the rest of journalism

One of the students in my J463 class mentioned that these blog assignments had been useful to him because they helped him find his voice as a writer. I guess since I’m an older student and have been writing forever, I didn’t feel like that.

I started my first blog in 2001 and wrote every day until 2009; after I started at UO I wrote a little less frequently, maybe an average of twice a week, continuing to the present. I got a devoted group of readers pretty quickly — maybe 100-150 people, which isn’t a lot, but 100 people dying to read your next post is better than 1,000 people idly reading something on their phones. My readers would freak out if I didn’t write for a day, thinking I had died (which probably had something to do with my life choices at the time). Many of the readers became IRL friends, including my current boyfriend of five years.

I learned to write in that blog, starting with extremely short posts like, “Today I got coffee and rode my bike to the park” and within a couple years graduating to long, complex narratives about my travels and (mis)adventures. About five years after starting the blog, I realized I really loved writing and started thinking about going to school for journalism, which leads us to the present day.

One thing I have learned from this journalism blog is how useful it is to write freely about my thoughts on journalism, specifically. I guess having a bunch of people who desperately want to hear my latest crazy stories has kept me from exploring the less-personal stuff I think about. Most of my readers have some interest in writing, but only a few are journalists, so I don’t go into detail about my (future) (I hope) career.

I already knew writing was an amazing way to organize my thoughts about whatever was bothering me, but I guess it never occurred to me to apply that to journalism. Meta-journalism, kind of. I read plenty of articles about journalism and have plenty of opinions about them, but having to write them down helped me crystallize my own beliefs… and actually gave me a lot of ideas about how to approach my writing and my future job search.

In a way, the non-writing aspects of journalism have been the hardest for me to understand. I started J School already thinking of myself as a writer and already loving to write — and thinking it would be smooth sailing for me because I already felt so comfortable with words, grammar, sentences, and expressing my thoughts via writing. But I vastly underestimated how difficult “the rest” of journalism would be — thinking of story ideas, conducting interviews, finding documents, approaching people on the street for quotes, figuring out how to deal with controversial topics, figuring out what readers want to read about, and most importantly, how to get a job in the first place.

I used to think, “I’ve been reading the paper for longer than most of my classmates have been alive,” thinking that would make things easier for me because I had a feel for how a good story was structured and written… but journalism is a lot more about “the rest” than it is about the writing. The writing is just the last part. Having to put my thoughts about journalism into writing, in this blog, has helped me get a handle on some of those non-writing aspects that have been difficult for me.

participatory journalism and the future

Recently I’ve noticed more sites that don’t allow comments — not like in the old days of the internet where some sites just didn’t have the programming knowledge to have comments, but sites deliberately excluding comments. Sites like Vox, Pacific Standard, and most New York Times articles. Vox and PS are both relatively new, and it seems like a conscious decision. I’m guessing Vox’s rationale is that they want their explanatory articles to feel like the definitive guide to that subject, without unruly commenters butting in to say the reporter forgot something or got something wrong.

But Pacific Standard’s lack of comments is kind of mystifying, because they seem like the type of thought-provoking, modern site that would invite discussion. I’ve read some amazing articles there — like this moving piece about the woman who accidentally invented artisanal toast. She opened a tiny cafe on a shoestring, as a last-ditch effort to deal with her psychotic episodes by connecting more with people, and struck on a menu of coconuts, coffee, grapefruit juice and thick-sliced toast in order to spur customer conversations. I really wanted to know what other people thought of the article. But… no comments allowed!

Your typical internet comments section.

I think some sites are getting wary of the vitriolic comment wars that can appear on the most innocuous articles — I once saw a discussion on a Mozart YouTube video turn hateful within the first four responses to a comment, as one person disagreed with the other over whether Mozart was the best composer. By the 10th comment, people were saying stuff like, “I’m praying you never have children” and that the other person was “what’s wrong with this country.” All that was missing was a comparison to Hitler or a “Thanks Obama!”

But it’s a shame not to allow comments. Many people, including me, find some of the best material in the comments, often better than the article itself. Sites like Gawker use comments effectively by asking questions and then publishing the most interesting comments, or asking for updates or tips on breaking news. Other sites have moderators to keep out the worst trolls and haters.

