Blogs are an important part of the democratization of the media landscape. Citizen-journalists can cheaply and easily post reports that stretch and complement traditional media channels. And since most blogs are free for readers, the culture of free content has grown, supported by social media feeds and other free Web content.
Traditional news media outlets, though, are facing a tough economic landscape in the United States and elsewhere. In particular, newspapers are struggling to adapt to stagnant or declining revenues and competition from other news outlets, including blogs. A 2007 documentary from the PBS series FRONTLINE sets forth many of the key issues. The basic contours of the news business have not changed markedly over the last five years, even as there have been a few notable shifts (e.g. the construction of some online paywalls by outlets like the New York Times).
Some bloggers and social media enthusiasts are scarcely concerned about the decline of newspapers or traditional news organizations. For them, the fading of these mainstream institutions leads to a more open and truly democratic media landscape. In their defense, these revolutionaries are right to point to the many public benefits of blogging, tweeting, and other decentralized communication platforms. “New media” does play an important role in holding traditional outlets accountable, and in circumventing censorship.
If bloggers (and readers!) are honest, though, we must recognize the ongoing critical role of traditional journalists, and particularly those working for newspapers. Many (and probably most) current affairs / news / public policy blogs such as this one remain deeply dependent on the basic reporting of traditional journalists. Such dependence is particularly acute in the case of blogs (like this one) that engage with international affairs on a regular basis. Few bloggers are full-time, and most do not have financial resources to support blog-related travel or gathering of primary source material. (Technorati’s 2011 State of the Blogosphere report found that 60% of bloggers are part-time “hobbyists.” Eighteen percent are part-time or full-time professionals, and the remainder are entrepreneurs or corporate bloggers.)
Now we arrive at the call for action. Bloggers have a responsibility to help support sustainable forms of professional journalism. We need systematic global news coverage that is reliable and transparent. The fact that we will always deal with some degree of ideological or cultural bias in corporate (or publicly-supported) journalism is no reason to reject the traditional news gathering enterprise. Bloggers and citizen-journalists can supplement traditional reporting, but ad-hoc, decentralized activities will never yield the same positive results for the public good.
What can you as a consumer do? As print continues to decline, consider supporting a local or national newspaper through a digital subscription. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other e-content distributors offer convenient and affordable options for e-readers and tablets. For example, I subscribe to the Christian Science Monitor for $9.99 a month, and it is a great value, and ad-free! (For the record, I am not getting any commission or other benefit from CSM.) Bloggers need traditional journalists. Readers need traditional journalists. Let’s not be fooled with all of the “new media” hype.
*** Did you like what you read here? You might be interested in the new book by this blog’s author, Failed States: Realities, Risks, and Responses.