Blogs are not the new journalism

Can modern journalism withstand the rapid shift in the media landscape?

The blurring lines between mainstream and social media resulted in an unfortunate gaffe last week by the Canadian Journalism Foundation (CJF). They awarded a Vancouver-based partisan blog with its highest honour – the Excellence in Journalism Award, in their small/local media category.

The CJF and its panel of judges missed an important fact about the Vancouver Observer – that it is known to be linked to a political organization currently in power at Vancouver City Hall. For those media outlets that were not awarded, and who always aim to give the news impartially – without fear or favour – it is a bitter pill.

This is not an indictment of the CJF, who have not commented since being alerted about the organization's political connections. They will undoubtedly be asking themselves how to prevent such oversights in the future.

Rather, it is a red flag to Canada's journalism community when it comes to online media. Can journalism's checks and balances withstand an onslaught of online sources? Will best practices prevail when a media story can land on the front page of your website mere minutes after a “tweet” happens?

Modern journalism was built in the analog world over the last century and a half. But, at a pace that must cause sleepless nights for ink suppliers, the new frontier for journalism is rapidly going digital. It is believed that in just a few short years we'll consume the majority of our news media on mobile devices.

The new generation of journalists are building their portfolios through blogging, YouTube channels and the echo chamber of social media. Meanwhile, veteran reporters are taking buyout packages as Canada's media businesses restructure around the new digital reality. As a result of this transition, it is conceivable that the wisdom and experience of the elders will not be passed down to the newcomers.

I run blogs where multiple writers are featured, and they are widely read among our peers. They exhibit the characteristics of online magazines in that they are colourful, provocative, and opinionated.

However, do we consider them to be journalism? No.

That's because, while we are aware of their influence and consider it our responsibility to ensure accuracy in our content, we are not bound by a requirement to be objective. You might also say that neither was this year's winner of the CJF Excellence in Journalism Award.

Having an unfettered and open news media is important to Canadians. We have even enshrined freedom of the press in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It does put the burden of accuracy in reporting on our journalists, and most rise to the challenge.

But less reliable and more subjective sources of news have entered the media marketplace. It may look and sound like journalism, but ultimately fails the test of impartiality set out in the late 19th Century by Adolph Ochs, the founding father of the New York Times.

Speaking as a blogger, it is my hope that news providers and institutions like the CJF will recognize these threats and face them head on. There will never be a substitute for reliable journalism. 

– post by Mike

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  • Steven Forth

    What is the link beyond the fact that the publisher is Joel Solomon’s sister? Is there any financial connection?

    This sounds very much like ‘guilt by association’ to me.

    By the standard you are establishing here I would not consider the National Post, Sun Media or the WSJ to be media publications, though obviously they are and are sometimes useful sources of news.

  • Paul T.

    Great article Mike, but I would go further.. This isn’t just a problem that the journalism community needs to deal with with respect to bloggers. Even mainstream media are guilty of not holding themselves to the highest ethics. In-depth reporting has given way to columnists who get to be published not because they are good journalists, but because they can write to annoy a certain element of the population.

    On balance, I would say the big daily papers are fairly balanced. But you have to read several days worth of coverage to get that balance.

    Seldom do journalists now actually CHECK to see if what a politician says is correct. They’d prefer not to get scooped, so they publish the story just as the politician said it. Then the story gets dropped in the round file and it’s over.

    I’m not going to single out any one news organization as better or worse at this. It’s a problem all of them have. It’s a sad state of affairs for journalism in this country. Responsible reporting has given way to American style flashy news.

    • Heather Tailors

      Great article Mike! Paul T also hit the nail on the head too!
      “On balance, I would say the big daily papers are fairly balanced. But you have to read several days worth of coverage to get that balance.”

  • I think in this ongoing push-pull between “new” media and the “old” media, we all end up fetishising something that doesn’t really exist, and may never have.

    Just who are those media outfits that “always aim to give the news impartially– without fear or favour”? It surely does not exist in the Canadian media landscape, with the possible exception of the line scores in the sports section. It is this false idea that we need to balance both sides of an argument that gives Climate Change Deniers as much media time as the 99% of climate scientists who understand the issue in the “main stream media”, and put people like Katherine Marshall on TV like she has any valuable information to add to a discussion about Oil Sands.