In a Nieman Lab article about reader engagement and comments, Jake Batsell writes positively about some articles that accumulated thousands of comments, and how journalists can best use comments. I thought his comparison with traditional print journalism was interesting:

Had he been assigned a reflective piece like the where-was-God story during his days at the magazine, Gilgoff told me, he might have interviewed ten or twelve sources for a seven-hundred-word story that left 90 percent of his reporting on the cutting-room floor. He also probably would have moved along after writing that single story. “Before, you would think a story has come and gone,” he said. “What the Internet allows you to do is see that people are still talking about it. We didn’t know that a few years ago.”

One benefit of the internet is that all previous articles are still available. An article can still have an active comment conversation days or months after it’s published. And you never know what readers are going to react to. My most-shared article at the Emerald was a piece about a self-harm support group on campus, which was very surprising, since I had written a lot of articles I would have assumed would be more popular. [Unfortunately I can’t link to the article because the Emerald’s redesign has apparently deleted all my old articles. 😦 ]

The internet also allows for infinite material on a subject, if readers want it… and almost every topic, no matter how obscure, has legions of obsessed readers who want to read more. I like the idea of being able to use all that reporting that was “on the cutting room floor.” When I read an article about something really fascinating — like the artisanal toast lady — I would love to read the full text of the interview, or get more details that were left out of the original piece. Some sites now offer this as supplemental material.

In another Nieman Lab article about broadening the scope of journalism, Jonathan Stray writes, “Journalism is just one part of a broader information ecosystem that includes everything from wire services to Wikipedia to search engines.”

I just finished writing a 13-page research paper about how the WIkileaks phenomenon caused journalists to have an identity crisis because here was someone with no journalistic training — Julian Assange — working separate from any media organization, publishing groundbreaking information, including a video that Reuters had tried to get through FOIA for two years. At first I assumed that Assange, who called himself the “editor-in-chief” of Wikileaks, was not a “real” journalist. But after a while I realized that the whole question is a little silly and kind of a waste of time.

Traditional journalists like Bill Keller, who worked with Assange to get the leaks but then wanted to distance themselves from him, fell all over themselves to try to make Assange look uncouth and “not a real journalist,” by writing tasteless columns focusing on everything from Assange’s supposedly dirty shirt to his strange mannerisms and comparing him to “like a bag lady walking in off the street”… hardly how a journalist would write about a colleague or even a source, especially after Assange had given the Times the scoop of the century by allowing them first publishing rights, along with the Guardian, for thousands of leaked documents.

Many of the scholars I read for this paper discussed how the harsh treatment of Assange in the media was a reaction to traditional reporters feeling threatened by both the changing media landscape to how people like Assange were making them seem irrelevant. Finding explosive documents was the traditional territory of the investigative reporter, and here was someone doing just that, for free, and without the backing of the traditional media.

Stray ends his piece about expanding what he calls “editorial products” by saying:

I’ve used the word “editorial” to sidestep discussion of what “news” or “journalism” is. To ask that question misses the point of what it does. And there has been a strange lack of innovation here.

I agree. I think journalists have been so desperate not to lose their jobs or their identity that they have become entrenched in an old, outdated model of what journalism “is.” It doesn’t matter what journalists think it is, because the journalists are not who gets to decide — the readers are the ones who are voting with their clicks.

An artist’s rendering of the internet masses storming the gates of Real Journalism.

One of my first professors at UO, a man from India with an advertising background who was teaching J201, said something that really annoyed me one day. I have practically worshipped the paper edition of the NYT since I was around 13 (now 33!), and he was talking one day about the downfall of print and the defensive, old-fashioned attitudes of print media.

He said, “The New York Times is saying, ‘You’re going to miss us when we’re gone’ — that’s not a very good business model!”

I was extremely annoyed and insulted when he said that, because at the time I agreed with the Times, and I resented his pointing out that news has to be a business, when I wanted to happily hide my head in the sand and read my beloved paper without thinking about these tawdry issues related to making a profit and staying afloat.

I was thinking, “Business model! — pff, real journalists don’t even have a business model! We are artists, writing the truth, and if readers can’t appreciate that, screw them.”

