two tools in our bag, that news will be distributed immediately, beating the big boys if (a) they’re waiting for their next edition or (b) they’re too lazy to get off their duffs to report.

Now there are a few speed bumps on the way to a blogger Pulitzer.

First is the matter of time and resources: Unless paid, most of us don’t have the the time or inclination to spend time reporting a story. But many would.

Second is the issue of access; when you call many a source and they ask where you’re from and you say JustMyBlog.com, you may not get far. But I think that will change as sources (and flacks) realize this is a new way to get their stories told around the press. And I’m waiting for the first case of a blogger fighting to get press credentials for some official event; they publish and have a public like any other news media and should win that fight.

Third, there’s the question of inclination. I think many bloggers assume they’re just not reporters. But reporting is nothing more than asking a question and reporting the answers. There’s no reason any of us could not go off seeking those answers.

I’ve spent a month harping on Howard Stern and the First Amendment but it wasn’t until a magazine assigned me to write a print story about it that I contacted a few experts (including fellow bloggers) and the FCC to get answers to questions. At least one commenter challenged me to do it before the assignment. I probably should have taken up the challenge; it would have made for a better argument and a better blog. (By the way, it appears that story will now see the dark of print…. More later.)

Of course, you don’t have to report. That’s the beauty of this medium of links; you can link to the reporting of others and comment on it or just point it out. And that’s still valuable.

But consider Doc’s challenge. The next time you get riled by something happening in your town, there is nothing stopping you from calling the mayor or attending the town meeting or asking fellow citizens when they have to say. Ditto a company. Ditto a university. Ditto Congress.

You can report. Anyone can.

  • http://latefinal.com Ed

    Wouldn’t it be helpful if someone could write a “j-101 for bloggers” guide book? Provide all those neato FOIA tricks, “getting your foot in the door” tricks, etc. that college students have to pay $950 per credit hour for?

  • http://sethf.com/infothought/blog/ Seth Finkelstein

    Sure, Jeff, sure. Anyone can report.
    And unless you’re on the A-list, or get support from the A-list:
    NOBODY WILL HEAR.
    Let’s try that again:
    NOBODY WILL HEAR – NOBODY WILL HEAR – NOBODY WILL HEAR …
    I’m sorry, don’t slam me for this, but what Doc just wrote is the classic A-list let-them-eat-cake.
    … Gee, when I type in this keyword to the search engine, why didn’t someone do several hours of unpaid effort just on the off chance that I might find it in the search? …
    As you say: “Unless paid, most of us don’t have the the time or inclination to spend time reporting a story.”
    “But many would.”? No, they wouldn’t. And even if they would, NOBODY WOULD HEAR THEM, unless the gatekeepers, the editors, the very very few people on the top of the power law, gave them an audience.
    This is the reality, against the bubble-blowing.

  • http://fultonchain.net Al

    I think, of the reasons you list, lack of inclination is the biggest hurdle.
    Some time ago Metafilter was abuzz with the ‘disappearance’ of Jorn Barger (Robot Wisdom) and it dawned on me that amid the speculation nobody had thought to simply call the local police and ask. So I did. Much to my amazement they were incredibly forthcoming and anxious to clear up any confusion. When they asked who was, I just said I was writing an article for ‘My Weblog’ and that was enough to satisfy the officer.
    I don’t say this to pat myself on the back, I mean it took all of ten minutes, but mention it to point out that IMO one of the biggest reasons blogging isn’t taken seriously is because often we don’t take ourselves seriously.

  • http://www.seanbonner.com sean bonner

    I have to agree with Seth here, i’ve seen this countless times where smaller less read bloggers talk about something and it gets glossed over until one of the big boys decides to mention it. It’s just like big media, something in the NY Times gets noticed a lot more than something it the San Pedro City Beat.

  • http://www.seanbonner.com sean bonner
  • http://lonewacko.com/blog The Lonewacko Blog

    Another issue is one of protection. Most “real” reporters have some protection against reprisals (physical or not) by politicians they piss off. Very few “real” reporters end up like Don Bolles.
    I’ve done some “real” reporting: going out and covering “peace” protests, most of which was linked to by Instapundit.
    However, I’ve also tried to do reporting on immigration matters. I usually don’t receive a reply and, even if I did, Insty wouldn’t link to it.

