Robert Kuttner has written a superb piece for the the Columbia Journalism Review that looks at how American newspapers are adapting, with increasing enthusiasm, to the web.
The piece is worth reading carefully. It contains no startling revelations, but wonderfully digests many of the economic and professional-cultural changes that the Internet has brought to mainstream news media.
One part of the piece that online-skeptics should read carefully is Kuttner’s chat with a “22-year-old prodigy” journalist called Ezra, with whom he compares notes on the different ways they get their news. (It’s fairly obviously his blogging American Prospect colleague Ezra Klein.)
The exchange shows how Ezra uses online news sources to follow the news and inform his reporting. Particularly noteworthy is that he does not read blogs to find the uninformed ramblings of Joe Public but to find the considered opinion of expert sources.
After Kuttner confesses that he begins his day by reading four newspapers, he turns to his younger colleague:
Ezra suppressed a smirk. I use about 150 or 200 rss feeds and bookmarks, he explained. Ezra scans four newspapers online. He checks sites of research organizations such as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. He indulges his taste for gossipy pop culture with a few favorites such as defamer.com. Ezra surfs a few political blogs, too, but he particularly relies on expert sites that are not exactly blogs and not exactly journalism; rather they are a very important category often left out by old media critics who divide the world into amateur bloggers versus trained reporters. Many such sites are operated by academics or think-tank researchers who have developed a taste for a popular audience, mixing blog-style comment on breaking news with original analysis, and serious research.
This category of Web site doesn’t have a name, and it trivializes them to call them blogs. Let’s call them crogs, for Carefully-Researched Weblogs. For policy wonks like Ezra and me, some of the most interesting crogs are Dean Baker’s site on how the press covers economics; the crog on Middle East affairs by the University of Michigan professor Juan Cole; and a superb crog on health policy carried on Daily Kos and written by a physician and researcher calling himself Dr. Steve B (he has a sensitive position and won’t publish his real name). There are thousands of similarly high-quality crogs on just about every public issue, of great value to both journalists and ordinary readers. The sites are rich in hyperlinks, too, so a reader can move sideways into more detailed reports and primary sources.
Ezra uses the Internet exactly the way I (and probably most readers of this blog) do. He understands the blogosphere the way all journalists should. Yes, it’s a playground for cranks and ranters, but those are not the bits you should be paying attention to. It’s the “crogs” you want, not the bog-standard blogs — you want to focus on the signal, not the noise.
Of course, none of this will ever convince the dinosaurs — particularly those who insist that they are not dinosaurs while arguing that all this blogging and Interwebnet stuff is just a load of American tosh.
Update: Ryan Sholin puts it another way:
If you’re a reporter, and someone says “blogs,” you need to stop thinking “political junkies pontificating on what the New York Times says” and start thinking “places where people with like-minded interests come together to discuss what’s important to them LONG before the mainstream media decides that it’s news.”