By Doug Thompson
Tired of whining about the Internet
I’m fed up with newspaper folks whining about blogs.
You know why blogs are killing newspapers?
Two reasons. First, what we reporters do for a living is so much fun, thousands upon thousands of people will do it for free.
Second, and much more ominously, because there’s an endless supply of pre-packaged news.
Right now, somebody who is paid a lot more than I am is sending me a news release from some well-funded organization. Yep, as I’m typing this last sentence, there it is: The tone telling me that I have an e-mail. Sure enough, it’s from a public relations/marketing firm. The text is well-written and there’s a picture, too. I could take that news release and paste it whole into a text file and turn it in as news — if I had an editor who would let me.
Bloggers don’t have editors.
Ask yourself this question every time you read something, not just on a blog. Who wrote this? Where did it start?
The American marketing machine is huge, well-funded and filled with highly competent people. News gathering organizations of all kinds are outnumbered and outgunned.
If you’re a reporter, ask yourself this question: What do I do that’s better than this press release?
Covering a meeting is no great feat, even if you do it yourself and don’t rely on somebody text-messaging you from the meeting while you stay glued to your chair in front of your computer terminal.
I kept a blog while covering a general session of the state Legislature. I found the blog work about as difficult as writing summaries of stories for the daily news budget.
The blog experience got me thinking: What do I do that’s worth reading?
It’s not my technical skills or even my news judgment, not primarily. The main thing I have that most bloggers lack is an understanding of human nature. That doesn’t come as much from on-the-job experience as it does from the experience that really matters. I have kids. I have a mortgage. I’m married. I know what makes people tick. On the job, I’ve also seen a lot of people under great pressure. That teaches me a lot.
Then there’s the technical side. I can explain what the state General Improvement Fund is in one simple sentence. I don’t have to call it “pork” all the time. “Pork” can be true but is usually inaccurate. GIF fund spending for a new stage for a duck-calling contest in Stuttgart is pork. Spending for a new dorm at any one of our state-run colleges or universities is not.
I don’t write about wide, wild swings in state revenues when what we’re really talking about is a few tenths of a decimal point, percentage-wise.
I can use a spreadsheet. I often choose to do so.
I usually know what’s going to happen at a given government decision-making event before it happens. It’s no great knack. The tobacco tax came up for a vote in the House, for instance. Bloggers breathlessly asked me if the needed super-majority of 75 votes was there. I replied that one has to presume that the Speaker of the House knows how to count.
My blog lacked a certain breathless, edge-of-your-seat quality, shall we say.
Max Brantley of the Arkansas Times oversees what is probably the most-read political blog in Arkansas. It’s no coincidence that he’s a former city editor for a now-defunct statewide newspaper. It helps that he’s clearly obsessed, too.
The real differences between reporters and bloggers is — or should be — that reporters know what news is and aren’t easily fooled.
So, are people willing to pay for that?
I don’t know yet. Want to or not, I’m going to find out. Either way, I’m not going to whine about it.