Blogging and Big Media: Embrace and Extend, or Fight the Power?

In my real job, I help a group of technologists and programmers make tools that help a free press do its job better. The fact that those tools are free and modifiable and open source is icing on the cake. In fact, one of our slogans is: “Free software for a free press.”

Many people have been beating the drum for blogs as a way to change the balance of power in media, and to some extent I think that’s true. But the balance of power is always shifting in media; Hearst gets replaced by Murdoch, who will be replaced by someone else at some point. The fact that one’s career arcs (and if you’re lucky, has multiple arcs) is something I’ll get back to in a second.

I’ve been reading Jeff Jarvis for quite some time now, and I think this post points to something big when he says that transparency is key to media companies’ success in such a rapidly changing environment. In any sport, the minute the rules are called into question, the audience loses interest. The media is no different. The rules have to be laid out, adhered to, and be seen to be adhered to.

Jarvis makes the point that transparency is crucial to media credibility – even to the point of a reporter who makes his own personal biases known; is he a conservative covering conservatives, or a conservative covering anti-globalists? I see that point.

At this point, many blogging evangelists get the idea that in the future, all we’ll pay attention to is blogs, and I can’t exactly see that happening. I think blogs are just at the beginning of their evolution, and will grow into things we can’t even envision yet.

Here’s a case in point. Right about now, one of the more interesting trends is toward group blogs of one form or another, and I have to admit that these are the sites I consistently visit – Boing Boing, Slashdot, Metafilter, Unmediated, and Living in Europe (Disclosure: I am a contributor there).

Even the “one-man shows” of blogging rely heavily on people passing them information and inspiration. Where would the Instapundit or Wonkette be without a loyal audience passing items?

It seems from time to time that the A-List Bloggers want everyone to believe that they are somehow anointed by a higher being to blog their asses off, and so consistently, and of such high quality that it is possible to believe their work alone will bring down the entire media hierarchy. But that’s not going to happen. As Jarvis says, “this is not a movement of geeky loners.”

Everybody goes through good spells and dry spells, whether they write with a quill and parchment or blog on a Movable Type 3.0 blog from a wifi-connected Sony VAIO laptop.

I read a lot of blogs, and I know that some of my favorite bloggers have gone through ups and downs, and will continue to do so. Maybe they have a life. Maybe they’re tired of blogging. Many decide to give it up because there’s no love in it anymore. And that’s valid.

Oscillation in quality, in my own understanding, is what drove the original pamphleteers three hundred years ago to come together to form newspapers in the first place.

It’s kind of obvious, really. You have good days and bad days, but if you join together with others, the overall thing you create will be of higher quality.

This is all a long way of saying that no blog is an island, and that one of the short-term trends to watch is that of the group blog. Few tools exist to help a group blog, however, and that’s an area we at Campware are working on.

Jarvis called for more transparency in media. Amen. In my opinion, the newsroom itself, the process of making news sausage, is to the public one of the great mysteries connected with media. I’m glad I’ve had a chance to see it work. And now I’m glad I’ll be working on tools that will hopefully bring bloggers and newsrooms together.

The first of these tools is one that will allow the import of XML content – things like an Atom or NewsML feed – into our content management system. So a freelancer who has a blog can have it be automatically uploaded into his local paper’s Campsite content management system, and therefore into its workflow.

The blogger’s post may evolve, as an editor fact-checks his ass, but it may not. That’s up to the people involved. The tools we make simply enable the process. In any case, his original post will still remain.

This feature for Campsite 2.2, written in PHP by my colleague Paul Baranowski in Toronto, should be ready in a couple of weeks. I’ll let you know when it is.

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