June 12th, 2008 | by Byron Beck News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP, Politics

Bitch's Battle Royale: Bloggers vs. Newspapers

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Okay, so I wasn't even supposed to be on stage.

But, at the last minute, Portland Mercury News Editor Amy Ruiz couldn't make it.

So, my friend, colleague, and Bitch Magazine managing editor Miriam Wolf asked me to step in.

That's right. I was part of this "feminist response to pop culture" mag's latest "Pop Culture Debate" in support of the release of Bitch's most recent edition: Genesis.

The evening's question was: "Blogging: More relevant than print journalism?"

I had seen it advertised on Alberta Street during last month' s Last Thursday and had wanted to go primarily because I wanted an answer to that question myself.

But little did I know I would be debating the merits of print v. blogging at this lively confab held at one of the only lesbian bookstores left in this country, Northeast Portland's In Other Words.

I assumed, as a gay print journo who tends to get in trouble for opening his mouth in almost any situation, I would have trouble convincing a room full of feminist bloggers on the continuing merits of print journalism.

It didn't help my case that the Oregonian's best blogger, Peter Ames Carlin, was in the audience, too.

But I did my best to state my case against Macaronimaniac's Lois Leeven, who by the way looked amazing in a pink pantsuit covered in bugs. I think I had an unfair advantage as she had prepared to debate Ms. Ruiz, not that guy from Willamette Week.

After our two-minute intro speeches and several rounds of questions discussing the merits of print and blogging (moderated by Carly, an excellent rep for the Portland State debate team), the debate was given up to an audience applause-o-meter. And, lo and behold, I got the claps, defending the world of print journalism for one more day.

Now, I still don't know if print is any more relevant than blogging, but at least the people at In Other Words that night listened to what I had to say, which is better than a lot of other nights I have around this town.

Thanks, Bitch, for letting me part of the discussion, and thanks for my trophy: a Bitch tote bag. I love it.

If you're curious at all what I had to say about print journalism, I've included my two-minute retort below:
Blogging: more relevant than print journalism?
Separating blogs and print journalism presents a problem for me.
I think it separates us from the bigger question:
Is blogging more relevant than journalism?
I write a weekly column for Willamette Week called Queer Window.
It could be considered a blog because it is a view of queer life through my “window” and is full of personal opinions.
But it's not a blog.
I am beholden to my paper's editors to not only report the facts, but to try and share, whenever possible, the ‘big picture,' and how it connects to our readers.
I believe that's what separates Queer Window from the Perez Hiltons of the world. It's a column by me, but it's not all about me—no matter what some of my critics say.
Truth is, I believe blogging is just another style of journalism. A different type of journalism than I, and my colleagues, practice, but it's still journalism.
And I have to tell you, today's bloggers wouldn't exist without the work of journalists.
That's due in large part to the fact journalism relies primarily on the skills of the writer. A writer who digs deep, follows leads and reports the truth. It's hard work.
Bloggers put more emphasis on their own interpretation of that truth, often skimmed from other journalists' reporting. And if you've got a weird photo, YouTube video, or link to go with it—then all you have to do is sit back and watch the hits roll in. It's not a lot work and much more fun.
So who wouldn't you want to be a blogger?
Well, me.
As Google President Eric Schmidt said recently, most blogs have a readership of one, two if you count their mom.
Willamette Week has a monthly readership of 450,000 of its print product, and only half that for its Web version.
A popular local blog like BlueOregon only has 80,000, which is less than the number of papers we print weekly.
And blogs don't hold the prime downtown, brick-and-mortar real estate that publications do. There is something about picking up a paper the day it comes out, there just is.
But I think journalists can still learn a lot from the world of blogging. No longer can a reporter sit back on his or her ass and hope a big story falls in their lap. Or that it will stay yours and yours alone. That's because, unlike in the past, when there might be one or two other people covering your beat, nowadays, just a hard drive away, there might a slew of bloggers chomping to break that big story.
That brings me to another subject.
Bloggers seem to have a tendency to post a story before they have all the facts. Newspapers and other medias do that, too: think “Dewey Defeats Truman” or more recently when CNN reported that the Calif. Supreme Court had denied gay marriage in California when in fact it had done the opposite. But an overwhelming number of bloggers I read seem obsessed with sharing even the most inconsequential bits of tabloid fodder, whether it's true or not, just so they can say they were “first.” It's kind of why I read them. And when they don't get their facts straight, I rarely see bloggers run a correction. They just link to another story—often from a mainstream outlet—that actually got the story right.
And getting the story right is what it's all about, right?
I think that's something bloggers can learn from us.
You see, readers trust journalists about as much as they do a random blogger they've stumbled upon—which is not very much—but may be willing to pick up a print paper because more often than not, just by reputation and history, they know what to expect.
Similarly, with bloggers the unexpected can sometimes be the most gratifying aspect of reading a blog.
And here is where the convergence is happening; in the slim twilight zone that separates blogs from print.
By learning to pair the expected (reputation, history and skills) with the unexpected (breaking news, opinion and multimedia), blogging and print journalism are beginning to move in the same direction: forward.
We are in fact becoming one.
You can see that with the Huffington Post and other political websites. The dreaded Drudge Report is as much a major player in the world of politics as the Washington Post.
Recently, a former writer from the Oregonian, who now works at the Tribune, asked me about “blogging.”
He was nervous it would take too much time away from real reporting (this from a fellow who often relies on one source for his material).
Then he shared with me what I thought was the real reason he was resistant to the world of blogs: Strangers.
He didn't like the idea that readers could anonymously post their opinions about his writing at the bottom of his story.
I just laughed and said, “You'll get used to it.”
Journalism still serves a purpose in a blogging world.
And it's that ability to connect with those strangers that really intrigues me about the future of our craft.
 
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