Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Who Would You Trust for News? Newspaper or Blog?

Came across this interesting discussion on longbets, recently, which made me sit up and take note (ulterior motive: I like trumpeting about the virtues of blogging). Dave Winer observed that in a Google search of five keywords or phrases representing the top five news stories of 2007, blogs written by rank amateur writers ranked higher than the stories written by paid journalists of the New York Times' Web site. Ahem, this is a common problem I face. When there’s an interesting story about which I want to do some research, I get more blogs in my search results than the biggies – the Times, and the Expresses.

The reason is obvious enough. Though the biggies have websites written by professional journalists, they are badly search engine optimized with the result that their stories may appear on page five to which I never bother to web surf. They frown when told that their website has to be optimized with meta tags and keywords. They say, to some effect: “Yeeeeeaaaahh, you know who we are? People know that we are number one. And they will definitely come.”

No, people don’t know that you are number one. No, really, they don’t visit because you are number one. In fact, they don’t even know who is number one because they may be searching the net from Transylvania. They are only bothered about finding the story and reading it, even if it is posted by a rank amateur writer who hardly knows grammar. (Confession: In the hurry of getting these posts on my blog I, too, gloss over finer aspects of grammar.)

Dave Winer’s argument:

“As with personal computing, the early days of Web publishing belonged to the hobbyists, reveling that it worked at all. But the Web is maturing, the tools are getting easy, as the understanding of the technology has become widespread. Serious professional journalists use the new tools, moonlighting, publishing the news they don't or can't sell to the big publications who employ them.

“At the same time, we're returning to what I call amateur journalism, people writing for the public for the love of writing, without any expectation of financial compensation. This process is fed by the changing economics of the publishing industry which is employing fewer reporters, editors and writers. But the Web has taught us to expect more information, not less, and that's the sea-change that the NY Times and other big publications face -- how to remain relevant in the face of a population that can do for themselves what the BigPubs won't.”

Here’s the counter argument by New York Times’ Nisenholtz:

“Readers need a source of information that is unbiased, accurate, and coherent. New organizations like the Times can provide that far more consistently than private parties can. Besides, the blog phenomenon does not represent anything fundamentally new in the news media: The New York Times has been publishing individual points of view on the Op Ed page for 100 years. In any case, and blogs are not mutually exclusive. We would like to extend our ability to act as a host for all sorts-of opinions, and blog technology might well be useful in doing so. After all, in countries whose citizens don't enjoy First Amendment protection, blogs are run by people who'd be considered professional journalists in the US. In its six years online, has been a center of innovation, and it'll continue to be, incorporating blogs and whatever else will enable our reporters and editors to present authoritative coverage of the most important events of the day, immediately and accurately.”

Who won? In the public voting, Dave Winer won! Yaaaaayyyy!

You can read the entire discussion and the voting pattern on longbets.

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