My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, a Research Assistant Professor in Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, and a Fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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Demeaning bloggers: the NYTimes is running scared

Blogging has terrified mainstream media for a while now. Journalists want to know if blogs are going to degrade their profession, open up new possibilities or otherwise challenge their authority. This also means that whenever the press writes about blogs, one must critically consider what biases are embedded in their reporting. This morning, the NYTimes took their bias to the headlines:

Web Diarists Are Now Official Members of Convention Press Corps

As i’ve written before, blogging is rhetorically situated between journalism and diarying. Most often, people label blogging as one or the other in order to degrade it. The NYTimes pulled this act today because they have a professional interest in portraying convention bloggers as “low-brow” and unworthy of reading, while the NYTimes will present the real “high-brow” convention story. By framing bloggers as diarists, the NYTimes is demanding that the reader see blogs as petty, childish and self-absorbed. They further perpetuate this view by pasting a picture of a youth on the front of the article to suggest that bloggers are all inexperienced and naive, further implying that their reports will not have the value of the more “adult” perspective of “real” journalists.

The entire spin of the article focuses on how bloggers are like children in a candy store – naive, inexperienced and overwhelmed by what is now available to them. The article focuses on the minutia of blogging, emphasizing that bloggers won’t really cover the real issues, but provide the “low-brow” gossip. (I somehow suspect that the NYTimes is far more likely to cover what various attendees are wearing than the bloggers.) The article does proceed to share its stance on bloggers through the voice of one subject: “I think that bloggers have put the issue of professionalism under attack.” (Not Jason Blair?)

I am horrified by this article. Not only does the NYTimes reveal their naivete about blogging, but they use their lack of clarity to demean a practice that they perceive as threatening. No wonder their professionalism is under attack.

[Also posted at M2M.]

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41 comments to Demeaning bloggers: the NYTimes is running scared

  • Demeaning bloggers: the NYTimes is running scared

    Blogging has terrified mainstream media for a while now. Journalists want to know if blogs are going to degrade their profession, open up new possibilities or otherwise challenge their authority. This also means that whenever the press writes about blo…

  • It’s not too surprising to see the NYTimes come out with this this after the scathing commentary in the LATimes last week where Harvard’s Alex S. Jones stated:

    “…bloggers, with few exceptions, don’t add reporting to the personal views they post online, and they see journalism as bound by norms and standards that they reject. That encourages these common attributes of the blogosphere: vulgarity, scorching insults, bitter denunciations, one-sided arguments, erroneous assertions and the array of qualities that might be expected from a blustering know-it-all in a bar.”

    That said, the best response I’ve seen to the Jones screed was by Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit:

    “ALEX JONES writes that press credentials don’t turn bloggers into ‘journalists.’ True enough. Of course, neither does a paycheck from the New York Times or NPR.”

    The debate continues…

    Links:
    http://www.latimes.com/news/custom/showcase/la-oe-jones18jul18.story
    http://instapundit.com/archives/016622.php

  • Bloggers at the DNC

    So they’re off. With credentials to get them past some sketchy security, bloggers are at the Demoractic National Convention. danah boyd has a critique of a New York Times article the bloggers at the convention. David Weinberger has a fun…

  • Tech News Last

    Okay, am I the only person to note that cnet’s news.com has exactly zippo on the bloggers at the DNC? Oh wait, their “news.blog” has this:

  • I am interested in what you think though about the comment that bloggers are not objective. I mean I am liberal in my view points and I also disagree with much of this article but blogging is most often (not always) a very subjective viewpoint. While this is what makes the world work better (I think) I do think that distinctly sets them apart from a journalist (at least one in the truest sense of reporting unbiased information).

    Also while I also agree that everyone should have a voice and be given equal thought when selecting who gets credentials; what age do you think is too young? I certainly would not put the same weight on something a 16 year old reports in a blog as I do the report I get from Peter Jennings.

    Just my thoughts…please do not think I am anti-bloggers at the DNC.

  • Objectivity is a foolish modernist notion; it does not exist. Biases are inserted into the most methodical of scientific experiments. It is an ideal, one that is respectable to aim for, but not something that is automatically embedded because of a role. No, bloggers are not objective, but neither are journalists. The difference is that bloggers don’t pretend to be objective. When i write a paper in academia, the first thing that i do is state my biases, my perspective; i am reflexive about my role in observation, the limitations of my approach. This doesn’t diminish my work, nor does it excuse my errors, but it situates the material that i am presenting. I believe this to be critical for any writer. More importantly, i believe that readers need to be aware of the inherent biases. I think that blog readers are far more attuned to this than journalism readers because our society has given journalists a “high-brow” role.

    Age doesn’t matter; it’s just a different perspective. As a teen, i would’ve loved reading the DNC through a teen’s perspective because i would’ve been able to better relate to hir biases.

