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Stand-Alone Journalism

Jun
24
2004

There’s been a bit of comment about my stand-alone journalism proposal, most of it thoughtful and smart so I’ll take a few minutes this morning – and only a few minutes there is nothing on God’s earth more boring that listening to journalist discuss their craft – to expand on what I said yesterday.
First of all, I’m not trying to entirely redefine web logging. I’m classifying what I do — write and report — using the tools and technology available to me. That technology – the ability to publish my ideas easily and quickly – has come to be known as web logging and, for many people, that’s what it will remain. No one, least of all me, is going to change that. But there are or soon will be more people — experienced journalist — coming on the web everyday. And what we do is different in a number of ways from what’s gone on before. It needed a name. So I gave it one.


A number of more technically inclined readers, like Salon’s Scott Rosenberg who was nice enough to give the idea his full and considerable attention, say that stand-alone isn’t the best term. It implies that the you can’t share or receive information; that you’re removed, not independent.
This is a computer analogy: the dumb terminal is the one off the network and therefore useless. But there’s another network out there – Big Media – with its syndications and its interwoven deals and agreements that’s just as powerful as the computer network. From the outside it doesn’t look like a series of interconnected relationships but it is, in ways large and small, and if you’ve ever been to lunch at Michael’s you know what I’m talking about. That’s the network I’m standing apart from and it’s probably why the phrase “stand-alone journalist” resonated with reporters.
A number of folks, particularly Steve Rubel, are also worried about defining what a stand-alone journalist is and does. That’s a trickier sort of question to answer. When you get down to it, there are many different kinds of journalism as there are reporters; that’s always been the problem with this business. At its heart, reporting is the process of talking to people and asking them questions, writing down their answers, and telling other folks what you discovered. It doesn’t have to be objective – European journalists, particularly political reporters are often affiliated with parties and causes. It doesn’t have to be formulaic – Tom Wolfe and the “new journalist” proved this 30 year ago. But it does have to provide information.
The ways in which that process is accomplished are varied and as diverse as the personalities at work; there are good reporters who are accurate scrupulous and fair and there are lousy journalists who are self-serving, dishonest, and manipulative. There are good people who make mistakes; there are bad, horrible people who do their jobs well and never screw up. They exist on and off the web and, usually after a little steady reading, you can tell who’s who and what’s what. But that’s true of every field. Good stand-alone journalism – and I’d watch Joshua Micah Marshall’s TalkingPointsMemo for the ground-breaking story he’s working on to see an illustration of how powerful this stuff can be – will be recognized over time for quality, accuracy and reporting just as popular web loggers are, over time as their traffic builds, recognized for the services they provide. Ultimately you — you readers — decide who’s providing information you want and need. You decide if stand-alone journalism is something you want. I think it is. But I’m going to leave the final judgment to you.

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