Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Pete Hamil on blogging vs. journalism

In an Q&A interview published in the Boston Sunday Globe, veteran journalist and author of books, memoirs and novels, including "News Is a Verb: Journalism at the End of the Twentieth Century" (1998), Hamil said: "Papers have a function now that they didn't have before, a verifying function. The blogosphere might be very useful as propaganda or as therapy. But it's not journalism...Of course, the Internet has got great tools. How we lived without Google all those years I don't know.

The downside is too many young guys think if they've worked the Internet they've done the reporting. But there has to be a time when you get out of the building, you go to the place, you look at the thing.

The kind of columns we wrote, the authority depended on the reporting. You went there, you looked at it, you could have the right to some kind of opinion.

And the blogosphere is unpaid and unedited. There's no editor leaning over your shoulder saying, that third paragraph really should be the second.

Boston Globe: Editors -- can't live with them, can't live without them.

HAMILL: But you've got to have them. Particularly with young reporters, the way you learn best -- because it's a craft -- is not in the classroom but from another craftsman.

And I'm afraid that with the blogs you become an opinion maven before you've done the reporting, and have understood from reporting how complicated the world is.

That seems like the main problem when people talk about blogging communications as a PR tactic. Contacting bloggers may work for some clients, but it's about opinion, not reporting. Hamill says that newspaper columnists do actual reporting before delivering their opinions. I think that does make a difference, and are not the pontifications of a man who also addresses the hold nostalgia has on people (including himself) in the same interview.

Blogs are another channel to communicate, but they're about opinions, not necessarily facts or reporting -- what Stephen Colbert famously coined "truthiness." (Defined on Wikipedia as "things that a person claims to know intuitively or 'from the gut' without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or actual facts.)

From a PR perspective, that means your approach to reach bloggers must be different from media outreach since bloggers' goals and approach are vastly different.

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