Blogging for story, or what you’re getting yourself into

I went to Greensboro over the weekend to visit some great friends. In between coffee breaks and cans of Pringles, Kathryn and I went to an improptu gathering of folks in North Carolina and South Carolina who have blogs and call themselves bloggers. With my meager attempts at blogging, I felt like a fraud sitting there crunching my long legs in a N.C. A&T State University auditorium seat. My blogs have been inconsistent at best. But because I’ve dared to restart Roam and Rove here (and here, at my desk, and we’ll, ahem, see how long this lasts) I figured I would take an hour or so and hear what’s up among the people who make their livings and hobbies blogging.

And what’s up is Jay Rosen. He didn’t appear at this conference. Asheville bloggers Kelby Carr and Edgy Mama were among those who spoke on a panel and led workshops on SEO maximization and finding a blogging voice. We didn’t stay long, but when we left I really craved analysis like Rosen’s. And I wondered what he would have said about the discussion of journalists vs. bloggers (again!) and blogging ethics (yes, please!). Here’s what he says:

If “ethics” are the codification in rules of the practices that lead to trust on the platform where the users actually are—which is how I think of them—then journalists have their ethics and bloggers have theirs.

  • They correct themselves early, easily and often.
  • They don’t claim neutrality but they do practice transparency.
  • They aren’t remote, they habitually converse.
  • They give you their site, but also other sites as a proper frame of reference. (As with the blogroll.)
  • When they grab on to something they don’t let go; they “track” it.

In all these ways, good bloggers build up trust with a base of users online. And over time, the practices that lead to trust on the platform where the users actually are… these become their ethic, their rules.

Those in journalism who want to bring ethics to blogging ought to start with why people trust (some) bloggers, not with an ethics template made for a prior platform that operated as a closed system in a one-to-many world.

That’s why I say: if bloggers had no ethics, blogging would have failed. Of course it didn’t. Now you have a clue.

Just a small one, though, because I think the conversation needs to continue. And it has. I have to say that I’m a bit of a Jay Rosen worshipper, from my days studying his thoughts on citizen journalism in grad school. His definition is somewhat a no-brainer.

But the reality is that, in practice, citizen journalism’s Achilles Heel is the lack of informed analysis. To me, most bloggers who call themselves or even use the tools of citizen journalism lack trust and authority. The uncontrolled, unmediated voice that Rebecca Blood speaks of here, often falls flat.

The question is how to change that, how to get citizen voices on blogs and creating blogs that trade in the same social and political cache often bestowed — either rightly or wrongly — on larger media organizations. I don’t read a lot of blogs now, I admit, because I honestly don’t find many of them very interesting. My interests are divergent and what I like most is story, so I look for personal sites to bookmark. But what I’ve found is that most need to consider long-time blogger Maggie Mason‘s book, No One Cares What You Had for Lunch. (Unless, that is, you really love food writing, in which case here’s mine: toasted Italian herb bread with herb butter and a bowl of feta, tomato and pesto pasta.)

Maybe I’m a perennial optimist because I truly see potential in blogging, in the connection the medium offers people and how they can build the social capital of communities, resting either in geography or interest. It is, as Rosen points out in the “ethic of the link” piece I’ve linked to above, the essential purpose of the web – the people-to-knowledge connections it offers, the pointing out of divergent opinions in the same piece. This is, ultimately, my biggest problem with microblogging, the me! me! me!-ness that essentially removes connection in favor of flattering attention and voyeurism. How is it any different than seeking out only the opinions that match yours (Fox News or Mother Jones)?

So what does this mean for roam and rove? That is under development because I’m honestly not sure. All I know is that I hope to treat it like any other journalistic assignment. Or, as Jay Rosen says: ”As a blogger, what I try to do is to do everything well, all the time, and give you may more than you ask for, every single time you come to my blog.” Amen.