Disclosure: I personally know a number people who currently work at SeattlePI.com, and that list includes my girlfriend. You might say I’m biased when people accuse her of no longer being a journalist.
I realize it comes with the territory, but I wish people would stop asking idiotic questions about the new SeattlePI.com, most especially: “is this journalism?”
Yes, of course it’s journalism.
Is Amazon a store?
The fact of the matter is that changing the medium doesn’t necessarily change the nature of the work that’s being done at the P-I. Nor, frankly, does the number of people working at the P-I affect the quality of the work being done by those who are still there.
Sure, there’s less of it. But it’s not as if these people have suddenly stopped being journalists.
Now, in all honesty, it looks like there are some changes happening at SeattlePI.com, and real changes can raise real questions about whether or not what’s happening is journalism. Let’s take a look at three of the big ones:
Linking out to other sites
This is a practice that gets a lot of crap, and I think it comes mostly from the competitive mentality that has been front & center in the news business for decades. It used to be that if you didn’t write it, you didn’t acknowledge that it existed.
Now, when everything is just a click away, and it doesn’t make sense to compete with content you can’t compete with (why should you write a piece from your desk when another news organization has a story from a reporter on the scene?), the link makes a lot of sense.
In the words of Jeff Jarvis, “do what you do best and link to the rest.”
So that settles the value of linking out from a news site instead of foolishly trying to cover everything. But is linking to other content journalism?
After all, if we accept that linking elsewhere is journalism, we might have to acknowledge that there are bloggers doing journalism, too. And if anyone can do journalism, what is a journalist? Is there such thing as a professional Journalist anymore?
I think that linking to other sites can be journalism, for a number of reasons. I think most people can reasonably agree that “journalism” involves bringing important news, information, and stories to the public. We could argue six ways from center what constitutes “important,” but that’s tangential.
The important distinction that I think needs to be made is this: you do not have to write the information yourself in order to perform journalism.
Is a (classic) editor a journalist? I think most people would say yes. Their jobs involve, more than writing, selecting, editing, and compiling stories into a narrative or deciding what is important enough to warrant space in the paper…or even where in the paper it should go.
Just because the internet provides a news organization with an infinite news hole doesn’t mean it should be filled to the brim. Linking to other content requires editorial decisions, and conveys an endorsement. It applies a filter of authority to available information, and presents it to the reader. To me, that’s journalism.
Blog-focused site structure
For better or worse, blogs have a bad name. They’re still the butt of the joke, especially when the joke involves pajamas, cats, or other inane topics.
But as I’ve said before, blogging is a format, and it can be used for just about any type of content.
Here’s what blogging changes about the way news is reported: it opens a conversation with the reader, it acknowledges that the reader is a real live human and wants to participate in the news, it favors deeper investigation of a story over time, and it tends to want smaller chunks of writing.
I can certainly see an argument for how all of those factors change the way journalism works, but I find it harder to understand how it takes the journalism out of the picture. The biggest difference is that readers get to contribute to the story before it’s “complete” – which, if you can get over your ego, means that you’re going to have a better, more complete account at the end of the day than you would otherwise have.
Mixing opinion with hard news
This is I think the most legitimate worry. With a paper product, it’s fairly easy to keep the physical pages separate – hard to get that mixed up. On SeattlePI.com, it’s sometimes hard to tell if you’ve landed on a blog post or a news story, especially if you’re new to their site. Perhaps more importantly, the site relies on the fact that you know who a clumnist is rather than telling you it’s a column.
At the moment, the audience for SeattlePI.com is probably a) fairly local, and b) familiar with the former print product. But as the paper product fades into the background and as the site draws an increasingly large audience, it will become important to have more than a simple “Art Thiel” at the top of the page to indicate that the reader is looking at a column, especially when it is in line with other hard news.
That said, I don’t think this is anything new. At least, in the time since SeattlePI.com was announced, I haven’t noticed the team intentionally “mixing” opinion and hard news in ways that they weren’t doing on the site beforehand. There’s more blog and opinion on the home page than there used to be, but it’s no differently presented.
Taken all together, I think you’d have a hard time arguing that what SeattlePI.com is doing in Seattle isn’t journalism. Yes it’s new. Yes it’s different. Yes it feels a little weird and unfamiliar, especially if you’re used to reading (or writing) a paper product. But the internet could well be the most powerful news medium ever invented – so don’t be too quick to dismiss it.
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