Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Blogger criticizes Press Club

After the Press Club's annual awards banquet, members of board received the letter below from local blogger Bruce Balshone, who attended the dinner. At the end, read the board's response.
    Saturday, June 6, 2009 was the annual award banquet for the San Francisco Peninsula Press Club. It was my first time attending the event that purports to honor the journalistic endeavors of members of the organization who are working journalists covering the San Francisco Peninsula.

    The award ceremony proved to be a fascinating snapshot of the state of journalism itself, particularly in and around San Mateo County.

    As the lone online writer in the room, or blogger, it was clear that the mainstream press corps has little relationship with the emerging blogosphere and, in fact, maintains a deep antagonism and perhaps anger toward the technology that has damaged traditional news media.

    Bloggers were lambasted by speakers decrying the failures and inadequacies of so-called “citizen-journalists” who, according to several speakers, have no understanding of the ethics of journalism and have no credibility.

    Certainly there is some validity to this criticism. Many bloggers are anonymous authors who do not so much report news but relish in the art of gossip mongering and report information that may or may not be credibly verifiable or of questionable value in the marketplace of ideas.

    However, there are people like myself who sign their real names and attempt to research and document their sources for their articles. Many bloggers are former journalists who have been laid off or forced to retire as the traditional newspaper industry continues to contract. Many author high quality blogs covering local, state and national news and provide perceptive insight that enhances understanding of the continuum of events we call the news.

    In San Mateo County, every newspaper has experienced significant cutbacks and employs far fewer reports and editorial staff than in previous years dramatically limiting the ability of these outlets to produce high quality reporting across a broad spectrum of issues.

    The San Mateo County Times now employs perhaps two full-time reporters for all of San Mateo County, although the Times does pick up stories from its sister newspapers among the MediaNews Group which owns most of the dailies in the Bay Area. The Daily News recently retreated from much of the Peninsula, covering communities as far north as San Carlos only. Most recently, the massive layoffs at the San Francisco Chronicle have devastated newsgathering on the Peninsula and in San Francisco. The Chronicle closed its Peninsula Bureau years ago and the press office within the county government center is all but empty. The Examiner Newspaper has also retreated from San Mateo County as it now dedicates only one reporter two days a week to covering local news.

    Many communities such cities like Daly City have not had local newspaper coverage in years and are largely ignored by every news outlet in the area despite the fact that it is the most populous city in San Mateo County.

    Into this void have come the bloggers. In Pacifica, the Pacifica Riptide news site and blog now regularly breaks news stories relevant to that community. In the Mid-Coast and half Moon Bay are, the Coastsider news site and blog has emerged as a major force, perhaps getting more online traffic than even the older and more traditional newspaper the Half Moon Bay Review. In Burlingame, the Burlingame Voice blog has emerged to give voice to local issues. In Woodside, the Citizens of Woodside blog now covers that community or the Watch Dog San Mateo which aggregates and editorializes on local news stories.

    To the credit of the Examiner Newspaper, it has created space for local bloggers to do what it can no longer do, and that is cover critical issues relevant to San Mateo County.

    So, what is the role of the blogger? In instances such as the "Pay-gate" scandal in Daly City and the Sharp Park controversy in Pacifica, I have been able to break stories which were initially ignored by newspapers in the County. In fact, recently, in my Peninsula Examiner blog I wrote about the nomination of several local officeholders to the California Coastal Commission by the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors. The story received no attention locally until six days later, the San Mateo County Times published an article on the same issue.

    As journalism continues to change, it may be wise for those in the industry to find a way to co-opt new media and take advantage of the technology that is, perhaps, forever altering the process of reporting news.

    By embracing and working to improve the activities of so-called citizen journalists, traditional media outlets may learn to survive and thrive. For instance, the Peninsula Press club, as the professional association of local journalists, should create an award category for bloggers or internet-based journalists and perhaps forgo awards for publications such as the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, which has no circulation in the county. They might as well give an award to the LA Times or the Honolulu Advertiser.

    I think the Peninsula club should go a step further, and not just include them in their award process, but should have at least one internet-based-journalist on their Board of Directors. Let's not forget the blogs such as the Burlingame Voice, the Coastsider, and the Riptide often break news before old-style newspapers.

    Since the technology for the revolution in journalism started right here in the Silicon Valley, it is past the time for the Peninsula Press Club to join the electronic era and recognize electronic journalists.
The Press Club board discussed the letter at its June 10 meeting and decided to invite Balshone and other local bloggers to the board's next meeting on July 8. Board members said they hope the meeting will open up a line of communications with bloggers such as Balshone. For several years, the board has attempted to reach out to New Media. In fact, a division of the club's contest is devoted to online news. But the board willing to do more to make the club more inclusive to bloggers and other online journalists.

Balshone posted the letter on his blog.


Anonymous said...

Great. Now all the press club needs to do is work on their condecending attitude. Look, everyone knows that journalism isn't rocket science, and lots of journalism is worse that a host of bloggers many journalists already read. The point of trade associations is preservation of income associated with the trade. So far employing contempt for that goal has been a failure.

Patrick Twohy said...

The perhaps unintended point of this post is that many bloggers are not yet ready for prime time. The thing was just short of 1,000 words.

Fer pete's sake, ain't no one gonna read all that.

Balshone may indeed have had a point. But I'll never know what it was because I only made it about 300 words in before I gave up.

The advance the blogosphere needs to adopt from the print world is editing. Well written and edited posts are sadly too rare.

Anonymous said...

Most bloggers either pick up news items from other sources or post long-winded opinion pieces. Rarely do they go out and interview people and attempt to present balanced reports of the news. That's why bloggers don't have much credibility and why they're the butt of so many jokes.

