I’ve been keeping an eye on the Beat Blogging trend in journalism. I’m not sure where it’s going, but, as I suspected, something’s got to give.
Beat blogging is the reportorial art of encouraging, inveigling and cajoling your local contacts to help you out via social networking. It’s a cool idea and one that journalists with a digital brain will one day figure out.
But, if you’re going to do the beat blogging shtick, what are you – as a savvy young reporter, with a job – going to ditch?
It seems that what you ditch is the more traditional parts of the job: like writing enough copy to fill the newshole in your print edition.
A recent post at Beat Blogging.org laments that there are not enough hours in the average working stiff’s day to do a normal job and the extra that’s required from beat blogging.
The idea that news organizations can ask employees to wear more and more hats to do more and more work does not work. What works is admitting that we have to give up something in order to create something new.
This raises some tough questions for the whole industry. It also points to what I call the techno-legal time gap. Or, in this case, the techno-worklife conundrum.
The basic idea behind the techo-xxx paradox is that the technology moves real quick, but the social relations in which it is employed or deployed are some what behind.
In the techno-legal sense we have all the power of search engines and online databases, but we have very little protection of our privacy. Our virtual selves are there for the cherry-picking by monied-up corporates who don’t give a rat’sarse about our feelings.
In the beat blogging context, the tools allow journos to do all kinds of weird and wonderful things, but the contracts and working arrangements that surround reporting and news gathering – what I call the “social relations of news production” [I wrote a PhD thesis about this] are not yet up-to-speed (so to speak).
The idea of bottom-up journalism is fine; as far as it goes. But the reality is that within the framework of seemingly unstoppable commodity production and concentration of capital (sorry to get all Marxist on you, but that’s the material truth of the world today) workers are often compelled to do more, with less. This is how accumulation works.
It’s not only applicable to widget-manufacture, it’s also the framework in which news is mass-produced. The current dialectic of the moment is expressed in the tension between this driving material force and the equally compelling trend towards more engagement and interactivity in the news production process.
We see it manifest as the tension/contradiction betwen the opposing social forces in journalism that I describe as the digital optimists and the digital pessimists.
The optimists see the interwebs (particularly web 2.0) as the harbinger of a new democratic public sphere. The pessimists (of which I’m one) argue that surveillance and control are still in the driving seat.
I totally endorse attempts to make beat blogging work. I think the sentiments behind it – giving more people a voice in the important conversations of the day – are admirable and my politics push me firmly in that direction.
However (and it’s a biggie), the reality on the ground is that hard-working, dedicated and innovative young reporters (and those of us cynical old hacks who still want to make a difference) are blogging themselves to death.