But now I think I agree with him… wagging a finger and arguing that this or that “isn’t journalism” or trying to hold the gates of Real Journalism closed when the internet revolution is rioting at the gates — this is all very counter-productive. For journalism to survive it has to listen to what people want.

Ethical Leaks

The most telling comment on the morality of Wikileaks is the reaction of its detractors.

Scenes from the Arab Spring, which was caused in part by revelations from Wikileaks

In 2010, when journalists were evenly divided between pro- and anti-Wikileaks, both sides were writing articles using the information from the leaks. The difference was that the anti- side were hypocrites. They were arguing that both Julian Assange and Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning should be tried for treason, and some were calling for the death penalty. But they were still writing scores of articles using the information.

Many of these articles would start by talking about what a shame it was that the leaks had been released, and reiterating the treasonous moral failings of everyone involved — but then the rest of the article would be about some of the fascinating or horrifying facts that had been discovered in the trove of documents.

In the article: “Friend or Foe: Wikileaks and the Guardian,” an unnamed colleague of Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian, had the same reaction that I and many other journalists had to the moral quandary of publishing these secrets. He observed, “Others will publish the same material if we desist. Our duty is to set these stories in context.”

The anti-Wikileaks reporters who still used the leaks as sources surely had a similar rationale: “Others [Wikileaks as well as the Guardian, The New York Times, etc] have already published these documents. As long as they’re freely available online, I have no moral duty to refrain from taking advantage of this sensational information — in fact, I *do* have a duty to give readers context about the cables that pertain to my area of expertise.”

Julian Assange fully intended to publish with or without the Guardian, and the media did have the responsibility to put the documents in context. Nowadays, with the Internet, a whistleblower who wants to get his or her information to the public will get it out there whether or not you as a journalist help out. Even without Wikileaks, a whistleblower could contact other news organizations, and would eventually find one that was interested, who might not be as willing to put weeks into redacting the documents.

The Guardian, Times, and Der Spiegel did consider at length the morality of publishing articles using the leaked documents, and in the end it sounds like they made an argument similar to mine.

It’s interesting that the most dramatic political fallout from those 2010 leaks was the Arab Spring, which was spurred by diplomatic cables the Western media probably overlooked. It shows how powerful revealing the truth can be: Though there were only six leaked cables from the US Embassy in Tunisia, the new information was enough to shake the foundation of the government and create a chain reaction across the Arab world. One cable in particular, that talked of the opulent lifestyle of the rulers, including a pet tiger, was passed through social media and reported on TV news. The divide between the rich and poor spurred frustration that lead to the self-immolation of the fruit vendor, the first domino in the Tunisian revolution. While there is no suicide note from the vendor, scholars agree that the information from that cable was so ubiquitous that he had surely seen it.

As for whether Julian Assange is a source, editor, or something else — he seems to be more an information broker than a source. He is still taking a great risk, but the information isn’t his. The internet has blurred many of the lines in journalism, so many of the old definitions don’t apply now anyway. The fact that he had to seek out mainstream media to get his leaks to the public shows that the Olde Media still has a place in this world.

This post guest-written by a robot

“The stories that today’s robots can write are, frankly, the kinds of stories that humans hate writing anyway.”

portrait of the author of this blog post

Really? Did someone poll all the out-of-work reporters or people who switched to PR because they couldn’t find a reporting job? Did those people say that they would rather be out of a job than to write stories about quarterly earnings and minor earthquakes? There’s a big difference between a task that an employee might not love to do, and a task that they WON’T do even for a paycheck. Not every second of everyone’s workday can be made up of things they love.

People who are in favor of allowing Mexican immigrants to work in the US often argue that they are doing labor (farm work, housekeeping, gardening, etc) that Americans “won’t do.” I’m not sure if that’s the case or not, but at least in that example, the job is still going to a human being who needs the money.

Also, friends of mine who have worked alongside Mexican immigrants on farms told me that no matter how fast they worked, they could only seem to pick half as much fruit as their Mexican coworkers in a given amount of time. Maybe we Americans can’t compete with workers who have probably been doing farm work since they were children.

But in the case of machines writing news stories, media companies are replacing humans with machines, and the resulting work is obviously inferior. In a Slate article about this trend, there were two examples of business stories, one written by a computer program, one by a human. The difference in quality was extremely noticeable. In the machine-written story, I couldn’t even really make out what the story was about. The human-written story not only presented the information much more clearly, but included the “why” of the story.