Dave Conroy said...

Blogging was trendy two or three years ago. Now it's dying. Twitter is hot at the moment. It will fade away in a few years too.

To me, the difference between bloggers and real reporters is the difference between professional sports and amateur athletics. Amateurs try hard, but those with talent are usually the professionals.

Barry Parr said...

* Bloggers write too long

* "Most bloggers either pick up news items from other sources or post long-winded opinion pieces"

* "Blogging was trendy two or three years ago. Now it's dying."

I'll plead guilty to having committed each of those sins from time to time. And God knows I need an editor.

I've also interviewed plenty of subjects for articles, broken news, provided video and photo coverage of important community news, shone light on stories undercovered by our local paper, and generally served a community that has been underserved by the Bay Areas metro dailies, and ignored by our tv and radio stations. And I have done so while upholding scrupulous standards for thoroughness, accuracy, fairness, and transparency.

There are two dozen communities and far more neighborhoods between SF and SJ that get virtually no coverage in the traditional press, nor will they ever.

Nobody knows what the news environment will look like in the next few years, but I'm convinced that grassroots community journalism will play a big role.

I don't care whether the Peninsula Press Club recognizes bloggers, because it isn't going to make any difference in how this plays out. But I love my friends and/or former colleagues at the Chron, County Times, KQED, Merc and would rather be on good terms with the rest of the local journalism community.

One more thing: Newspapering was trendy two or three decades ago. Now it's dying.

Barry Parr

coastroad said...

"Mobsters used to send a dead fish wrapped in a newspaper as a threat. Now they just send a dead newspaper." -- Colbert

Anonymous said...

I've never read a blogger I liked. But then again, I don't read blogs. It often seems that bloggers are opinionated and so damn self-centered. If I want that, I'll listen to talk radio or those TV bobble heads.
And I agree with Dave Conroy, bloggers are amateurs trying to be professionals.

Suzanne Yada said...

I was also at this awards dinner, as the grateful college scholarship recipient and an intern with the San Jose Business Journal. Though the dinner was lovely and the awards themselves were a source of rare good news for journalism, I felt the same way as this blogger did. The "us-vs.-them" comments I heard were uninformed, outdated and elitist.

Online journalism is maturing at a rapid pace, and to lump all bloggers into one mass category and summarily dismiss them is like saying reporters at the National Enquirer are equal to the ones at the New York Times. And the statement about the "amateur physician?" That joke is about 7 or 8 years old. I thought we were all past that. You can't possibly think it takes as much training to become a journalist as it does to become a physician, right?

If news is "what's happening in the world," and a journalist can't be everywhere at once, why NOT citizen journalism? Yes, there's professional reporting and editing still needed as a service to the reader. Yes, there's the need for fair and accurate reporting. But please don't dismiss those who do online journalism just because they don't work for a mainstream media outlet and weren't "trained." They too have important information to share.

I am extremely passionate about the future of this business. I'm devoting my studies and my spare time reading everything I can about it. I would love to be in on this panel, as I have a lot to say about this. But only if you will have me.

Anonymous said...

If bloggers can cover a beat full time I'd call them reporters. Can they do this? Most of the blogging I've seen - including mine - are commentaries, the kind I get at family gatherings. That said, bloggers can help by holding journalists accountable, something that has been needed for decades, ever since AP inherited a news monopoly with the virtual death of UPI.

Anonymous said...

How much do bloggers get paid, and what is their source of income? Those are two important questions to answer. Is this a business, or some sort of calling? Or just a hobby? Will you be doing it 10 years from now?

Anonymous said...

As an east bay resident who reads this BLOG!! on a regular basis I can see both sides. We are very lucky to have that is a wonderful local blog and has broken MANY MANY Stories well before the CoCo times has and in fact has been fatured by both KPIX and KCBS on stories because of the stories. There is good and bad with Blogs, the good they can break stories, the bad some bloggers have become so in love with themselves they feel the need to tell peoplpe what to think/feel instead of just reporting a story.

Jane M said...

When I think of bloggers, I recall the ham radio hobbyists who were big in the 1950's and 60's. I'm sure there are a few left today. They broadcast over the air like a commercial radio station, but had a tiny audience, usually consisting of the other person they talking to.

Barry Parr said...

I'm surprised that the idea that journalism can only be practiced by full-time professionals is so rampant among people who should know better.

The practice of journalism is not about who signs your paycheck, and the truth is that there's no simple definition. Journalism as practiced in US daily newspapers and wire services is a big chunk of the practice, but it is ultimately only one of many ways to do it.

Talking Points Memo, for example, is clearly a blog and proudly opinionated, but it's also clearly practicing journalism.

I've spent a lot of time in journalism conferences in the last few years and no one bothers to even ask "Is blogging journalism?" any more. It's not a very interesting question and it misses the point.

The traditional press and community news bloggers can learn a lot from one another, and are natural allies as well as friendly competitors. Now would be a good time to lighten up and widen your perspective.

Anonymous said...

journalists like to pretend they're different from other people, maybe better ... this spat over bloggers shows that they're subject to the whims and urges of human nature like anybody else ... people with journalism degrees didn't like people without degrees grabbing their turf ... why do we have so many gang killings? turf wars ... you guys are no different 'cept you don't use guns ...

james clifford said...

My definition of journalism is recording the happenings of the day. The word comes from the French for day. Bloggers can do that, as in a journal, a diary.
Newspaper management panicked, I think. They gave away the store. Radio, TV, were all viewed as competition in the past. Yet, in the long run, everyone benefited. Of course, in the long run we are all dead. Like the newsreel reporters of old. Time marches on.