    The great journalists I admire: Clemens, Mencken, Wolfe, Thompson, none of them were objective. And none of them (to the best of my knowledge) ran Blogs.

    Hunter Thompson himself called Objective Journalism a “pompous contradiction in terms”. In the greatest obituary ever written (read here: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1994/07/he-was-a-crook/8699/ ), Thompson wrote:
    “Some people will say that words like scum and rotten are wrong for Objective Journalism–which is true, but they miss the point. It was the built-in blind spots of the Objective rules and dogma that allowed Nixon to slither into the White House in the first place. He looked so good on paper that you could almost vote for him sight unseen. He seemed so all-American, so much like Horatio Alger, that he was able to slip through the cracks of Objective Journalism. You had to get Subjective to see Nixon clearly, and the shock of recognition was often painful”.

    • Ron

      ^this.

      Oh, and as much as you like to complain about the climate change deniers I personally get annoyed when every meterological or ecological phenomina (hot cold wind wet dry more/less animals more less fires etc. etc. etc.) is automatically tagged as “being due to global warming” regardless of whether or not any changes to the climate happen to have a 1% or 99% contribution or even if there’s other legitimate possible reason for the actual phenomina at have occured.

      See how easy it is to be partisan in a post that happens to agree with you?

      • Good point, Ron. It shows that it isn’t just the voice that is biased, it is the ear. When I hear a scientist say “This type of flood event will become more common with AGW”, others will hear (interpret) this as “AGW caused this flood”. The difference is subtle, and lost on most, as we see things from our own bias.

        If I was to criticize “New” vs. “Old” media, it would be the replacement of long-form journalism with shorter, less comprehensive forms. We used to read 10,000-word pieces on important topics, not we pick up the 24 and get all of our info in 300 words before the next transit stop. The details of the discussion are inevitably lost. Or am I also fetishizing something that didn’t exist?

  • Ron

    As much as you guys are getting your panties in a bunch that some award was given to a “news organisation” that happens to be especially partisan it’s a bit much.

    Every news organisation is biased in some way whether they state it or not and even the so called best make appalling mistakes and spread misinformation at the best of times.

  • Solid journalism is a rare commodity these days. It isn’t profitable. With so much noise, it’s hard to find any signal. However, it can be recognized – sometimes.

    The problem is not so much the creators of media not having the skills to write and research, but it is the audience. The level of intelligence of the common man is far too common. Just look on any street and see the drones head down looking at their devices. Our population is generally dumb. Much dumber than they used to be even though the handheld device has access to the sum total of knowledge from the mind of man.

    Einstein said to never commit to memory what can be easily looked up. Now that we can look so much up, the need to exercise your memory and thinking capacity is diminished. We’re not quite to the level of the Eloi and the Morlocks, but we’re on that road for sure.

    At some point in generations to come, the technology will fail because there will be no one smart enough to create it and maintain it any more. We glorify stupidity and sell millions of books for dummies. Everyone is a nice gray neither better or worse than anyone else because then of course you are a racist or a sexist or whatever label there might be to keep everyone gray.

    Newspapers and television likewise have become a gray mass with what is called the “View from Nowhere” where the facts are presented as side A and side B with competing spokespersons or experts. You never get a story with a solid conclusion. On the one hand A on the other B, you decide. So of course, there is polarization as we see now.

    This is why opinion or point of view media is thriving and popular. Successful media must have a point of view. How they establish and defend that point of view is what matters. Since most people are unfamiliar with critical thinking, we see a lot of name calling and “experts” pontificating.

    A example we talk about here frequently is Vivian Krause. She has gone out of her way to establish her bonafides. What she has uncovered has nothing to do with being an expert or having a bias. It’s the sort of true journalism you just don’t see anymore.

    It’s getting so bad that the real deal cannot be recognized. Confirmation bias and dis-confirmation bias have become so deeply seeded because of our “View from Nowhere” media, good journalism has become valueless – in the market and in the marketplace of ideas.

    It’s going to take the exceptional person or leader to make any real difference now. As the Japanese say, “The nail that sticks up will be hammered down.”

    Keep trying Mike. I’m reading everything here with interest. The spark of intellect is still here and I’m being attracted to it. I hope you don’t lose your shirt and I hope there is financial success for you and your team.