One potential use for computer-written news stories is for topics that no human reporter would ever write about in the first place, like personalized fantasy sports stories. That actually like a fun application of this technology.

However, I have a big problem with quotes like the one at the top of this post, which the Slate author, Will Oremus, agreed with. He concluded by saying that human journalists still have an edge over robots in terms of analysis, synthesizing data from disparate sources, and connecting the dots.

But writing boring stories about business news or sports scores still provides a paycheck for a lot of reporters, and I doubt they would be so dismissive of robots taking their work. Not every reporter is writing insight-filled posts on Slate.

And the company who makes the “robot” reporting program, Automated Insights (which is a really creepy name for a company… it’s kind of 1984-ish), demonstrated that they can “dial up” the sarcasm of a given article… and the examples really did sound like a human being snarky. (That reminded me of the robot in Intersteller, which had humor and sarcasm settings.)

If seemingly human touches like humor can be added to these stories automatically, “real” journalists will have very few unique skills to offer, and it won’t just be business stories that will be put in the hands of robots.

Someday someone will design the meta-computer that can invent and design other computers and computer programs. All the programmers will be out of work, and then they’ll realize how the rest of us feel.

Also, someday when our robot workers rise up and revolt against the human overlords, you can bet that these robot reporters will be totally biased against humanity.

Information can be beautiful

Data visualization is the candy of journalism, for me. It’s fun, intuitive, and gives you an idea of the topic at a glance. I used to be a studio art major and was good at math in high school, so I guess graphs and maps of data always make more sense to me than a wall of text — but I think a lot of people feel the same way. Judging from how often people share these images on Facebook, they seem popular with almost everyone. On the internet, especially, an image or map that grabs your attention and shows you the data in a split second is more likely to be understood than a 1,000-word article that no one will actually read.

One of my favorite sources of data visualization is Information is Beautiful, a site that specializes in this form. Their visualizations are not only informative and well-researched, but graphically stunning — beautiful and well laid-out.

The image at right was on their shortlist of their “best of” from 2014. It shows in a series of three images how in the past Democratic and Republican senators often voted across party lines, but by 2013 senators voted within their own party almost exclusively. You could read thousands of pages of articles describing the polarization of politics without getting the feel for the issue that you get by looking at these images for a few seconds.

Lately I have been conscious of how much a visualization would help me understand issues in my own life. I’ve been thinking of where to move after I graduate in June, and my top cities are Oakland, CA and New Orleans, LA, with Portland as the “stand-by” and San Francisco as the “if I win the lottery.” Looking at Craigslist, I quickly realized that Oakland rent is almost twice as much as it is in New Orleans — a comparable 1BR in a similar neighborhood can be $1500 in Oakland and only $900 in New Orleans.

I looked around for some graphs that could help me get a handle on the actual numbers, but I couldn’t find anything. Graphs published by Forbes and other sites either focused on the 10 biggest cities in the country, or the 10 cities with the most expensive or cheapest rent, none of which included the four cities I was interested in. Some sites allowed me to plot different cities’ rents, but they all had issues — either they included everything within 10 miles of a city, which skews the data, or they only used “average rent” without breaking it down by number of bedrooms or square feet. I finally found a data set on Zillow, but it included hundreds of cities and didn’t include populations, so it was hard to pick out the big cities. I also had no idea how accurate the data was.

The only site I could find that graphed average rent by number of bedrooms listed Portland and New Orleans as having the same average rent for a 1BR, which I know isn’t true. The data was probably thrown off by the fact that Portland has a large section on the East side where rent is a lot cheaper, but it isn’t the area I want to live in. I realized in order to get the visualization I needed, I would have to divide the rent first by square feet and then by zip codes, rather than by city or county boundaries.

After looking through dozens of sites trying to find the right presentation of the data, it really made me realize how wonderful it is when a site like Information is Beautiful takes the time to make an image that is both accurate, well thought out, and graphically intuitive.

это правда?

