Kenneth Rapoza recently wrote a critical reflection about the future of journalism in a recent article in In These Times. In place of the old modes of journalism comes a new actor: the blogoporterator. Rapoza writes:
"Is it a blog? Is it an article? Is it an op-ed? Most likely, it’s all three. Both print and online journalists today are becoming one part blogger, one part reporter and one part commentator: a blogoporterator."
Rapoza believes that opinion pieces are rampant and quality investigative reporting rare in the age of the blogoporterator, but he is selling the phenomenon of blogoporterating and its future far too short.
Blogoporterating and the move towards participatory online journalism provides access to many voices that have previously been largely excluded from big media: young writers, LGBT writers, writers of color, writers without formal journalism credentials, and writers who work full-time jobs in other fields. Beyond mere issues of representation, this new class of blogoporterators does not need to tone down their opinions to get their pitches accepted, or to please editors or advertisers.
Traditional news sources have egregious and systematic biases that mirror the exclusion of marginalized social groups from their staff and leadership. Some recent outstanding examples include CNN expressing sympathy for the Steubenville rapists rather than the rape survivor, ridiculous assumptions about the racial identity of the Boston Marathon bombers until it was revealed that they literally could not be any more Caucasian, and a prominent advice columnist who was so confused about bisexuality that he assumed all bisexuals would want to marry both a man and a woman.
The mainstream media doesn't even have the right vocabulary to respectfully address many groups, let alone begin to represent their voices. The Associated Press finally revised its style guidelines to stop using the term "illegals" to refer to undocumented immigrants, a change that has yet to be made at the New York Times. While the Times stalls, brilliant blogoporterating from inspiring and successful undocumented immigrants themselves is available online.
This is not to say that participatory-based online news sites are free of bias. Instead, when racism, sexism, and other biases rear their ugly heads, communities that are the targets of bias are able to comment, respond, and write, and share articles that reflect their own experiences and opinions. Though the individual modern blogoporterator may be less technically accurate due to reduced editorial oversight, the overall community of blogoporterators will gain substantive and epistemic accuracy through the avoidance of systemic bias. Surely this constitutes a more enduring and more morally imperative form of accuracy.
Rapoza does not blame all of the news industry's woes on the blogoporterator. Instead, he was very frank about the numerous challenges facing the industry. Rapoza notes that "the blogoporterator is born and raised in a house of journalism that is downsizing and lowering its expectations." Financial troubles have left newspapers without the support staff necessary for proper research, editing, fact-checking, and investigative reporting. At the same time, competition with online and television media has led to increased pressure to be the first to report newsworthy events as they happen in real time. Eroding accuracy and diminished research capacity in print journalism further blurs the difference between newspapers and blogs, and gives the public even less of a reason to renew their subscriptions to costly newspapers.
Rapoza recognizes the blogoporterator as a pitfall of modern journalism but also potentially the future of the field. If there is an innovation that can fix the broken state of reporting, it may well come from the blogoporterators themselves.
What must change so that blogoporterators are part of the solution rather than the problem? First, it is important for blogoporterators to exist in carefully moderated environments like PolicyMic, where comments turn into debates rather than flamewars, and individual writers can build and track their brand, influence, and credibility.
Second, blogoporterators need to realize that not all viral sharing is good viral sharing. Sometimes egregiously bad articles or frivolous lists will take off on Facebook or Twitter, but writers have to realize that this is not a good long term plan to attract repeated readers for themselves or their platform.
Third, those moderating blogoporterators must realize how to balance timeliness with accuracy and privacy. There were numerous cases of serious journalistic error in the reporting of the Boston Marathon bombing, with many sources incorrectly naming missing student Sunil Tripathi (who has now tragically been found dead) as one of the fleeing suspects. This mistake was not unique to blogoporterators, and will require cross-platform media cooperation and consensus to stop the rushed reporting of false information.
Fourth, blogoporterators need to build more connections between journalism and academia. Blogoporterating is actually uniquely positioned to strengthen this connection, as many of the writers are college students and graduate students or people with technical expertise in a particular field. Academia can support journalism by moving more publications to open access journals, where blogoporterators can read, share, and critique their work. Instead of getting stuck in academic journals that are kept behind paywalls with a very small audience, academics need to use blogoporterating to get their work into the public eye.
Finally, blogoporterators have to make sure to aim beyond reproducing the content and form of a newspaper online. Communities of blogoporterators have the potential to turn news consumption into an active and participatory experience and a substantial source of civic engagement if we remain imaginative and innovative.