Blogs ain’t journalism

Journalism has a lot of problems but blogs are not about to replace “real” journalism says PBS Host David Brancaccio.

Write Chris McGann in The Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

The general thrust: “We’ve got a problem with our media and it’s not just the media’s problem.”

“There’s a lot of inward looking and hand wringing about the state of journalism in America,” Brancaccio said. “I’m trying to make the case that this is everybody’s problem because we have a democracy here.”

The problem breaks down into two major components, he said.

“The level at which the public trusts journalists continues to fall,” he said. “The good news is the public still seems to think that it’s a decent idea for the news media to keep a close eye on public officials and government — that’s nice, but they don’t trust us. They think we are biased.”

Why does the trust break down?

“There’s an interesting theory,” he said. “When you ask journalists why they do what they do, I say, we do this in the public interest. Trying to make the community a better place. It’s part of the role of the news media to keep an eye on civic issues and gather the facts so that people can figure out what to do with those facts.

“And yet the public absolutely doesn’t believe that. They think that we are either, A) delusional when we say we are working in the public interest or, B) lying.”

For a number of reasons, Brancaccio said, people don’t think journalists are being honest about their motives.

“So you have this problem of trust,” he said, “and then it bumps up against this interesting little paradox in my line of work: Public broadcasting … is the most trusted brand of journalism.”

Brancaccio’s explanation: “I’m not serving shareholders. I’m lucky enough to just be able to do my thing with my non-profit little production company. It’s easier for the public broadcasters to make the case that they are in this for the public good, that there is an educational mission here.”

What about blogging? Does that undermine the trust?

Brancaccio said blogging comes up in every interview he does and many people say the way of the world is online new media, he said.

He cited a Project for Excellence analysis of news content on a single day.

“Only 5 percent of what was in the blogs were what you or I might consider journalism,” he said.

Defined as: “Did they do any interviews? Did they consult any documentary sources? Were they witness to events? The answer: no, 95 percent of the time,” he said.

“The idea of citizen voices expressing themselves through blogs is fabulous,” he said. “There’s people reading them and there’s people with cool opinions.

“I read blogs quite a bit because they are other smart people with more time on their hands than me (and they) have aggregated stories that I need to see. I’m just worried that underlying the blogs — there needs to be some news coverage and we have a challenge — who is doing the news coverage? Well, I’m doing some, you’re doing some, but it’s endangered.

“It’s all great stuff but it is not a replacement for professional reporting … just people kind of commenting from the side is not all you need. You need somebody inside these big institutions talking to people or getting sources, he said.”