Monday, December 08, 2008

Rise of the super blogger and possible erosion of core journo values ?

Air JetLiner Crashes into Sea
November 1996, one of the most potent images by a tourist (pre- citizen reporter)
became the subject of a broadcast bidding war

Could the "them an Us', broad attrition between broadcasters and super bloggers, become an imploding force between emerging bloggers and the rise of the super bloggers?

And how the clamour for superdon is eroding one of the basic tenants of journalism practice, attribution and sourcing. Does that matter or is it time to seek a fresh way of attributing material, beyond external links?

A two parter which culminates in the Alchemy of Journalism.


Image from WeMedia 2006

Everyone of us starts somewhere, most of us at the bottom.

Broadcasters have made strong claims on citizens' offerings from the Zapruder film and before then, to the more recent tragic events in Mumbai, here clipped on

Two years ago I shared a stage with the Director of BBC News, Helen Boaden.

We got onto the subject of citizen contributions. It's not a new phenomenon, citizen journalism, I said, broadcasters have always relied on the Joe and Josephine public for contribution.

Boaden, like so many broadcaster who've been finger-wagged for not being CJ friendly enough agreed.

What is new, I added later of stage, and where broadcasters have been founding wanting has been the level of plurality and recognition in using this source.

Looking back even the wisest sages in broadcasting will say they didn't see it coming.

What the most 21st public pioneer of this form, "Oh My News" did was to not only prove there could be an honest brokerage of information without mal aforethought, but it could work en masse.

Because before then for every News summit convened for global broadcasters, the Net was an irrelevance.

Nothing New Then
Back in 1994 Channel One, a UK VJ outfit positively encouraged them.

It didn't have a large pool of reporters and so I remember several occasion soliciting video.

The more memorable was corralling an American tourist's video in Earl's Court when she emerged from a stationary smoke-filled underground train with pictures.

In November 1996, working at WTN, one of the most potent images by a citizen reporter became the subject of a broadcast bidding war.

The video was shot by a South African couple on their honeymoon on the Comoro Islands, East Africa, whilst lying on the beach.

125 people died on Ethiopian Airlines flight 961 including Africa's leading, and one of the world's most respected cameramen/,photojournalistst, Mohamed-Mo-Amin.

On scene reporters
The boon in the "every reporter within us" and the largely unfilled web 2.0 knowledge gap from broadcasters and publishers adverse to change, has been a major contribution to the rise of the this 21st centuries philosophers.

The successful media savvy ones often have backgrounds in the very institutions they're finding holes in, and deliver their missives with alacrity and a lack of pretentiousness. They are the super bloggers.

Many will admit that their openness is both their strength and weakness. The Net is all to play for.

It is an alchemists pen, pulling in consensus from the wisdom of crowds, buffeted by their own original thoughts.

Some of these are bound by grand theories, empirical or ethnographic research, otherwise their practitioners look to alternative and equally valid thesis which involves reshaping methods with antecedents.

The allure for superblog status appears intoxicating and what's emerging now is interesting in many ways.
  • Broadcasters interaction with the (super) video bloggers.
  • The Achilles for the meteoric rise in super blog status can often mean a loss of standard in journalism practice

Broadcast bloggers

The tragic events in India, in which twitters and bloggers, played a vital role informing audiences has some interesting characteristics.

Online, a number of bloggers/cj broke pictures with a number of traditional news sources as well as the blogosphere referencing them.

The link here to CBS and BBC World of an interview with a blogger seems to break far less ground.

The interviewer's aston/ super/ by line has changed to reflect this new standing, as the interviewee extracts witness/by stander information.

If you're a blogger/ CJ I would have thought it's high time a new code recognised this so any broadcast interview would reference your and url.

If you're good enough to be on air and you're trusted, you're good enough for a ping to your blog, though there's an obvious caveat here.

Also, that you should have a claim to the interview with the network so long as you are not selling the VT on.

Why? Because they the broadcaster will most certainly be running the VT with you ad infinitum for news gathering cred.

Gordian Knot for CJs
But herein with CJ lies an interesting issue.

A news correspondent on the ground will in their first minutes of contact on the scene do a couple of things.
  • Look for eye witnesses
  • Contact officials on the scene for facts, updates, injuries etc.
  • Contact the office for latest wires etc.
  • Assess broad areas of their story. What's passable/legal/ sound conjecture or otherwise.
All this before in minutes they'll be required to go on air.

I haven't looked at enough Mumbai tapes for the following point, it's more a generalisation.

But could the CJ be required to do the same or does the risk present itself for CJs to offer commentary based NOT on what they've seen, but what they believe. And yes I do acknowledge that Cjisms' modus operandi is not standardised.

However is this aforementioned acceptable? If the CJ has a background in international affairs and security, they're no different from the pundits wheeled into the studio, but if they don't?

This is really a matter for the recipient, the broadcasters, as truthfully a blogger may not be aware of what their role is going on air. Perhaps an agreement needs to be reached before doing so.

Difficult one as CJ by its very nature can be adhoc.

Every one's an expert
The second point is a more pressing one, which you've probably come across at the coal face training next generation journalists.

This is something I have also observed affiliated to the BJTC. That is the rise of the blogger and perhaps the correspondence quotient of the super blogger has blurred the lines with attribution and sourcing.

To that end it's easy to direct the language of blogging, comment and opinion, into news reportage, when we should still entertain the idea, "if you weren't there attribute". [I'm speaking here not of CJ/bloggers on the scene but often the many reporting reported stories.]

"The attacks in Mumbai have resulted in several fatalities" - how was this fact arrived at? Who first reported it? Was it from the television?

Because otherwise a trend extrapolation of this could see an erosion of any sourcing at all, or lead to the passing of unqualified material down the story chain.

This is something addressed in another way in Nick Davies book Flat Earth . In his case how PRs feed the story flow, which can easily contaminate the news flow.

Reputable broadcaster, publishers and bloggers will say they will never knowingly get to this, hopefully, but for a generation of new journalists coming through there lies the risk that supposition may simply become fact.

It's something a few academics I have spoken to are already addressing.

Post script: Proof however that Cj and attribution can work and very well is illustrated here

Next post
The Alchemy of a story. Using chemistry to formalise story telling and the parallels for observing empirical values.

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