This week saw a small eruption in that corner of the blogging world where professional writers operate. It began with a post by Nick Carr, though Blogcritics preceded it with a contribution from the BBC.
What the debate you're about to hear tells you is that a lot of people are learning to write headlines. Contributions in declining order of snappiness and suggestiveness were: Trust Me I'm A Journalist; Why We Needs Blogs and Newspapers; A Glass House; and the more mundane but accurate Journalistic Standards in The Blogosphere.
What was it about? Nick Carr contends that Michael Arrington's TechCrunch and Arrington's own commentary are fatally flawed because of a conflict of interest — Arrington invests in some companies that TechCrunch covers. Specifically says Carr, Arrington's support of blogging as opposed to journalism is open to criticism, for that very reason. Arrington does not respect journalistic standards but his own are compromised.
So Carr wants to talk up journalism as opposed to blogging.
This is the line Kent Newsome quotes: "When it comes to conflicts of interest, or other questions of journalistic ethics, the proper attitude that we bloggers should take toward our counterparts in the traditional press is not arrogance but humility."
And Newsome's own endorsement: "To do otherwise is to claim a position of superiority that is ludicrous on its face. Blogs have many advantages over traditional print media. Let's not obfuscate them with illusions of grandeur."
This morning Matthew Ingram reminded us: "So yes, bloggers have some things to learn from traditional media when it comes to disclosing conflicts. But traditional media darn well has plenty to learn from bloggers as well — and I for one am glad we have both."
Some stock-taking is needed.
1. News media operate through commercial compromises that do alter what would otherwise go into news programmes and newspapers. It's part of the game. Perhaps news media have become increasingly less critical – at least that's the theory for the rise of the radical right. Others would argue investigative journalism has died. Beyond that though, it's always been this way.
2. In the 1990s/early 21st century competitive pressures got out of hand and some journalists began making things up. It happened at the New York Times, USA Today and at Carlton TV that we know about, but there was much more going on. Over the last decade news organisations have cut more staff and budgets, effectively reducing their commitment to reflecting society in the broadest possible way.
3. News media therefore get it wrong through political bias, the machinations of commercial television, the pressures they place on staff and through lack of controls, and through their allocation of budgets.
4. But they also get it wrong because they assume that there is an objectivity that they have a better ear and eye for, because of the training of journalists.
5. Bloggers are self-interested in some cases.
6. Bloggers don't necessarily have a better eye or ear from what is the pertinent line of inquiry when covering events, trends or people but they've at least an even chance of getting it right.
7. Liberal voices that will forego personal advantage to state and restate unpopular opinions are a dying breed. Newspapers used to provide a home for them, and some newspaper proprietors had that streak in them too.
8. There is no viable form of income yet for bloggers who have a liberal humanist outlook – your best chance of earning money is first in the field with tech news, parenting or cooking. It's a Long Tail world after all. Bloggers need to test their willingness to compromise for income.
9. Blogging and citizen journalism is being used to widen the voices or information sources in some news coverage but blogging and citizen journalism are not being used to challenge the status quo. They are and will be integrated.
10. How we think and what we know is at stake. Blogging is,as yet, too individualised to affect that other than when bloggers' views gel with commercial interests, as is the case with the wildly successful TechCrunch.