Scott Karp makes a good point in a post today about Nick Denton taking the helm at Gawker again (something I also wrote about earlier today). It’s pretty much the same thing I’ve been saying over and over when I talk to companies — including media companies — about blogs and social media. Let me say it again: Blogs are just a publishing system. Just because something is called a “blog” doesn’t actually imply anything positive or negative about its content (or lack thereof).
Blogs can be used to practice journalism, they can be used to practice drive-by celebrity character assassination, they can be used as a gigantic time-sink so as to keep people from doing real work (and occasionally, as in the case of The Smoking Gun, they can accomplish all three at once). They can be about serious subjects, with well thought-out opinions, or they can be the blitherings of a know-nothing with a typewriter.
Asking whether blogs can be journalism is like asking whether pencils can be used for journalism, or whether people who type can be journalists. Sure, they can, but that doesn’t mean they always are. You could make the same statement and replace the word “blog” with the word “newspaper.” Do all newspapers practice the rigorous, fact-based, dual-sourced journalism people think of when they use the word? Hardly.
What Nick Denton is looking for seems to be the prototype of a new kind of journalist, practicing something close to what Jeff Jarvis calls “networked” journalism (which Jay Rosen is also working on). An excerpt from the job posting Nick put up for a Gawker reporter:
“At its most elevated, the new Gawker hire may experiment with a new form of reporting, unique to online, in which ideas are floated, appeals made to the readers, and the story assembled over the course of several items, from speculation, and tips from users.”
Nick’s brand of Fleet Street-style journalism may not be to everyone’s taste, but there’s no question that it’s journalism. The fact is that until recently, only a small group of people had the tools required to engage in journalism. Now, the tools are virtually free, not to mention instantaneous. The combination of those two things has up-ended the journalism business — such as it was — and continues to do so.