Blogs Are Critical Pals Of Newspapers

(Next Weekly via HKBloggersGroup)  Blogs Are Critical Friends of Newspapers.  By Jimmy Lai.  May 10, 2006.

[in translation]

"A blog is a personal newspaper.  Every blogger is an amateur journalist."  Many knowledgeable people say so.  What they mean is that blogs will replace newspapers, and even the top media mogul in the world Mr. Murdoch is saying that.  Mr. Murdoch is not only an electronic media mogul (in satellite television, cable television and movies), but he comes from a newspaper family as his father ran newspapers.  He is presently the king in the global newspaper industry.  He has given a vote of confidence in blogs and put his money where his mouth is by purchasing the largest blogging website for US$580 million.  Will blogging really make newspapers disappear?

Blogs are personal web pages.  The bloggers put down what they see, hear or think on their personal pages like a diary so that the friends in the circle -- or even the whole world -- can read and comment.  Therefore, blogs are said to be platforms to converse with other people.

Blogs usually have blog links that link to other blogs that the blogger believes are similar in taste.  Blogs also maintain archives so that people can read previous posts.

The word 'blog' is new.  In 1997, American netizen Jorn Barger called his web page a "weblog," meaning that it is a "log" of the "web."  But things got twisted when another American netizen Peter Merholz joked in 1997 that weblog can be split into "We blog."  From then on, blog became a web page for personal reporting and opinionating.  It is a verb as well as a noun.

No matter what happens somewhere, the people who participated or were eyewitnesses present at the scene can tell in first-person form what they saw and heard to the world.  Then why would anyone need newspapers anymore?  No, people will still continue to read newspapers, because bloggers do not have the reporters' expert journalistic knowledge and skills.  They don't have the feel for news and they can't do in-depth investigation.  Therefore, most of the "news" on blogs lack the news background, information and data.  Very few bloggers can provide detailed reports.  Without the editing, evaluation and wordsmithing by  editors, most of these reports are not very readable.

More importantly, blog are intended for self-expression.  Whether reporting on events or expression opinions, the bloggers will place themselves at the core and amplify.  But reporters will always place the reader at the core.  Even if the newspaper reports still have the editor's values and positions, it is still necessary to consider the needs of the readers.  The blogger can selfishly express himself without regard to others, but the reporter must evoke a sympathetic resonance within the readers.  In the end, this is the function of newspapers and this is why people read newspapers.

If I write down the all the details from the start to the end of every incident with 100% fidelity, then I have actually told you nothing.  Such a report has no focus and it will only confuse you.  You will not be able to make heads or tails or figure out the emphasis or see the contradictions.  The newspaper editor's work is to figure out the core of the news, gather all the relevant facts, filter out the irrelevant details and compliment it with gathered facts and data to supplement one's points of view.  As a result, the report becomes richer and more complete.

In addition, the editor will not just tell you about all the things that happened on this one day for you.  He will make a subjective judgment to select those items that interest and resonate with you so that you can save time.  This is the added value that the newspaper editor offers the readers.

On blogs, you can rarely find a good-quality page that resonates with you.  If you want to find about what goes on in the world from the blogs, you won't be able to.  If all the newspapers go out on strike and you can only get news from blogs, I guarantee that you will find it unbearable.  Newspapers are as rarified and taken for granted as the air -- if they disappear one day, you will learn how valuable they are.

When telegrapy appeared, knowledgeable people said that there is no more need for long-distance business travel.  But it turned out that business travel became even more frequent than any time before in human history.  When telephony appeared, many people said that it was no longer necessary to mail letters.  But it would turn out that people wrote letters less often only after electronic mail appeared.  Today, electronic mail messages are increasing rapidly.  When radio appeared, people also said that newspapers were doomed.  But up to now, newspapers are still the principal mental food for people.

In advanced western countries, few people are reading newspapers over the last ten years but the total number is still high.  Even in the United States where television and computers are popular, 54% of the people still get their news from newspapers everyday; on Sundays, the number goes up to 60%.  The number of people is higher than the most highly rated television program Super Bowl.  I believe that even if newspaper circulation gradually declines in the United States and Europe, it will go back up after a certain period of time.  But it will be difficult to return to the golden age.

Yes, the Internet will affect newspaper circulation, but it will not eliminate newspapers.  The next logical step should be the complimentary co-development of newspapers and Internet.  When that day comes, will there be some earth-shattering change overnight?  No.  It will be a gradual and stable evolution, because the period of greatest impact by the Internet has passed already.  From now on, newspapers will co-evolve with the Internet.

Nobody can predict what the future changes will be.  We can predict that newspapers may one day become at one with the Internet.  But this is not to say that the functions of newspapers will disappear.  Rather it is the form and mode of distribution of newspapers that are changed.  People will continue to comprehend the world through newspapers and express their feelings.  When television first appeared, who would have thought that people actually spend more time listening to radio -- because people stuck in traffic jams listen to radio?

I don't believe that blogs can replace the functions of newspapers. At the most, they are only a social platform -- they enable people to converse over the Internet, build a mutually trusting relationship and express their views without restraints. This is like chatting with one's friends in a pub. But blogs are only pub-like small circles and not a mass communication medium, so how could it threaten the survival of newspapers?  Blogs are newspapers' critical pals but not the enemy.

I once imagined: if there is only a world of blogs today and newspapers haven't been invented yet, what do you think I would do as an entrepreneur?  I would start a newspaper!  Even if the Internet brings in an endless flow of information, people will still need an editor to help them filter and digest the information and provide them with quality and convenience.  Those are the functions of a newspaper.  Of course, I run a newspaper and that is my prejudice.  That is why everyone must "take it with a pinch of salt."

(Over The Rainbow網誌在主流媒體的價值.  August 14, 2006.






街訪拍照,確保言論有憑有據,也代表了對被訪者言論的尊重。因為身份不明帶來的代表性問題,我個人較少大幅引用網友言論。即使將網友言論作為新聞事件的回應,也會一句起兩句止,作為新聞的輔助算了。又或者直接聯絡和訪問網友,邀其就特定專題抒發感想,這樣便能確保其身份及代表性,意見亦較全面。我在雜誌採寫的Virtual HK欄目,由此而來。

網友或會奇怪幹麼媒體喜歡在新聞報道中,引用他們的言論?網絡群眾人口龐大是其一,另一個不會宣之於口的原因是,網上言論不乏「秘聞」或情緒化的口水,迎合傳媒最愛的「內幕」、內容colourful兼Juicy,不過cut and paste幾句,容易又方便。還有什麼比這些更eye catching,更手到拿來?


至於部落格主人,會否變身記者,那又是另一個問題了。我估計比較合乎香港情況的發展是,部落格揭露秘聞醜聞,被媒體記者發現並追蹤,判斷資料的真實性、可信性和新聞性後,再作報道而「發揚光大」,畢竟部落格還未具備gate keeper(守門人,意指媒體把關,確保新聞準確性)的條件(這並非貶低部落格,而是部落格消息跟其他新聞材料一樣,要cross check其可信性)。