Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The trust question

AP President and CEO, Tom Curley, in his much quoted speech says "content will be more important than its container" in the next phase of journalism's development on the internet. No argument there. Wire services are uniquely placed to take advantage of changing reader habits in the evolving media landscape.

But then he adds:
"The expanding 'blogosphere' is indeed huge, but the bloggers need a baseline of facts and professional analysis on which to base their work. And that's where the AP and many of the other organizations you all represent come into play.
Imagine Drudge without somebody to link to, or Wonkette without somebody to poke fun at."
This might be an oversimplification of what bloggers do. We'll cut Curley some slack here, his speech was delivered before the latest major story broke and bloggers took on an expanded role.

While everyone who works in the media for a living might wish to hang on to the privilege of always breaking stories and shepherding the analysis of major events and issues, it ain't going to be like that. It's clear that while the Drudges and the Wonkettes might make a lot of noise and gain a hefty readership by linking and commenting, this represents only a limited view of what blogs are doing. Some blogs, perhaps many, will break news as it happens. I get the sense from Curley's speech that he thinks AP reporters have a buffer of expertise or reputation or something protecting them from the mass of bloggers who, because they lack the training or profile of a professional reporter, cannot have the same impact.

Jay Rosen made some similar comments on Curley's speech:
"The American newsroom never went to school about the Web. That remains true to this day. Instead, it took what it was doing and 'moved' it online. The results gave birth to the generic news sites we see today, as well as the Online News Assocation. But they also delayed a day of intellectual reckoning, and the costs of doing it that way were a subtext in Curley's speech."
The problem is that while Curley is able to recognise the flaws in news organisations' early web strategies, he might just be making a similar mistake by assuming that only pro journalists can provide a "baseline of facts and professional analysis".

Where the type of news story relies on access to powerful institutions and individuals, maybe this is still the case. Big politics and business stories remain difficult for unknown bloggers to break, but you would expect this to remain the case only as long as the major news organisations were able to deliver stories to exclusive audiences. It's not clear how long that is going to continue. If newspapers and TV can't deliver the audiences but bloggers can then access privileges are going to change drastically. In fact, it's already begun.

In event based news the barriers are down. As the Asian tsunami story showed, citizen reporting is gaining traction. The issue then becomes ... trust.

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