  • http://www.tonypierce.com/blog/bloggy.htm tony

    sometimes though the “big boys” wont know unless a smaller blog writes it down.
    i can think of no better way for an alleged non-A-list blog to become A-list than to bust a few good stories.
    a-listers didnt just hatch and become a-list.
    or did they?

  • http://www.tagorda.com Robert Tagorda

    Good points, Jeff. In my blog, I like to do a fair amount of research before opining, as in this post on Jamie Gorelick, which includes congressional testimony unavailable on the Web and has yet to be picked up by Big Media. I don’t make calls or report, per se. But I do use Nexis and other databases.
    The downside is that I end up spending a lot of time on individual posts. I only get to blog about three or four entries per day, especially since I work full-time. It makes it a bit hard to increase traffic.
    On the other hand, it’s the style with which I’m most comfortable. In the end, I just tell myself that my blog has to reflect who I really am. And if readers don’t come back as often as I’d like, then that’s just something I’ll have to live with.

  • http://www.sidesalad.net Jeff

    Reporter blogs are the next step in evolution. Going from mouthy Cro-Magnon to Homo Habilus, as it were.
    Blogs are a long way away from Homo Sapien journalism at this point.

  • http://www.seanbonner.com sean bonner

    Tony – Ideally yes, but all the studies people keep blogging about that say the majority of big blogosphere topics are not atributed to the original source, rather to the biggest source that picks it up first. Which makes since, If I write about something, and BoingBoing writes about it, when everyone else echos it they reference BB, not me.

  • http://crappyblog,saveyourtime Anna

    “Wouldn’t it be helpful if someone could write a “j-101 for bloggers” guide book? ”
    For that matter, is there an “intro journalism” course online, in same vein as MIT’s free online courses? (with online discussion, so current ‘class’ could talk to each other and evaluate each others’ work)
    If not – what does it cost to hire someone (good) to make one? Or should it be open-source courseware from the outset?
    And what if there was a “journoblogs.com” you could ping when you had fresh blog reporting? Dissemination right now – finding out about a piece of reporting because a blogfriend of a blogfriend happened to notice it – is very inefficient.
    We need the “barefoot journoblogger” equivalent of China’s barefoot doctors.

  • Anna

    p.s., example of the kind of reporting that’s valuable and will never be misattributed to Boing Boing – Amanda Butler’s “Oral Arguments at Newdow” (Pledge of Allegiance case before Supreme Court) at http://www.crescatsententia.org/archives/2004_03_24.html#003431

  • Rick

    There are a couple of issues here, but I’ll just concentrate on one of them.
    Even if you the journalistic chops to do original reporting, and even if it does get attention, it’s tough as hell to make an actual living.
    After I left my last newsroom job, I spent a couple of years running my own TV and media news website. Lots of traffic, tons of original reporting and quite a few scoops.
    But the turning point for me was about this time last year when I wrote a series of pieces about MSNBC’s firing of Phil Donahue. I broke the story in front of everyone–print, online or otherwise–and my work got a lot of attention and coverage in everything from the Washington Post to The Nation and Vanity Fair.
    But it was really a watershed event for me as well. And not in a good way. After the fact, I was struck by a couple of things. While a lot of blogs linked to the pieces, the coverage from them was uniformly along the lines of “Hey, look at this.”
    But the “traditional” reporters had a better sense of being able to put it in context, and in many cases build on my work. They did the work and it showed in their final product. They also helped promote me, and I did tons of print and radio interviews in subsequent weeks.
    Then we come to the blog world. There is often this contempt for independent journalism that I find unbelievable. I had people writing me, complaining that they would more interested in linking to the pieces if they were part of a blog, instead of a straight-forward website. It was this “form-over-substance” arguement that seems to be so prevalent in the blog-space. I believe that there is a place in news for all sorts of answers, from personal websites and blogs to independent news sites to big media.
    But not everyone agrees. To some, blogs are the future, and anyone trying a more traditional approach just doesn’t “get it.” Sigh.
    Then there was the issue of money. There isn’t any real way to “syndicate” independent reporting to other, more traditional news outlets. And relying on a single website to cover the cost of reporting and time and the infrastructure costs of * million plus page views a month….well, it’s just tough to do month after month.
    I still run the site, and still do original work, but at a much slower pace. I’ve taken a job running a website for a TV station.
    I’m not burned out, but I am disenchanted.