October 16, 2003

Sniping at Blogs; Blogging about Snipers

The world has turned itself inside out. Aren't pioneering high-tech journalists supposed to envision futures of emerging technologies? Aren't journalism school chairmen supposed to cling defensively to the traditional norms of news?

Not any more.

New York Times technology reporter John Markoff, who was writing about computers, cyberpunks and Silicon Valley before most bloggers were born, tells Adam Clayton Powell at the Online Journalism Review that "it's not clear yet whether blogging is anything more than CB radio."

Says Markoff: "It's possible that in the end there may be some small subset of people who find a livelihood out of it and that the rest of the people will find that, you know, keeping their diaries online is not the most useful thing to with their time."

Then, from the not-so-ivory tower of NYU comes the university's j-school chairman, comes PressThink, author Jay Rosen who outlines "Ten Things Radical about the Weblog Form in Journalism." Here's is No. 2:

"Journalism had become the domain of professionals, and amateurs were sometimes welcomed into it- as with the op ed page. Whereas the weblog is the domain of amateurs and professionals are the ones being welcomed to it, as with this page."

Then, from the unlikely corner of Norfolk, Virginia, outside the arena of the debate but home to the Virginian-Pilot, comes an answer that makes Markoff look likes he's heading to La Brea and solidifies Rosen's point as neatly as if he had planned all this: A daily blog reported live from from the courtroom where sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad is on trial.

Online reporter Kerry Sipe began the journal with this simple entry:

"9:50 AM Oct. 14 Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. convened court his morning at about 9:50 a.m. for the trial of John Allen Muhammad, charged with the Oct. 9, 2002, murder of Dean Harold Meyers at a Manassas filling station."

While I was writing this post, Sipe filed five entries this morning during the voir dire, the latest being this:

"10:29 AM Oct. 16 The next potential juror, No. 306, a registered nurse who does volunteer work for the Virginia Beach Department of Social Services, said she had heard "bits and pieces" of information about the sniper killings last year, mostly from conversations with co-workers. She said she had not paid particular attention to it and would not be influenced by those conversations.

The woman told Defense Attorney Greenspun that she had a discussion about the death penalty with her pastor some time ago and that she had thought about the issue further last night. She said she had decided that she could base her decision about a sentence solely on the evidence and the court's instructions.

With no objections from any of the attorneys, No. 309 was accepted as the 14th member of the jury panel."

What blogging will do for journalism goes beyond its capability as a mechanism, as a publishing tool. Sipe's report could have been done with her, a phone and a rewrite man. But I'm sure it was the ability to blog the report that inspired the idea because of its simplicity - one reporter, one computer, a live feed from journalist to reader. Blogging provides newspapers with a burst of innovation -- just what they need.

Markoff is not completely wrong. We can't predict the future. But Rosen is right. We can help shape it.

 Jay Rosen What's Radical About the Weblog Form in Journalism?
 Online Journalism Review NY Times Reporter Has Seen It All Before, and He's Still Pessimestic
 Virginian-Pilot Journal: Muhammad trial updates

Posted by Tim Porter at October 16, 2003 08:14 AM

I don't think that Markoff's comments constitute "sniping at journalism," but rather a wait-and-see approach. This angers bloggers who dislike journalists anyway for the alleged failure of the press to give them their due. I don't think Markoff was making a blogging=good or blogging=bad statement and it always irks me when people read that into those kinds of remarks. How ironic that people tout blogging as a way to delve deeper into a subject with more angles, more complexity and more voices and then singularly interpret the comments of non-bloggers as hostile. As a reporter covering Silicon Valley, Markoff has seen his share of fads and life-altering changes, and I think he's being smart in declining to pronounce blogging as either just yet.

Posted by: Derek Willis on October 16, 2003 11:01 AM
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