Reported.ly's Twitter page

Reported.ly’s Twitter page

I hadn’t heard of Reported.ly before and it was a little hard to get a grasp on exactly what it was, from reading two articles, one an introduction to the service, and one about how it reacted to the Charlie Hebdo attacks only 48 hours after its launch.

Reported.ly is a decentralized network of six journalists who post to social media on news, both breaking news and ongoing situations. There is no central site for readers to explore. Their primary output is tweets, Facebook statuses, and posts on Medium for more in-depth coverage.

Medium, which I have thought about using myself, is itself more decentralized than blog sites like WordPress or Blogger. It encourages readers to read individual posts by a variety of authors, rather than only reading certain blogs. It is egalitarian but also a little strange.

I guess it’s a sign of getting old when new uses of technology no longer make intuitive sense and you have to think for a minute to figure them out.

Reported.ly embraces the ways Millenials (and whatever the next generation is called!) are consuming news via emerging technology. Reported.ly doesn’t have a centralized site because our generation(s) tend to get news from social media… we’re in such a hurry and have such a short attention span that we only want to consume news in 140 characters (preferably less).

The founder of Reported.ly, Andy Carvin, said, “It may sound counter-intuitive, but I view users of social media platforms as underserved when it comes to news.” That doesn’t sound counter-intuitive to me, at least not after I thought about it for a second. There is so much noise on social media — rumors, misinformation, badly written headlines that confuse or misreport issues, clickbait that purposely misleads readers, and so on.

Another point Carvin brings up is that exclusively using social media to disseminate news — rather than using Twitter or Facebook only to point users to an external site — can help improve the situation for people who are less likely to click through to the actual article.

Many news organizations use their own social media presences to direct people away from those platforms and consume content elsewhere – visit their website, listen to their radio program, etc. I think too many of us have become complacent when it comes to serving social media users directly. So we’re creating a news room that’s basically embedded on various platforms, engaging users throughout the course of the day and working with them to figure out what’s going on around the world.

This becomes especially important when rumors run amok on social media – I think it becomes incumbent upon journalists to be active members of those communities to nip rumors in the bud and help them sort out what’s true and what’s not.

This quote helped me understand the point of the service a little more:

The specific focus is on providing context around breaking stories — or, as Browne put it, “organize the chaos. Because social media is chaos.”

Having to deal with the Charlie Hebdo attacks and all the rumors that came out shortly afterward showed some of the advantages of Reported.ly. The staff is adept at using social media, and has experience reporting on developing stories via Twitter, filtering out the misinformation during huge ongoing events like the Arab Spring.

I guess it remains to be seen whether internet users will prefer accurate reporting over sensational clickbait…

sisyphus and data journalism

Steve Doig

What struck me about what Steve Doig said was how powerful data journalism can be, but how it can also raise a whole new set of problems, and how even when it all works out, the story can have little impact.

He compared the situation in Florida before Hurricane Andrew with the situation in Louisiana before Hurricane Katrina. In Florida, the Miami Herald had been somewhat responsible for the shoddy construction of houses that fell apart in the storm. According to Doig, the paper had reported that some of the building standards were unnecessary, influencing the county commissioner to allow houses to be built that ultimately did not withstand the storm. Doig’s reporting after Andrew showed how lax home assessing had led to newer homes being destroyed at a much higher rate than older homes that had been built to the older, better standards.

But Hurricane Katrina brought up a different, yet still depressing, problem with journalism. The Times-Picayune had published a long series several years before Katrina about how sub-par buildings would be destroyed in a hurricane. They analyzed what strong winds would do to some of the buildings in the city, discussed how the city would flood because it is shaped like a bowl, and basically predicted the destruction that Katrina wrought. But according to Doig, no one listened, no one made improvements to the buildings or levees, and so the series ultimately had no effect and Katrina was an unprecedented disaster.

He also mentioned that even though he won a Pulitzer for his reporting about Andrew, and did many follow-ups to figure out how Florida should improve building standards, nothing much changed in Florida, either. He said that public officials pledged to change, but in the end, they didn’t do much.

I guess this isn’t a problem with data journalism per se, but it shows that even with mountains of data, fancy math, graphs, maps, and so on, making a difference even with something relatively simple like construction standards can be almost impossible. He said something like Florida has to have a hurricane every 25 years or else they forget that they need to take protective measures like building sturdy houses.

