Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Journalism and blogging

Last night I attended a session of the Dutch Journalists Association NVJ in Utrecht. Subject of the meeting was the public debate in blogs. The subject was introduced by Marc Chavannes (to the right on the photograph), professor journalism at Groningen University and former correspondent for the Dutch newspaper NRC in Paris, London and Washington. The discussion was chaired by Peter Olsthoorn (left)

The subject was formally about the public debate and blogs, but in the background the attention directed itself to the question what do blogs do to journalism and do journalists and newspapers take blogs seriously. And all this related to The Netherlands.

Marc Chavannes started out to tell about his experience as a foreign correspondent in Washington and how he used blogs as barometers to see political questions growing. He indicated that blog about the public debate often gave him material to write about questions before they erupted or never did erupt at all as blogs demonstrated the inconsistencies of the political proposals. He showed it with examples from blogs like Talking Point Memo and Kos.

He compared bloggers of the public debate to mice that with their small teeth nibble away the information and shred evidence to pieces. He used the example of the action of Bush after re-election. Having won the elections, scaring the hell for terrorists out of the Americans, Bush thought that he could privatise social pension schemes and let banks and insurance companies handle these services. It would save the government a lot of money and bureaucracy. But the bloggers showed that this solution would not be for the better of the citizens. One year after, the proposal was silently moved off the agenda, while even parliament had not spent time on it.

In The Netherlands we have thousands of blogs; so one would suppose that there is a long tail with top blogs and special blogs; but there are only a few public debate blogs such as Geen Stijl and Geen Commentaar (mind you two blog titles with a negative!). Yet Geen Stijl is more a shock blog, while Geen commentaar is still in a starting up phase. There are no public debate blogs which bring on questions of politics or social issues; nor take bloggers politicians or leading figures to task. Neither is there a collective blog in the public debate in which bloggers can enter their contribution on public question.

The question was obviously why does this not happen in the Netherlands? Is the population too small? Do we follow the US, but much later? Or do we have another debating culture. So far blogs have not been taken seriously in The Netherlands by journalists; besides some bloggers want to impress their mum and dad, so it is an inferior kind of journalism, the mum-and-dad journalism. Besides most blogs in The Netherlands can be categorised as autistic; the bloggers talk to themselves. However, fine blogs are ideosyncratic.

What have blogs done to newspapers? Not much so far. In the US papers like the NYT and the Washington Post have bought blogs for their traffic and in the second place for their opinion. The same has happened in the Netherlands. The Telegraaf has a participation of 40 percent in Geen Stijl; the blog regularly takes care for contribution in the newspapers. De Volkskrant has started its own blogosphere with blog software, with which new bloggers can set up their blog; but so far de Volkskrant has not harvested these blogs for news.

The conclusion of the meeting was that Dutch journalists should study the phenomenon of bloggers more carefully. For Dutch newspapers there is still an opportunity to start up citizens’ journalism in the public debate.

Posting"s of blogs on this subject in Dutch:
- Peter Olsthoorn (Planet Multimedia): 'Te weinig relevant debat in Nederlandse blogs'
- Roy ( Kwaliteit en invloed van weblogs in Nederland
- Maarten Reijnders (De Nieuwe Reporter): Waarom doen Nederlandse blogs het slechter dan Amerikaanse?

Blog Posting Number: 727

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