  • Natalie

    I beg to differ, a bit. I think you Mike, and Daniel and most of your contributors are in fact educated men and women well spoken and opinionated some with agendas, some not, but in the end thy are a good addition to the MSM. Some are writin from behind anonymity using different names (Glissando 🙂 ) some not. And I enjoyed reading them all! WE should better concentrate on the message than on the author. Because IMHO if the author is bad he / she will simply disappear. End of story. Keep on with the good journalism Mike and CityCaucus!

  • Sandra Chamberlain-Snider

    I think the “onslaught of online sources” is exactly the point in considering journalistic integrity. How does the audience value research and thoughtful commentary if it cannot wait for it. The Friday afternoon press release that governments use has become the zone of immediate emotional commentary. By Monday, traditional news organizations are fighting a tide of opinion that clouds the issue. I might use the proposed closing of the Kitsilano Coast Guard as an example.
    After all the sound bites, is anyone willing to wait to read a well-researched piece coupled with intelligent analysis that might take a few weeks (provided the MSM has the resources to pay a journalist to do this). Something that tells the audience about how the Canadian public views its public service organizations and what they are willing to pay for in a changing world economy. I have been boating off Vancouver’s coast for over thirty years and the range of opinion from boaters is wider than you think. But that doesn’t help me (or the readers across Canada) in regards to this decision. Besides empirical information on traffic in Canada’s ports, I would want to read about daily life on the water, what people actually experience.

    But it takes time to present the multiple concerns around any one issue and that is why I personally tend to read from all sources. Sometimes its what is not reported on that is the most important to know.

  • JJ

    I’ve been reading lately more on blogs than I do on traditional MSM. Is itthatsurprising? No. I am fed up with the complete inaction and bias of the MSM. Just look at the passes the MSM have given to Christy Clark and Gregor Robertson in the past years. Not a peep on the BC Rail and the Riots. Not even bit of blame for any of them. So, screw them! I like blogs like CC more and more. This is the new journalism!

    • Heather Tailors

      Very sad news indeed.
      This… is really NEWS, to be reported, and not on blogs…
      Great job Vivian! Kudos to you, and all the best to you and your family.. Sorry there were no American charities willing to launder money on ‘your behalf’ … LOL, but we know you were all above all this. It’s like gambling, you played against the House, and guess wahtr they do have all the money! I bet Vision Vancouver , Vancouver Observer, the Solomons, Robertson and pals, , the Suzukis, are opening champagne bottles reading the news. Too bad, the bad guys were left unscathed. All the hope now is in Revenue Canada, LOL, some hope, eh?
      Take care
      And yet again this is how the loaded cohorts of Vision and friends are getting away with …

      • If there was any blog that proved the format is worthwhile it was hers. But when one door closes, another opens. Someone should option her story for a movie. Who shall we cast now that Julia Roberts is too old? All the elements of a great movie are there. Her next task is to write a treatment and get a studio interested. This is Hollywood North. There’s got to be an agent that knows about this that can help her out.

        • Higgins

          All the best Vivian!
          We know you’ll fall on your feet. Felines always do!
          Thanks for all your stellar work.
          Sorry to see you go.

    • Vivian is following in Jack Paar’s footsteps, it seems. Leaving on principle at the height of her game, after being bullied online by her detractors, under-appreciated by those who have benefited from her research, and tired of being penniless.

      Her work qualifies as journalism. I don’t think Krause set out with an agenda other than trying to find out why it is so hard to employ people in aquaculture along the coast. The rest of it landed in her lap.

      She’s too much of a hot potato for the MSM to really embrace. We’re worse in Canada now that she’s putting her quest for truth on hold.

      • spartikus

        Hot potato? For real? Good grief.

        This is someone whose op-eds were published regularly in the ideologically friendly pages of the National Post, and Postmedia papers (ie. Vancouver Sun) across the country. Not to mention Sun media.

  • Brilliant

    @Steven Forth-Again, puhleeze. Even your many detractors would give you too much credit for intelligence than to buy your attempted breathless doe-eyed belief that Vancouver Obsrrver is anything but a political blog.

