Blog watching

Oh dear, I'm blogging about blogging. I'm sorry, I don't do it too often, I know it sends you blind.

I was motivated by the BBC's recent launch of a regular blog-watching feature in their generally excellent magazine. This follows the Guardian's wholesale plunge into blogging, with five separate blogs as well as a limited-run election blog.

I could turn this into a little gloat, and it's hard not to: there has been no shortage of journalists willing to claim blogs as harmful and to loudly proclaim that blogs aren't journalism. But now the journalists are covering bloggers, and becoming bloggers themselves. A victory for the blogosphere? Not really. What's actually finally sunk in -- to both journalists and bloggers -- is that they are the same.

This doesn't mean blogging is journalism, nor does it mean journalism is blogging. I still believe that journalism is material of a higher quality: it is investigative, it is thoroughly researched, it is in-depth, and it is rigorously factual. It is also carefully written, and even more carefully edited, because it is published only once, and can't be changed afterwards. Blogging is at the opposite end of the spectrum on nearly all of these: fast and loose, frequently inaccurate and even libellous*, it is written and then changed over and over, by direct editing or by contextualizing in the form of comments and links from other blogs. Blogs are nearly always commentary, and very seldom researched. Journalism and blogging are very different things, but journalists and bloggers are the same: they are writers, and everything they write is somewhere between blogging and journalism.

It means that people who are paid to be journalists do not always write material of sufficient quality for it to be called journalism, while non-professionals** writing in weblogs sometimes do. Some weblogs are so consistently excellent that their writers should be considered journalists, but even I will admit they are in the minority. All weblogs have done is lower barriers to publishing to the point that excellent writers without access to a printing press can get their work recognized, and that bad journalists have been robbed of the undeserved respect they got simply because their writing was being published. Being published is no longer special.

This is a good thing, and for high-profile news organizations like the Guardian and the BBC to cherry-pick the best of the blogs and give them wider exposure is an excellent move, both for them and for the bloggers whose work is thus recognized. Blogging is never going to end big media outlets, but it is going to provide them with some much-needed competition in a world of increasingly monolithic media ownership.

And of course it's worth pointing out that the fact that most blogging is not of sufficient quality to be called journalism should not be held up as some kind of evidence that blogs are not good writing. Belle Du Jour is excellent writing -- it got a book deal, which means it's at least as good as all that other crap that got published on dead trees -- but it's not the work of an aspiring journalist, except in the sense of "one who keeps a journal". Some blogs are simply diaries, some are entertainment, some are jokes and increasingly some are a new method of maintaining social circles. We're not all trying to be journalists, so yelling "blogs aren't journalism!" is going to be met with a thoroughly bemused "duh" by a significant portion of the blogosphere.

Blogs are just writing, and like all other writing, most of it is crap with the occasional gem. The important thing is not what you write, but that you write at all. Eventually you'll write something excellent, even if it is just by the law of averages.

* Which is why blogs should be considered, in legal terms, "speech", not "publishing", and hence not subject to libel laws.

** Not the same as "amateurs".