Another thing I noticed in his discussion was that the data itself can present problems — stuff like corrupt data gathered by volunteers who don’t care much about accuracy, or people’s names being misspelled and throwing off calculations. Also, problems such as campaigns not recording the gender of donors, creating a whole new problem of having to somehow analyze hundreds of thousands of names for gender. He described a complicated process he used to do that for an article. I can imagine a lot of other situations where you might have an amazing data set with tons of information, but it might be missing a key category, and it could be extremely hard to get the necessary information, especially if you have to add data to thousands of existing entries.

One thing that was encouraging about what he said was that despite the ubiquity of data in present-day journalism, most new reporters don’t have skills even in basic number-crunching like using Excel. That gave me a little hope that having these skills might help me get a job.

“Journalism: A profession whose business is to explain to others what it personally does not understand.”

“Print media isn’t dead! Go to our website for the whole story”

Two articles about the NYT adapting to the Age of the Internet highlighted how stodgy Olde Journalism companies can play to their strengths.

In an article at Fast Company, Mark Wilson describes the NYT blog called The Upshot, where 17 reporters, graphic designers, and programmers create stories that synthesize mountains of data into a form that the average reader can both understand and relate to.

Wilson read an interactive Upshot piece about whether it’s better to rent or buy depending on your individual circumstances, like income and interest rate. Wilson put his own information into the calculator and it told him to buy rather than rent — and he bought a condo. He points out that he trusted the calculator’s advice because it was the NYT. He said he wouldn’t have trusted the same advice from an interactive feature at Vox or another site.

This shows that even though the NYT changes at an almost glacial pace, and seems to be incredibly reluctant to adopt features of new media, people trust them more because we assume that the people behind these articles are intelligent and aren’t just trying to get more clicks.

The New York Times Twitter team

Michael Roston wrote another article about the NYT and new media. “Don’t Try Too Hard to Please Twitter” describes the lessons the NYT Twitter team learned last year. It was funny because I felt like their assumptions about certain things were wrong — they still have a lot to learn about the internet.

For example, they explained how they posted an article about the security guard who lost his job after riding in an elevator with Obama. The first tweet simply used the article headline with a link. The next morning, they tweeted the article again, but this time with what they thought was more “Twitter-friendly” language. They noted that the second tweet got far less clicks, and assumed it had something to do with the wording in the tweets. The real reason was probably that by the next morning, a lot of people had already read the story, either at the NYT or at another site. Unless a subject is extremely fascinating to me, I won’t read multiple articles about it.

I also thought it was funny that the Twitter team had to learn through trial and error that people are more likely to click on an article when the tweet highlights what is interesting about the story, rather than focusing on the multimedia and audio features. No one is going to think, “Hey, this story has an audio documentary, I want to check that out!” Media consumers click on things because the story interests them; they aren’t thinking about exactly how the story is put together or what features it has.

While journalists should use new media, it shouldn’t be show-offy and obvious. It should meld with the story, so the reader isn’t conscious that the story might contain audio, visual, interactive graphics, etc — they just see it as part of one story.

It was cool that near the end of the piece, the author let down his hair a little and allowed himself & the social media team to crack just the hint of a smile… as he points out, the piece as a whole was pretty dry and humor-free, but the last few examples of tweets show that even the NYT can be funny… especially the “Autocorrect has come a long wa” with a link to an article on Autocorrect — haha.

nothing is true, everything is permitted

One of my favorite blogs is The Rumpus. Actually, I don’t really think of it as a blog since it is written by multiple people, but I suppose it counts as one. The Rumpus is what I read when I want to feel smarter than I do when I’m reading Gawker, but when I still want to be assured that at least 50 percent of the writers have tattoos. I am more likely to read something and think, “I didn’t know anyone else had even HEARD of that!” than I am at the NYT or other sites. I’m also more likely to read personal experiences that sound like they could be written by me, rather than by someone with a lot of money who lives in Manhattan.

The Rumpus was partially started by the phenomenal Portland writer Cheryl Strayed, who wrote Wild, which is one of my favorite memoirs. She writes an advice column there called Dear Sugar. The Rumpus publishes All Over Coffee, my favorite comic, gorgeous watercolors and ink drawings of San Francisco mixed with cryptic and literary captions that are usually unrelated to the artwork (the only other place it appears is the San Francisco Chronicle). When one of my favorite musicians died young in 2013, The Rumpus published the most moving tribute I found on the internet.

