Cogito, ergo sum. Or Je pense, donc je suis.
Enough of the Latin and French. Let’s stick to English.
I think, therefore I am. We can thank Rene Descartes for giving us that critical element of Western philosophy.
But for our purposes in The Yale Forum, let’s paraphrase it to read: “I report, therefore I blog.”
The days of an individual’s studying to be, or having a long career as, a print reporter are long gone. Whether it comes to covering climate change or any other subject worth the effort, they’re dinosaurs. Or, as some say, newsosaurs. You don’t want to go there, and if you do, you likely won’t long be employed, or employable, there.
There is, after all, no there there.
The Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist Paul Conrad made the point memorably this past April Fool’s Day: His single-frame cartoon, using all the right fonts, read “The N” in a way that could only mean The New York Times.
Alongside it was a text box with the term “All the News That’s Fit to Blog,” a play on the venerable gray lady’s “All the News That’s Fit to Print.”
That said it all. And it said what reporters and editors and newsmakers, such as climate scientists, have to recognize if they are to deal effectively with the news media in communicating with the public.
There’s much uncertainty in the journalism community, as elsewhere, about the plusses and minuses of the Web, the Internet, the assorted technologies, etc. Friend or foe? some still wonder, perhaps a question for which there may never be a definitive answer. Kill or be killed … or mutually co-exist?
Alarming … Appealing … A Challenge …
Try googling (there you go, right there!) for a file including the terms “Alarming,” “Appealing,” and a “Challenge.” You’ll come to a March 17, 2008, release (pdf) from the Project for Excellence in Journalism.
The report – full name “The Web: Alarming, Appealing and a Challenge to Journalistic Values: Financial Woes Now Overshadow All Other Concerns for Journalists” – says financial problems facing news organizations are “so grave” that they now overshadow concerns for quality of news coverage, flagging credibility, and other problems most worrisome to journalists over the past 10 years. (See related News Note posted April 3, 2008.)
The report says that journalists generally tie news organizations’ economic challenges to the rise of journalism on the Internet. Yet large majorities of national journalists “say it is [a] good thing that citizens are able to post comments on news organizations’ websites.” And most “also express positive opinions about news aggregating websites such as Google News and Yahoo News, which have been blamed for contributing to audience declines for traditional news organizations.” They embrace the new technologies revolutionizing their field … but national journalists are split on whether the rise of Internet journalism will strengthen or weaken the values of traditional journalism. More local journalists (45 percent) say the Internet will weaken those values, with just one-third saying it will strengthen them.
Older journalists, not surprisingly, are most fearful of the Internet’s negative influence on journalism traditions and values.
Tellingly, some 82 percent of local print journalists and nearly 70 percent of national print journalists say their news organizations have reduced news staff over the past three years. About four-in-ten said they expect nightly network newscasts to go the way of the Dodo over the next decade, with “just” 17 percent saying printed newspapers are in their final decade.
It’s perhaps puzzling that, notwithstanding the understandable friend-or-foe dichotomy extant throughout many newsrooms, some once-eminent but now head-in-the-sand daily newspapers continue to virtually ban their reporters from blogging or otherwise taking full advantage of the Internet and the Web, warts and all.
“There’s nothing to this blog thing, right?” media commentator and blogger Howard Owens recently chided in his “Covering Mostly Newspapers Online” blog. He pointed to data from compete.com indicating that huffingtonpost.com had passed drudgereport.com, which Owens described as a “big media aggregator,” in people visits. If the trends continue, Owens noted, Huffington will pass eyeball visits to the Chicago Tribune‘s site.
So what’s in it for environmental and science reporters to blog, given the friend-of-foe uncertainties still besetting many news managers?
The St. Petersburg Times‘s Craig Pittman, himself a blogger on “The Fueling Station,” says his blog is “a way to ‘publish’ some of the info that pours into my e-mail inbox and my voicemail every day at a time when newspapers generally have smaller and smaller newsholes. Given the shrinking newshole, it’s not uncommon for my stories to be held several days before they’re published, where the blog items are ‘published’ as soon as I hit the button.
“Also, the blog can boost readership for a story that does appear in the paper – and that works both ways, as when you link a story back to the blog,” Pittman wrote. In addition, “I feel far better informed about some of these issues than I used to, thanks to being required to read up on them every day.”
Pittman doesn’t deny that there are some downsides to blogging too: “Looking for items to blog about, and then doing it, takes time away from working on those long-term stories I already don’t have a lot of time for,” he wrote.
And then there’s the customer relations issue too: “Some of the comments people post are pretty nasty, so you can’t be thin-skinned.”
Prolific New York Times science blogger Andrew C. Revkin on his dotearth blog showed another practical benefit of maintaining a blog, particularly one that attracts as much reader feedback as his does.
“I’ll be writing more on this for The Times in a few days,” Revkin wrote of a Nature commentary piece on a technology gap in confronting climate change. “But I wanted to start a discussion here about the relative importance of forging legislation to cap and trade carbon, negotiating international agreements, or pursuing an energy-technology quest as a way of attacking the many energy-related issues confronting the planet in the next few decades, including climate.”
Revkin invited input “from people working in the arena of climate and energy economics and policy” and others “ideally pointing to studies or examples illustrating the relative merit of markets, science, and personal behavior.” The fruits of that blog input no doubt could find their way into his print story still to come.
A Yale Forum re-posting of an earlier Howard Owens commentary outlined things journalists can do to save quality journalism.
Endlessly debating whether the Internet and the Web … and blogs … is nowhere on the list. And shouldn’t be.
If the media and the climate change experts on whom the public must depend are to have their way, blogs and all they entail will have to be among the most prominent arrows in their quivers.
More importantly, if the public at large is increasingly to understand what it needs to know about climate change impacts and challenges, responsible blogs will be an increasingly important medium.
The academic arguments on the pros and cons of the Web, the Internet, and the blog vis-à-vis traditional news organizations can go on forever. What can’t go on for much longer is the failure of responsible journalists and scientists to use all the tools at their disposal for effectively reaching their audiences.
And that surely includes blogs.