    The point is that you get different information from different people and it’s foolish to think that there is a “truth.” For example, Fox News is only a perspective with a lot of money backing it; it is no more objective than any blogger.

  • Anyonymouse

    I don’t think the newspapers have much to worry about – many Bloggers don’t write above a third-grade level either…

  • Anonymouse

    I don’t think the newspapers have much to worry about – many Bloggers don’t write above a third-grade level either…

  • the heisenberg uncertainty principle indicates that at the most fundamental level, there is no objectivity. we create reality – we cannot simply be passive observers in any sense. we are the dreamers dreaming. there is no truth. this is an incredibly frightening concept to most people. hence, we have a world quite invested in erecting structures that perpetuate the myth of objective reality – e.g. the NYTimes.

  • jake

    objectivity may not exist, but it is not foolish. (Although that is only my subjective opinion!)

  • Danah is pissed off that the NYT labelled bloggers ‘web diarists’

    Hell yeah I agree! Watch out big media, the bloggers are coming to get ya!

  • Ian

    I just dropped by to congratulate you for being linked to by boingboing. One of my favorite bloggers, mentioned in one of my favorite group blogs! Awesome.

  • The interesting thing is, that “kid” pictured in the NYTimes article is, despite his age, a very well respected online political commentator. Wired has an article on him here.

    One note of irony… the byline for the daily kos, the site he writes for, is “Fair & Balanced” :-)

    -P

  • Ken

    Indeed, the recognition that a blog isn’t pretending to be “fair and balanced” is at the core of understanding its value. A blogger is a part time journalist, and the necessity of getting a livelihood outside journalism practically guarantees having a recognized unique perspective based on primary experience. And that, to the dismay of journalists, is generally inaccessible to full time writers. For me, it’s better to understand the original framing of a perspective, rather than a translated anonymous summary of general opinion. No wonder journalists don’t like bloggers – they eat away at a journalists gate keeping role to perspective and perception. They’d rather have this relegated to a single page of letters to the editor on the last page of their rag, where a public writing is a reaction to, rather then a creation of, perspective. Don’t think their attack on bloggers at the DNC is naive, I think its plain ole rational FUD.

  • dougonics

    For once, I’d like to see a break from the “blogging community” constantly scannning every mention of themselves looking for evidence to support their validity, or evidence that they are being dismissed as not important. The defensive, self-directed, self-aware nature of this whole thing is burdensome. This posturing actually supports the views of honest critics of the medium.

    This from someone who reads blogs regularly!

    Can we stop looking in the mirror, and just get back to good writing and reporting?

  • Coop

    I think there is hyper-sensitivity here. What percentage of the population know what a blogger is? What percentage of the population has read a blog? Remember that credentailed journalists are trained to write on the sixth grade level as that is the level at which most people read. Bloggers are elites, in thier own way, and have a freedom from any felt obligation to make thier information digestable for the less savy among us.

    Of course you put the kid on the cover. Kids sell, they have higher interest rating and attract more attention. Kids aren’t as effective as puppies but close.

    They pointed out bias but not thier own. True but everyone sees the splinter in the other guys eye and not the log in his own. And the Timses had the other idea, that this was new and interesting territory, represented. You could say that bloggers at the convention was an obviously good idea and an undeniable need but really it isn’t. It could really blow up in the Dems face. It is just inviting more risk to the party. You can’t expect them to be happy but they aren’t unreasonable.

  • Journalists vs. bloggers: is that really so?

    With the official recognition of bloggers as members of that sacred tribe, the Press, at the Democratic National Convention, a war of words has broken out between the high priests and the newbies. Danah Boyd feels that the New York…

  • Journalists ought to be afraid.

    Brad DeLong often finds examples where journalists clearly have no idea what they hell they are talking about (his regulars know he has a long-running series of posts bemoaning our press corps). Of particular interest are his theories about the systemic problems in journalism. Journalists don’t have to be experts in the areas they write about. Indeed, most journalists aren’t, but since the editors and the public can’t tell, they generally get away with it. As he notes, it’s actually more important to be able to churn out a good deal of copy on deadline that’s good enough that it’s not likely to embarrass the publication later.

    I think blogging will change that by allowing experts an avenue to write about their expertise, and the good writers among them will find an audience. And the ones who don’t know what they’re talking about will get fisked by others who do.

    We just need better ways to proofread, aggregate, and filter, and I think Joe Public will eventually find blogs more attractive than newspapers.

  • I suppose that we’re supposed to interpret from your comment about “foolish modernism” that you’re ultra-PoMo and somehow better for it. That sort of blanket assumption is idiotic tripe, danah.

  • Elijah – nope. You’re supposed to interpret that a foolish notion that came out of modernity was objectivity. This has nothing to do with a general sentiment towards modernity or PoMo. If you’ve read my work, you’d also know that i spend a lot of time critiquing utopian PoMo cyberculture literature.

