Blogs – can’t live with ‘em…

You know when you have one of those days?

I had one yesterday.

It ended with me leaving the phone ringing to Pipex support in the vein hope that the beeping phone would simply annoy anyone near it to the point of madnes, even if they weren’t going to answer it! I tell you, Pipex telephone support is fast becoming a modern day labour of hercules. If anyone has any better suggestions for hosting I will gladly take them.

But the day started with an email from Martin Stabe giving me the heads up on a something he posted about some of his work appearing uncredited on a blog out of the department I work for.

We did a trial of blogs for our final year and masters online courses last year and I thought that it was ‘a good idea’ to roll that out across the second year – they are doing some digital journalism so experience of blogs seemed essential. That means we have over 100 journalism students blogging in the second year which, on paper at least, is a pretty encouraging sign of things to come. Of course it was only a matter of time before it raised issues.

One of the issues has been the perennial opinion/rant vs. proper journalism. We aren’t the only ones to see the issue but it strikes me as an occupational habit of journalism not just student journalism. Hell, even our own students are fed up of some of the excesses of our trade.

It also prompted one of my colleagues to ask:

So, an accepted, if unwritten, rule of traditional journalism: Nothing published without someone else checking it and questioning it. If this is accepted as a definitional quality is blogging journalism? Or merely anonymous broadcasting of personal opinion?

All good debate.

I’m not going to dredge through the details here and I certainly don’t want to play down Martins concerns, but it did seem to quickly whip up a fair response, and one that went beyond the original issue.

The upshot of the comment conversation (comversation?) and, to be fair, the main thrust of Martins post in the first place was that, these days, learning how to behave in the blogosphere should be part and parcel of training to be a journalist.

[B]logs exist as part of the blogosphere, a global subculture with emergent informal social norms and etiquette. Journalists, journalism educators and journalism students need to understand these laws and informal norms before hitting publish.

I agree.

Reflecting on the whole experience, and if the volume of interest it has raised amongst the students is anything to go by, i think it served as a very useful learning experience for everyone involved. But it only hit home how prescient it was last night when i got chance to catch up on more reading.

Being out of the web loop for a while I had missed the student ‘attack’ at Bobbie Johnson’s blog and I also missed the original post about Tim O’reilly announcing discussions on a blogging code of conduct. ( I think the old radar is a little off there Tim.)

You could argue that with a code of conduct like the one O’reilly is suggesting (where it not so unbearably pompous and patronizing) then none of yesterdays events would have happened.

O’reilly’s point is that it’s up to the responsible bloggers to set the standards for others – scarily awarding themselves sheriffs badges and elevating themselves to the law – and to a point I can see that. Somebody has to do it.

Neil Macintosh sums up the blogging code issue fantastically on his blog, saving me the effort of blathering around too much trying to sensibly put across just how pointless the exercise is and maybe I would adsd that for journalism, more so.

As a profession the main stream media has a poor track record when it comes to codes of conduct. Does that make it any less vital or mean that there aren’t any morals of values there? Of course not. Because groups may make the codes but it’s individuals that break them.

If yesterday’s experience taught me anything it’s that somebody is doing what Tim wants. Or should I say a body– the community in the blogosphere – is doing.

The lessons may be harsh but they are fair and because they are out in the open everyone learns. This doesnt just make for dynamic debate. Perhaps it goes some way to prove that on the web,more maybe than the real world, journalism can do a pretty good job of regulating itself.

4 Replies to “Blogs – can’t live with ‘em…”

  1. So, an accepted, if unwritten, rule of traditional journalism: Nothing published without someone else checking it and questioning it. If this is accepted as a definitional quality is blogging journalism?

    I don’t care whether blogging is journalism. Insofar as the conversations about blogs are about matters in the public interest (or of interest to some niche group within the public), blogging serves some of the same social functions as journalism. Some (unedited) bloggers do this better than edited journalists.

    If the general rule in traditional publishing (note I didn’t write “journalism”) is “edit-then-publish”, the blogging rule is “publish-then-edit” through conversation.

    I hope nobody uses this episode to suggest that you should stop your students blogging in public. This is actually a great example of blogging working well. An error is being corrected through collective post-publication critique. That’s the whole point.

    In the past, students didn’t get exposed to any real reader feedback or criticism while at university, because their publications were kept safely on the intranet. Keep them blogging publically and learning from their inevitable mistakes!

    Regarding codes of conduct, however, I do think you should require all students who blog to do so under their real names, and to provide a basic disclosures on their sites.

    Bylines encourage responsibility, especially because students know that employers use Google.

  2. Martin

    To put the quote in the context of the whole blog issue, my colleagues did raise the point just because blogs had been mentioned and was it worth considering it as a general point again.

    Having your views challenged by the world at large does make for a bit of change with journalism education. The logic has always been that we protect the student from a libel or any other comeback on the mistakes that they make. Following that logic, and the events of this week, I may be talking myself out of the blogs there, but it’s clear that blogs are less about putting their ‘work’ in the public sphere as they are putting their voice out there to be tested and developed.

    Hosting on a server that carries the department tag makes that an issue when problems like this arise but we can’t escape the students affiliation or our responsibility to them. We like it when they succeed, i guess we need to be there when they err. It’s nice that you and others in industry are prepared to accept that and debate it openly and constructively

    But in that respect it’s yet to be seen what does happen with the blogs. The real name aspect has been taken out of the students hands in that I have now hardwired to template to show their real names and use their email address as contact.

    beyond that. Who knows.

  3. I think it’s good for us students to be exposed to the ‘real world’ so to speak, in a three year course it is entirely possible that someone could write and edit work that was only ever viewed by an audience of 1 (the tutor) and never actually exposed to a real audience, like a blog does, that comments and feeds back.

    That’s the beauty of student media, it’s a testing ground before you hit the big time. But if you treat it like it is the real thing and work hard to be as professional as possible, acknowledge a few mistakes along the way, then you’re going to be in better shape for when you roll with the big boys.

    And good to see you back blogging again Andy.

  4. Doesn’t anyone think that blogging, in a sense, polices itself? All this talk lately of Blogging Codes of Practice and agreements has got me worried that restricting blogs could result in the beginning of the end.

    This whole episode with Martin’s copyrighted material is a prime example. The blogosphere (in this case, Martin, UCLan staff and others) has quickly sorted the problem with minimal fuss. This approach is very effective, however, as it’s almost like getting a telling off in front of your mates — a lot more embarrassing than having to go the headteacher’s office, no?

    Bad/untruthful blogs soon fall off the radar. We don’t need a code to do that, we just need to keep reading blogs. No code necessary.

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