    • Steven Forth

      Try actually reading VO @brilliant. Sure they have a progressive agenda, just as the publishers of this blog tend to have a right wing agaenda. But neither VO nor CC speaks with one voice, there are many perspectives available on both, one reason I enjoy both.

  • waltyss

    Mike: I appreciate that the award to Vancouver Observer sticks in your craw and you are entitled to your opinion.
    However, I suggest that your definition of journalism is overly narrow and simply wrong.
    Professor Robert A. Hackett of SFU’s communication department has put forth the following court accepted definition of “Journalism”:
    “…fact-based, truth oriented timely public communications on matters of public interest. It can be usefully divided into three main activities: news reporting, (b) interpretation and the expression of opinion and (c) providing a space for public conversation.”

    With regard to “objectivity”, the good professor notes
    “journalism has never bgeen exclusively a tool for informing people about public affairs; it has also been a means fof helping to make sense of them. Thus, interpretation of events and the expression fo opinion have always been part of journalistic culture, adn indeed the word “journalist” first described the “the hightly opinionated and politicized newspaper writers of post-revolutionary France. For much of the nineteenth century, the press in Canada and the US was highly partisan”

    In fact, much of what you would call the main stream press still is, whether blatantly (The National Post, any Sun newspaper, Sun TV) or more subtly in the case of even the Globe and Mail. Whether you agree with them or not, however the editorial and commentary pages of any newspaper are part of journaslistic enterprise.

    The key is in the attempt to be truthful even if coming from a particular slant. In that category, the Vancouver Observer is journalism, whether you agree with their perspective or not. In making that decision, you may consider it helpful to know of any purported connections to the powers that be at whatever level. I consider that helpful as well as whether at base what being put forward is an attempt to be truthful.
    Ill give you an example: the article you published by the CTF guy had no basis in truth and did not seek to be truthful. At best, it was the shoddiest kind of journalism; at worst (and I must admit I tend to this view) it was a deliberate publishing of a lie to advance an ideological position.
    On the other hand, while Vivian Krause clearly had an agenda, she was in my view attempting to put information out as she saw it and was part of journalistic endeavour. You may disagree with the ultimate point she is trying to make (as I do) but it is legitimate journalism and expression.

    Blogs challenge some of the normal aspects of journalism. Some, like Frances Bula’s blog are journalism and foster good discussion devoid of rancour. Some of the articles presented on this site do the same. However, unfortunately many blogs (this among them) there is little or no fact checking; little or no light shed (the CTF article on the City of Vancouver manager) and too much unedited spewing of hate. While many fall into this category, Brilliant and Higgins are particularly vivid examples. They never have informed opinion to add beyond how they hate whomever or whatever and call names. Those comments are clearly not journalism. God only knows what they are.
    Often there is almost reasonable discussion on this site. While containing a lot of useless vitriol, the discussion on the amount of parking to be provided in new condo’s was useful: notwithstanding the heat, it provided information and helped me to understand the complexity of the issue and to make sense of it. In its stripped down form, it was journalism.

    So, Mike, you are of course entitled to dislike Vancouver Observer and to rail on about them. But the fact that they have a particular point of view, as do to one degree or another most journalistic endeavours does not make them any less journalism.

    • Terry M

      Oooffff, not you again. just like a train wreck, you want not to look, but you can’t look away… I said to myself to never feed the Vision trolls!! 🙁

    • The Angry Taxpayer

      @Waltyss,

      While you have ably defined journalism and pointed out the reality that all media have a POV, I need to challenge a statement you copied from the professor’s definition, and how it does NOT relate to the VO.

      From your first paragraph:

      “(that they are) (c) providing a space for public conversation.”

      Here’s my problem with the VO: I have not yet seen a comment posted under any of their pieces where a dissenting voice is allowed to comment. I know this, because I, on occassion have tried to post, when I disagreed with their angle, or wanted to call into question some of their facts.

      At least the msm post Letters-to-the Editor that show a variety of opinions on a subject. At least several blogs with a POV (this one amongst them) allow “the public’ to have a conversation about the posted subject.

      In that, the VO fails, spectacularily. I put it to you that kind of situation, where one only airs the voice of true believers, can be considered, in it’s own way, censurous as well as anti-ddemocratic.

      Truly, It is hard to hold a conversation that is one-sided.