Poyter Institute’ Steve Outing says there are a few things journalists can learn from bloggers.
One important thing is bloggers’ consciousness of their interactive audience readership’ capacity to act as a fact-checking hive mind:
“Newspaper people (especially) still have the mindset of putting out the edition and then they’re done with it,” complains Glenn Reynolds, a law professor best known as the blogger behind Instapundit, one of the most popular blogs on the Internet today.
In an interview, Reynolds explained that the way he approaches information that comes his way is profoundly different than how a traditional journalist would. For instance, he says, if the infamous “Rathergate” documents about George W. Bush‘s military record ended up in the hands of a blogger like him rather than CBS News, the approach likely would have been to publish them immediately. Rather than find an expert or two to review the documents, a blogger would recognize that among members of his audience would be people capable of doing credible analysis. Imagine the ensuing conversation as the story started in one blog, quickly spread to others, and people far and wide started discussing the credibility of the documents.
In other words, CBS’ downfall was to maintain the conceit of publishing a definitive, factual, top-down account — which turned out to be crucially flawed.
A related lesson is dealing with mistakes:
… some of today’s leading bloggers take a similar approach to mistakes: They prominently post corrections to errors, publishing them quickly. Reynolds typically posts a correction of an earlier item as a new item at the top of the blog if the item in error has scrolled down the page, so his readers are sure to see it.
And because most bloggers embrace interactivity with their audiences, they hear about it when a mistake is made (via the comments areas on their own blogs, and from other bloggers noting and publicizing the error if it&rsqou;s significant) — and so do all the other readers.
But most important of all is this:
In covering a technical story, you sometimes see bloggers go far down the corporate ladder; perhaps it’s partly not having the access to or experience at reaching people at the top for comment. The conventional journalist will seek out company executives or go through the PR department. But bloggers sometimes get their information from people further inside an organization — the programmers. It makes for a different type of storytelling, as new and different voices are heard.
The tendency to rely on “official sources” — rather than partisan preferences — is the biggest structural bias in mainstream journalism today. Talking to people further down a bureaucracy’s pecking order is the most important thing journalists can learn from bloggers.
Update: Outing also has an interesting piece in Editor & Publisher about newspaper website navigation design.