The problem with "blogging," right now, is that no one really knows what the word means. To put this in media theory terms, is "blogging" the box or is it the content of the box? Is blogging a software technology, or is it one type of writing that takes place inside the environment created by that software? Are all blogs created equal? What happens when mainstream-media people create blogs? Is that still blogging?
And what does all of this have to do with religion news in mainstream media?
Actually, this is one of the topics looming over the cross-pollination talks right now between GetReligion and Jeffrey Weiss at The Dallas Morning News.
When some people use the term "blogging" they are referring to those first-person-obsessive sites where one person -- anonymous, in some cases -- is pouring out his her her feelings abut the world on one specific topic. What are the credentials here? The reader may or may not know.
Then there are blogs that are sort of like law firms. A small team of people with some credentials focuses on a subject of mutual interest. You may not agree with these people, but you know who they are and you know why they are doing what they are doing. GetReligion is such a blog. So is the new religion blog at the News.
A blog of this kind can provide all kinds of content, ranging from actual news (a kind of digital wire service), to in-depth niche analysis, to highly personal commentary. Is all of that blogging?
To cut to the chase -- if Weiss "breaks" a story in the newspaper's blog, is it broken with the same mainstream-media status as if he had been able to print the story in the dead-tree-pulp edition? Is it "broken" if he writes an actual news story and puts it in the blog, but not broken if he puts the same material in the blog in some other form? Like a series of chatty, personal posts? Is one news and the other opinion?
And besides, how many people have the time, or choose to take the time, to read these blogs? If a newspaper splinters its audience in this way, is that good or bad for coverage of the topic (let's say religion) being covered? With that background, here is a chunk of Jeffrey's response to my first post on the death of the large News religion section and its new digital work:
... (The) newswpaper bidness (as they say in TX) is in trouble. Not trouble as in "losing money" for the most part. But trouble as in "no longer making the truckloads of money it used to." And for a publicly traded company that's big trouble. Readership is down for just about all of us. As is ad revenue. So that's why the cuts.
But here comes the web! Save us all, right? Leave the bidness side aside -- will it?
A couple of years ago, I knew that if I checked several key news sources, I could stay generally on top of major news. As Google News and Nexis gave me more tools, my net widened. [GetReligion] is part of my regular info feed. But the news content providing system is going through a major change. Non-professional blogs are contributing. Most of them not so much. But a few -- if you cover Baptists there are a few that can't be ignored -- are as necessary to me today as checking Atlanta was a few years ago.
But which ones? How can I tell? And how can the info consumer, what we used to call a "reader" -- tell? How do my readers find me? My bosses say they are happy with the Religion blog. But our hit totals are a tiny fraction of the circulation for the dead-tree paper.
Credibility is the only real coin of the realm.
What think ye, readers?