Dress Rehearsal

I’m warming up my thought processed for my appearance this coming Thursday at the New Communications Forum in Palo Alto, where I will appear on a panel that discusses the difference between journalists and bloggers.

It seems to me the place to begin is by defining journalism, which includes gathering and presenting details of wars and political controversies, disasters and heroic acts, crime and social movements, sporting events and celebrity antics, hobbies and cultural trends, business and scientific developments and all the many things that invite interest, alarm or curiosity.

But there is some other connotation to journalism, a sense of mission or a higher purpose, clearly not always achieved, that once earned the press the title of the Fourth Estate.

It is in this light that I would like to think about the differences between journalists and bloggers, and those mainly boil down to the obvious: journalists are paid, have health plans, special access and privileges and work in highly structured organizations that have codified rules of behavior. In the best instances these rules encourage trust on the part of the public. But that trust may be eroding. And the bureaucratic inertia that infects all large institutions makes the traditional Fourth Estate slow to embrace new media tools and thinking — and creates an opening for bloggers.

As for bloggers, they run the gamut from a few hugely successful sites like Talking Points Memo and Instapundit, to literally millions of hobby blogs that stigmatize the entire blog movement as the domain of ranters and ravers. And while a middle tier of blogs are rising — as alternatives to trade press or as online culture zines — that are powerful enough to threaten the status quo, for the most part even the best blogs are small businesses — with all the challenges that implies.

I will suggest that the differences between journalists and bloggers are not so important as thinking about how to accomplish the higher mission of journalism. In an advertising-supported environment how does any media undertake the unpopular and difficult issues? I’ll have some thoughts about how the people we now call bloggers should rename themselves something along the lines of personal publishers — and add some thoughts about how these small businesses can create the systems that will enable them to make a living — and a difference.

Tom Abate
‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media