  • Patrick – i very much respect Yellin and his work, but he is a youth and i think that the NYTimes is abusing his image to frame the Convention bloggers as young and naive.

  • zephoria – thanks so much for responding to my question. I keep a personal blog, I read blogs – all types from young and old but do not have the social context background that you and others who posted do. The responses to this – whether I agree with them all or not were interesting.

    doc paradox – the heisenberg uncertainty principle IS scarey to most average Americans – something for me to ponder – but I do see the value in at least considering it. I also agree that many will just build defenses so they do not need to consider it.

  • Bloggers aren’t (for the most part) corporate. I don’t think corporations will be able to steal blogs and churn out copy like they do for their current ‘publications’…

    Personalization (and computer and business and marketing savvy) is going to take a few lone bloggers to the top of the media game in the next five to ten years, imho.

  • Mainstream journalists try to discredit bloggers

    “Blogging has terrified mainstream media for a while now. Journalists want to know if blogs are going to degrade their

  • Patrick

    Oh I agree with you wholeheartedly danah. The last line of the article clearly indicates the author’s spin. I was just pointing out the side that young != naive and providing a reference.

    -P

  • Steve Golden

    I’m a bloger and I thought the NY Times article was pretty good. Remember probably 50% of their readers have never even heard of blogs. They also compared it to the first time radio and television was allowed at the conversions. They did show a bloger who was thirteen (do you think a 13 year’s view of the convention is not valid?) they also mentioned a few bloging lawyers who got credentials.

  • The thing is, danah, that objectivity isn’t always a “foolish notion.” Folks will use ‘objectivity’ as a framework (rather than assuming that everything is subjective and negotiated-in-process-on-demand) because it is useful, not just because they’re outdated or archaic anachronisms.

    As far as “reading your work” – is that a backhanded slap, or what? I’d appreciate it if you’d drop some pointers as to where I might read these thoughts – as far as I can see, you’ve not published them in any venue that isn’t transitory.

  • Paper News is a dinosaur. The expense, the waste, the ink on your fingers. Today, hand held blackberrys and even cell phones can browse online news – and the ability to hunt and choose your news, be it partisan, legitimate or parody, will devour the ancient paper sheets that subway commuters awkwardly read. If one more person falls into me reading the Daily News, I’ll kick some shins!

    Get on the boat or enjoy the desert island. Adapt or be left behind.

    Gayest Neil
    http://www.finktank3000.com

  • Elijah – I definitely that it is a valuable ideal and if that can be operationalized as a framework, fantastic.

    As for my work, my papers are here. My thesis critiques pomo cyberculture work. The backhanded slap was simply a deflection of your initial one.

  • Perspective(s)

    Thanks, all, for the kind comments and emails re the new homepage design. The longer I look at it, the happier I am. I think it’s pretty well set–I’ve added credits, and links both to email and a slightly dated version of my cv. Good enough for now, I…

  • stefanos

    i hear bill gates loves blogs:

    and yes, the times is right on. not a demeaning article at all: any press is good press.

    and yes, there is alot of childishness and inexperience reflected in blogging. its a medium that is very first person oriented and lacks a certain maturity of thought. but in my opinion, thoughts that are played out in ones head are the best thoughts. they are just now public for all to see. the process reflects a certain growing up that can occur at any stage of life.

    but ill keep my mouth shut cause i’ll wind up being demeaning myself if i get objective :-)

  • Mel

    If you’re going to criticize blogs that present arguments from a personal viewpoint then you’ll have to critize all forms of by-line, subjective journalism and personal essays. Furthermore, suggesting that “subjective” writing is a lower form reveals an ignorance of scholarly, journalistic, and non-fiction traditions.

    As for the amateur/professional argument, a great number of bloggers are professional communicators, technologists, academics, and journalists. In many cases, their blogs offer insights and perspectives that are better constructed, argued, and researched than similar material in the mainstream media.

    I’ve written for national media and I know how stories – particularly news stories – are constructed. It’s a “craft” that is shaped by dealines, not quality. And it ‘aint rocket science. Virtually anyone can be trained to create a decent news item. Writing well takes practice but I’d argue that there’s some pretty awful professional journalism out there so lack of “craft” is not the exclusive territory of bloggers.

    I think the real issue for some journalists is that there’s some pretty amazing bloggery out there. And some of it is being created by skilled writers who go to the trouble of fact checking their work and providing proper citation to support their claims.

    The “professional” mainstream media should be worried about blogging. Particularly given the fact that a lot of talented professional journalists out there are out of work because biased corporate media has replaced them with camera-ready shills. If anything, blogging may inspire a return to hard-hitting stories.

    I’d rather read an intelligent and insightful blog post that illuminates some serious issue than waste my time on those perfectly edited PR fluff stories that is presented to as professional journalism by a corporately owned media.

    As for immaturity and ranting, the mainstream media is far better at it than we bloggers could ever be. Bill O’Reilly has that market cornered.

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