I’ve been seeing blogging evolve in this industry in somewhat strange ways recently.
When we started Green & White blogs were of distinctly two types: public diaries or rants / opinion blogs. Most opinion blogs were using the medium as merely an outlet of their own thoughts on something, they lacked the perspective of credible analysis.
Readership for blogs was mostly the circle of friend-bloggers who would just the blog network as more of a social activity of poking fun at each other, rather than as a medium for having global conversations.
There were some focused blogs around the tech sector, but their readership was dispersed of forums and mailing lists.
I think Green & White and TelecomPK and ITTazee started more or less together, and since we started we’ve seen a lot more people wake up to the realization that blogs can infact by considered reliable news and analysis resources.
The emergence of the audience itself is the true feat – where there are not an ever-increasing set of professionals and intellectuals seeking out alternate, focused news sources online. The audience is sometimes forcing people to go through the growing pains (comment#4) of moving from a personal diary into a source of credible news (we face it all the time too!). I remember when the audience pushed us at G&W as well to become more serious and focused and responsible about the perspectives we’re creating and to stop ranting without a perspective.
But therein lies the gist of the dilemma.
The strength of the blog medium in creating perspectives or analysis is that audience can be guided in a very specific direction to prove a point or (more evilly speaking) influence them.
One of the serious problems that emerges is the conflict between being objective and being politically correct. There are too many people on the net who like using the lack of knowledge that the general set of readers might have on a subject to sound smart – its almost been an industry norm I think. We met some CEOs at Startups Insiders (who I wont name) who had absolutely no insight to give except they were just reciting Guy Kawasaki and Seth Godin posts word-for-word ("You gotta create value… and the money will follow" type of canned, generic, rehashed advice).
There are companies that launch and exploit the fact that no one is likely to know any better about the world around them, and will just accept hyperbolic claims.
As a professional blog or news writer, the question is how to balance objective news-writing and giving a dose of reality to the mix without offending them…. with the idea that not everything we write must be glowing reviews about products, services, or news… that our jobs (as objective news reporters) would not be to just rehash and copy-paste a company’s press-release onto our page, but to create a perspective of that news that is grounded in reality and free of hyperbole unless praise is deserved on merit.
But the more we do this, the more people we offend because of the politics of knowing them, and the harder it becomes (in this industry) to get any business done.
"Dont write about customers, simple as that" is some of the advice I’ve gotten – and this is really where the credibility of professional news reporting can break down.
The second serious problem that emerges is in how people react to a growing audience-base. We have tried (often unsuccessfully I think) to keep our readers’ expectations in mind when writing at G&W.
But what happens when a blogger starts exploiting the fact that there is rapt attention to that blog for self-promotion, or the promotion of only specific people?
This happens often subtly and is rarely a conscious evil decision. Firstly, most bloggers are professionals with day-jobs and they themselves haven’t actually accepted the responsibility the audience is giving them for being objective, neutral and professional about news. They often resist this, because they started blogging just to add a personal perspective of the world around them, not because it was their job to go around and report news for the audience.
So within this disconnect of the audience expecting news from them, and the bloggers using a tool to report items of interest around themselves, the bloggers often only start highlighting things from their friends or from themselves.
The inconvenient truth of this is that the perspective of that news is completely destroyed… only one angle or side of a story is covered, and only that one side is consumed by readers who dont even know that there was another angle. This is extremely dangerous, but what can we do about it if we the bloggers arent taking responsibility for adding bias to our new reporting for the masses?
Even worse, what if bloggers are consciously saying things like "We’re about to do XYZ" when they’re not – when audience is just being led on with false hope?
The third serious problem comes from the expectations which arise from being semi-hobbyist news reporters that suddenly a large audience-base expects to hear from. Not only is there an expectation of neutrality, but an expectation with regards to how frequently news must get out.
From being that innocent blog where the blogger wrote whenever he or she felt inspired to write something — there is suddenly a demand to push out content daily / frequently… "the press must not stop".
Ironically, that demand and pressure leaves even less time for the blogger to write those highly-inspired posts that gained credibility to begin with – because pushing out content often means just reporting something without adding that perspective that makes that particular news source valuable.
Why are these problematic?
These are pretty serious issues – I come from a computer engineering + supply-chain management + consulting background and had little or no idea about the value-chain of media and news until jumping into it myself.
The amount of professional responsibility on journalists – whether they are hobbyists or take themselves seriously – for being credible and objective is huge, because what they write, how they present information and their comments on it truly does influence the thinking process of others.
Blogs – whether we want them to be personal/public diaries or not – are a medium of influence now because the audience are looking towards them as news sources… sources of information.
How much information people know will influence how people at large think about an issue.
Only knowing one side, can severely, unfairly and unjustly bias the opinions those people towards one party along compared to other deserving entities.
This responsibility makes me very afraid at times – knowing that blogs like this one, and my opinion, can also become a source of injustice if used incorrectly.
Should people only cover the positive stories from the ground as a news resource? (again whether we think it is a news resource or not?) If so – what about that company that is consciously using unethical practices as part of their business model – do we continue to help them? If we do, we are performing the unethical act of being a bias news resource, thus destroying the credibility of our industry as a whole for people looking at it from outside.
Small win for those bloggers in near-term self promotion, huge losses for everyone.
Its not the bloggers’ fault, its not the audiences’ fault, its everyones.
A blogger might emerge who might be – on the face of it – looking to present objective news, but might be severely unethical and thus destroy the credibility of this industry. But should the audience just move on smugly thinking "bah – thats why PK is a lost cause…"? OR should they spend their time in making good examples for the world as well?
Ultimately, the audience itself will have to rise to control the bloggers. The audience needs to be more confident about giving candid, brutal feedback to the bloggers, and not allow a small "tea-party club" type of behavior to emerge from within the comments ("You’re right! No, YOU’re right!").
Good blogs and good news resources will remain of high quality if commenters are always there to push and balance the writers.
Even if you comment anonymously, but comment nonetheless and be merciless when writing to the local bloggers – tell them when they’re biased, tell them when they’re unethical, attack them on merit, push them to the way forward, push them to grow the heck up.
If the entire crowd of stakeholders push them to uphold a very high standard of ethics and values, bloggers will either fold or choose to segment their personal blogs and professional writing more seriously.
If we all keep choosing to both recognize the good in the news (on merit) on also the activities that must improve (on merit), we will continue to improve our industry.
Otherwise, at the current state of semi-hobbyist-personal-ranting-professional-news coverage I fear that the state of professional blogging in this industry is about to become a crumbling embarrassment in the next 5-6 months or so.