Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Truth about Cats and Dogs: Original Reporting vs. Original Opinion version

Let's get it straight: Reprinting Press Releases is not Original Reporting; rehashing opinions of hundred others is not Original Opinion and the Blogosphere is about conversations & interesting opinions - not something to be put through a cookie cutter so the suits can understand it better.

Blogger Simon Owens tries to spin a fast one whereby he picks the top 100 blogs in Technorati, and tries to prove the newspapers' charge that blogs do not carry original reporting. Here's what I think:

1. Newspapers are not about original reporting:
These are just business entities who happen to have access to capital to pay for newsprint and salaries for journalists, most of whom are forced to write yet another post about what Michael Phelps is up to nowadays (earlier, it used to be Britney Spears). The average newspaper thus is a highly capitalized business making ist money from reprinting cheap wire stories, among other things.

2. The blogosphere is about interesting and stimulating conversations:
You can justly accuse bloggers of rewriting stories (mostly, to be able to ping Google frequently ("we are updated now, come search us"), and parroting widely held, hence boring opinions.

But, it is not true that bloggers talk about what is written in the newspapers only.

Many bloggers (and group bloggers) are known for their original point of views on issues. Often , bloggers raise the art of conversation to a point that the issue at stake is taken seriously by the everyone concerned. In India, a TV journalist found this one to be true the other day.

3. Technorati Top 100 is not about authority:
The Technorati Top 100 is about age, manipulation and persistent rewriting. Many of the bloggers who have made great names and done great things, who I read on a daily basis are not on the Technorati Top 100. In fact, I read few of the Top 100 blogs. There is just no value or uniqueness out there.

Barring a few individual bloggers who blog for their passion, the top 100 is full of professional websites with professional writers (read, traditional media sites) using blog as a publishing tool.

Sites like Engadget are blogs only in the sense that allow comments, otherwise they are huge, successful newspapers running on blogging software.

Other bloggers on the list, like Seth Godin are not bloggers at all. Seth writes well, very well. But, he does not participate in the conversation, He does not allow comments on his blog.

Other top bloggers routinely remove comments they don't like. In this aspect, these guys are like the old broadcasting types.

Other bloggers who make the Technorati List start by flattering the egos of those made the list before them.

4. Techcrunch cannot be said to be doing original reporting when most of the stories are glorified Press Release stories:
Some think Techcrunch is the Red Herring of Web 2.0, the pre-eminent publication covering web 2.0. Far from true.

Red Herring in the late 90s was nothing like Techcrunch. Jason Pontin, the editor of Red Herring that time, wrote one of the first critique of the first web bubble.

The best bubble warning Techcrunch has done so far is reprinting a presentation from Sequoia, the venture capitalists.

Owens' micro research (looking at 200-odd posts over a couple of days, people read more in a couple of hours in their feed reader) says that Techcrunch had the highest amount of original reporting, 37% among blogs.

Most of this original reporting is about - "this service has shut down", "this service has launched".

Having read Techcrucnh since it was launched in 2005, I have rarely read analysis stories and trend stories on the blog, which web 2.0 entrepreneurs needed more than the latest startup to be copied.

Having said that, there is better value in the comments where readers provide their useful opinions and analysis. There you go, that is the value of blogs - conversation.

5. Original Opinion over everything else:
The first rule of journalism is said to be, "Question Everything". The data is there to be found and analyzed. Where were the newspapers and their army of journalists while subprime crisis was imploding?

Among blogs, I know Gawker Media writing can be quite biting but it must be said that Gawker media writers ask the hard questions. I admire Owen Thomas's hard analysis on what works and what doesn't in the New Media area.

Why do you think Gawker thrives? If it were for merely linking to other blogs, it would have perished long ago.

6. Filter Blogs are the op-ed pages of today:
Group blogs like Boing Boing have a large following despite what Simon Owens calls 'Linking'. The filter blogs point to the best articles, to the experts. The Boing Boing writers are a passionate lot and have managed to excite others with the range of topics they cover.

Journalists such as Jay Rosen keep track of what's happening to the news business on a daily basis, pointing out to the latest trends through their blogs and through Twitter. These guys are today's explainers, the job that newspapers were supposed to do.

Among newspapers, the Economist has made a name for its irreverent take and incisive analysis of stories. So much for original reporting.

Tell me honestly, how many other newspapers do the job of explaining by informing?

6. What is Original Reporting anyway?:
There is big, humongous cloud hanging over the term. Owens defines original reporting as as "pulling any data that wasn’t already freely available on the web.” By this measure, even Simon's survey isn't original reporting. Anyone can access the Technorati rankings and look at what the blogs have on offer.

So, was Simon talking about classified government archives?
Because most other data can be had for free or by paying someone.

Given the limited resources a bloggers has, there are a few things a blogger can do if she/he is demanded to do original reporting :
Do interviews; Write a feature/long articles - step by step, analysis, trend spotting, well thought out critiques, aggregate links to stories other peoplke are writing on an issue, wikipedia type profiles...
these are some ideas.

I also suggest look closely at what the mainstream media is covering, you will much that they they miss and gloss over.

7. Everyone can do Original Reporting:
As I see it, there is only one difference between a citizen reporter and a resourceful newspaper: resource.

FYI, this blog post of mine does not meet the standards set by Owens.
I am only linking and commenting, that's all.

Must buy myself a newspaper company.

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