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Journalism in the Age of the Blog

December 3, 2009

Gina Chen at the Nieman Journalism Lab recently published an article about a shift she wants to see in how journalists write. Where once the goal was “avoiding the near occasion of subjectivity, not true objectivity” now she wants journalists “who are bold and perhaps sometimes brash but who aren’t afraid to tell it like it is. I want journalists who feel something way down in the pit of their beings, and who aren’t afraid to show it.”

I don’t usually see this kind of attitude in newspaper articles (not including editorials and such things). But in blogs? All the time. For example, take a look at this excerpt from Daniel Fienberg‘s blog, The Fien Print:

I Don’t Like Everything. Sorry. No matter how much TV I watch and no matter how much TV you watch, we’re not going to like all of the same things. So if you really enjoyed “Sex and the City” or “Carnivale” or “Boston Legal,” we’ll just agree to disagree on those shows. That’s just how these things go.

Some people reading The Fien Print might be turned off (especially if they’re fans of “Sex and the City” or “Boston Legal”). But the benefit of writing without trying to hide your personality outweighs the loss of a few readers: everyone who can agree to disagree with Fienberg or simply agrees with him will feel a bit more connected to the blogger behind the blog.

So while the article in question from Fienberg isn’t exactly a hard-hitting news story, readers of blogs may have come to expect a similar connection to their favourite newspaper columnist. This might have something to do with why Gina Chen from the Nieman Journalism Lab now wants to see more of who journalists are rather than simply reading their report on, say, the latest election. I know that this is true for me. I enjoy reading articles from journalists or bloggers whose personality I am familiar with from more than just the material they choose to write about.

A more subtle example of personality coming across through writing is the current Lexington columnist/blogger for The Economist. Take an excerpt from the short post, “Banning straight marriage by mistake”:

This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognise any legal status identical or similar to marriage.

Got that? The state may not recognise any legal status identical to marriage. Such as marriage.

This sounds like the libertarian argument that we should separate marriage and state, but I guess that wasn’t what they meant to say.

In my opinion (look, an opinion!) this post gets two things across: the fact that Lexington (Economist writers are anonymous) has a personality and that he isn’t afraid to let it shine through in his writing. Maybe this type of writing will catch on in newspapers or other forms of offline journalism; I for one hope it does. The growing popularity of blogs (blogosphere revolution? blogstorm? blog bang?) as substitutes for traditional journalism outlets is a sign of change in the industry, and journalists should choose to learn and adapt rather than stagnate.

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