: Since I’m a newspaperman (and magazineman and mediaman) myself, I would be wise to recuse myself from the discussion about the Sacramento Bee blogger who now has a minder (see the Mickey Kaus manifesto). But nobody ever called me wise.
And I have a bigger point to make here.
First, a few observations:
: I would not be the first to predict that blogging would cause newspaper people stomach upset. Amy Langfield long ago said papers would worry about libel and copy editing and control. She’s right. They do worry about such things, for they are protecting their reputations and brands; they are protecting their real asset, credibility. But…
: I sat today with a certain blog queen who’s about to start blogging for a certain major metro magazine and suggested that they should post-edit her. Otherwise, if she has to wait for a copy editor to dot her i’s, her blog will be robbed of its immediacy, and immediacy — freshness, currency, newsiness, life — is a blog’s major asset. So what if there’s a typo? Correct it later and the world’s none the worse. Blog readers are used to that (well, here they are).
: Note in the Sacramento Bee ombudsman column a considerable hostility (not to mention a certain snotty attitude) from (a) print news to online and (b) print news to opinion. Sometimes, it’s just about turf. The Bee has some issues with turf, it would seem.
But now (at last) to my real point:
: What’s just as disturbing as the last half of the Bee ombudsman’s column — about saddling the Bee blogger with a minder — is the first half, in which the ombudsman tears a new a-hole into the online operation for running a press release about a new power plant.
Now it was terribly dumb for a reporter to reprint the press release under his or her byline. But an “ethical lapse”? No, that misses the point.
News organizations have to start looking at information in new ways. I started making this point the other day when I suggested that just for a moment, we should drop the term “news” with all its heavy baggage and instead look on our job in terms of imparting information. (That same day, I had a long lunch on this topic with Jay Rosen, chair of NYU’s journalism school and a blogger himself; he gets it.)
When you do that, when you see yourself as a leader in the information business, then minders and copy editors become just a little less important. The value of information to the audience becomes more important.
A press release is information. No, a reporter should never put a byline atop a press release. But that doesn’t mean the Bee’s online service shouldn’t have run the release (without expending the effort and expense of rewriting it when they can’t afford to). It’s information.
A weblog is information. Maybe a typo — or even an opinion — will sneak through but if we’re clear with the audience about the immediacy of weblogs, if we correct mistakes when they’re brought to our attention — even by the audience — then they will understand what kind of information it is.
A forum is filled with information. Look at a kids’ sports forum on a news site and you’ll see tons of scores and game reports. It’s information from the audience. OK, it’s not journalism. But it is still information.
: So here’s my real point in all of this:
I fear that sometimes we lose sight of the fact that even more than being in the news business, we are in the information business.
Oh, that’s not all we do. We in journalism are also watchdogs (but so are citizens) and experts (but many are more expert than we are) and commentators (though everybody has an opinion).
But first and foremost, if we do not impart information, we are useless.
And so we cut off sources of information at our peril. So we shouldn’t be scared of weblogs or forums or even press releases so long as we label them carefully and make sure the audience is never confused about their source. It’s information. Information wants to be free (of minders). And often, information is free (which is good news in this age when the news business is under financial pressure). Information is what it’s all about.
: Update: Just as I blogged this, I saw the Mark Glaser asked Glenn Reynolds about whether he has a minder at MSNBC. No, he has something far worse: a content management system (cue scream).