Pretty much anytime I am reading the site, something will catch my eye in the sidebar — a link or reference to one of my favorite writers, musicians, artists, movies, etc.

It’s almost like being in an echo chamber of my own mind. If I haven’t already heard of the topic at hand, I can pretty much be assured that it will be right up my alley. This is one aspect of the internet that kind of creeps me out. I’m pretty sure that it’s been scientifically proven that the atomization of our lives via the internet is responsible for the polarization of political and cultural discourse. We can all just retreat to our little corner of the world where we never have to hear from anyone with an opposing viewpoint.

Going in a different direction from the previous paragraph, blogs like The Rumpus are a little overwhelming because I *am* so interested in almost every post. I can get sucked in and waste five hours reading, and only get through the last week’s worth of content. I will be halfway through an article and get sidetracked clicking on all the interesting links at the side. That is great for spending a lazy Sunday, not so great when I have work to do or when I am trying to get my attention span to last longer than three minutes. There is something satisfying about reading a newspaper from cover to cover — not necessarily reading every single article, but glancing at the headlines, reading the articles that look interesting, getting to the end, closing it, and being done. On a blog you are never done, by virtue of infinite scrolling receding into the past.

There is a story by Jorge Luis Borges about a fantastical kingdom where the obsessive ruler wants to create a map that is at a 1:1 scale with the kingdom — that is, the map is the same exact size as the kingdom and covers the entire landmass. With the internet, I feel like that, but worse. Instead of one map, there are thousands. Thousands of bloggers and writers writing all day, and I am just one person. I may be able to read faster than they can write, but I will never ever finish, because there are only so many hours in the day and days in the year and years in our lives. I suppose that my anxiety about missing great writing is not a reason to take issue with the internet, though it does warrant its own acronym — FOMO, or Fear Of Missing Out. Other people might be afraid of missing out on the best party this weekend; I am afraid of missing out on the best writing.

blogging vs. journalism

In one of my first journalism classes, in 2009, the professor pointed out that on the main page of the online New York Times, the top story was from one of their blogs, The Lede. He said that the addition of a blog — constantly updating with fresh content — with the old-fashioned front page of the New York Times signaled a seismic shift in journalism.

Looking at the NYT front page now, there is no division between stories from blogs and “normal” stories. In fact, I can’t find any indication that any story is any different from any other story, as far as the journalistic process or sources. There is no menu of blogs or anything listed as a blog. Instead, every reporter at the NYT has probably had to add some of the features of blogging to their skillset.

However, the NYT has kept the elements that have always made it a good news source — great reporting and editing, fact-checking, exclusive sources, and ethical practices.

Another site I read a lot, Gawker, feels like it has made a transformation in the opposite direction. Years ago, I mostly read Gawker to get a snarky and usually well-written (though not well-edited) take on gossip, media news, and culture. The bloggers there seemed to find the same stuff interesting and funny that I did, and they would usually find the things that I would have clicked on at other sites, added some commentary and a link, and posted it on Gawker or Jezebel.

As the years went on, though, they started publishing more original reporting and interviews, personal essays that had a more serious tone, and other “real” journalism. They are also able to use their army of commenters to find sources on unique stories. And their looser ethical and legal rules allow them to print stuff that might not be vetted to the level of the NYT. Now, their bloggers seem to alternate between the old snarky blogging and more serious reporting — often by the same writer, on the same day.

These and similar examples remind me that journalism is far from dying, that it is constantly renewing itself and assimilating new forms like blogging, Twitter, video, multimedia, reader participation, and so on. Blogs like Buzzfeed that used to exist solely to find out which Game of Thrones character your cat is, now publish serious journalism, including war reporting and investigative work.

Steve Outing’s twin pieces for Poynter about what bloggers can learn from journalists and vice versa point out that establishment journalism and blogging have much to offer each other. And in order to survive, journalism will have to reinvent itself in this way. At the same time, hanging onto ethical rules, quality standards, and editing will ensure that readers still find something worthy of reading.