The old media are still apparently gasping their last gasps, and gasping and gasping. As Brian Switek eloquently points out on Laelaps, it's past time for all of us to ignore assertions about who is a real science journalist, and to just get on with our writing.
Switek, nervously on the eve of quitting his day job, wandered into a session on maintaining "high journalism standards" on the web at the recent professional development sessions organized by the D.C. Science Writers' Association. There he found--no surprise to some of us, but apparently it was to Switek--that the audience included some curmudgeonly characters who thought blogging was not worth the paper it isn't written on:
Traditionally-trained journalists seemed to want a way to cordon off science blogging from journalism. Among the proposed metrics was the idea that science blogs are not edited. When I pointed out that my Smithsonian blog – Dinosaur Tracking – is edited, and that my editor was actually sitting in the front row, another attendee suggested that I was not actually blogging, or that my edited efforts were being mislabeled.
If I were there, I would have asked to see a copy of Switek's birth certificate--which he has never produced.
Switek is one of a growing corps of smart, young writers who cover science far more thoroughly, and better, than any newspaper could hope to do. Newspapers aren't quite dead yet, and as even a quick glance at the Tracker could tell you, they are doing some wonderful stories--and I trust they will continue to do so.
But so are the blogs. Switek's rumination on journalism and blogging is worth reading, as are his science stories. And any discussion about maintaining "high journalism standards" on the web ought to look off the web to see what it is that we want to maintain. The Tracker daily uncovers examples of old-media journalism to which no standards seem to have been applied at all. Maintaining online standards that equal those of old media is not a very challenging goal. A better one would be for bloggers to hold themselves to higher standards than those of the old media.
And note that I said it's up to bloggers to hold themselves to the standards. The late Jerry Bishop of the Wall Street Journal, whose journalism would exceed anybody's standards, used to remind us that we have a free press, and the last thing we want is to have anyone tell us what to write--even if they're trying to tell us to write better.
The reason we want to write well, and hold ourselves to high standards, is because that, ultimately, that's what attracts readers. It's a selfish goal. We write and report well because it matters to us, and it matters to our readers. And if that somehow makes us rich and famous--well, we won't send back the checks.
- Paul Raeburn