Looking forward to the future of journalism

The next step: Bloggers as journalists

Reporter's notebook

Zachary Adam Cohen penned a great piece for bloggers who want to do more than write clever riffs off the work of others. The post disappeared into the mists of the Internet but here are the relevant parts:

I personally love blogs that rip content from a bigger site and comment on it. I think there is tremendous value in this kind of commentary when you find the voices that provoke you, or nourish you. But blogging has to evolve past this. It already is in many cases. Blogs need to become news breakers in their own right. They need to be hubs of information, commentary, original reporting, even investigative reporting.

Cohen notes that newspapers are here to stay: “To any bloggers out there revving their engines at the thought of newspapers going away, stop now and get off your bike.” But at the same time, cutbacks have decimated newsrooms, and this creates an opportunity for bloggers to fill a void in their community by breaking news, not just opining about news:

Blogs that break news and do their own investigate reporting will rise above the rest. They will be providing extra value to their readers and to the community. You will get noticed by new readers and other news outlets. It all cascades from there.

Bloggers that are interested should try to perform some original investigative reporting. Are you a food blogger? Then how about investigating whether restaurants are living up to their words with regards to where and how they source their food. Are they paying their employees properly? Do they have illegal immigrants working there?

Well…FIND OUT! And write about it. You don’t need a degree from Columbia to break news. You need a pen, a telephone, a recorder and the desire to do it. Bloggers are writers. Writers investigate. I am not advising bloggers to all of a sudden and drop everything to do expensive, intensive investigative reporting. That can only be afforded by newspapers and magazines with budgets and timelines to support such a thing.

But a blogger can do light investigative reporting and perhaps publish a monthly piece. It can be worked on in the background as other content is created and other obligations are met. But I know that once bloggers realize they can investigate their own stories, we can activate a huge segment of the population to fill in some of the gaps left by the absence of newspapers.

Even if a small portion of bloggers took Cohen’s advice, the results would still be impressive:

How many blogs are there now? Hundreds of millions. If only a small percentage of those blogs did occasional investigations, the kind of work that local newspapers and publications used to do, we would be much better off. We would be a more informed citizenry. Does it matter who is doing the reporting? Those that are competent, good writers and maintain their credibility will be found out. This is the democratizing and meritocratic aspect of the web. It is the most important thing about the web and the fact that we all have our own outlets. Let the people be the judge.

Most people blog as a hobby, not as a job. But even if you’re not getting paid, you can still whittle away at a cool idea and work on it over time. File an open records request about an uncovered topic. Call a key official and interview them in your spare time. Keep chipping away at your project, and you might learn something no one else knows.

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It’s an awesome feeling when you share that knowledge with your audience — trust me.

(Photo credit: sskennel)