Why academics make better bloggers than journalists

May 22, 2009

I just found this, from Brad DeLong:

One reason that we academics tend to judge journalists harshly is because of their… excessive claims of originality. We tend to believe strongly that situating your work and your contribution in the ongoing discussion is one of the very first duties of a writer–and a duty that is absolutely essential to any attempt to inform or educate readers.

Journalists act differently. They try to make their readers as ignorant as they can about where the information is coming from. In my view, this is both unethical and ineffective: it tends to lead to great suspicion of American journalists, and a discounting of what they write.

“Situating your work and your contribution in the ongoing discussion” is exactly what bloggers do — and it’s something that journalists find very difficult. Being original (the fetishization of the “scoop”, even if it’s only by five minutes) is vastly overpraised in journalism, and journalists as a group tend to imbue everything they do with an incredible amount of secrecy. Try asking a magazine writer what she’s working on: she probably won’t tell you. After all, you might scoop her!

I think Brad’s insight helps explain to a very large extent the reason why academics took to the blogosphere with so much more alacrity than journalists, and why journalists-turned-bloggers can be pretty stingy with links and hat-tips, at least when they’re starting out. And of course it helps explain the otherwise inexplicable decision by Bloomberg to bar its reporters from even discussing “media competitors”, let alone linking to them.

One of the things I dislike about many of the big for-profit blogs is that they seem to be much more likely to internalize this kind of competitive mindset, where they become obsessed with their “competition” and tend not to link to them. It’s silly, and it helps to poison the helpful and positive-sum spirit of the blogosphere; it’s also one reason I think why Twitter, with its re-tweets and nobody really caring who got something first, feels a bit like the blogosphere circa 2003, which is increasingly feeling like some kind of halcyon golden age.

On which subject: a question, if I may. Should I automatically link to my blog entries from my Twitter feed? I tend to get annoyed when people do that, but I also appreciate that many people are using Twitter as an RSS substitute. Let me know on Twitter or in the comments!


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