"So, what are the bloggers talking about today?" That was invariably the lead-in to almost every conversation I had with co-workers during my first blogging job at television station WKRN, where for two years I was tasked with giving the web audience of Nashville's ABC affiliate a window into the world of political blogging.
While tempted many times to retort with something like "anarcho-syndicalism and applesauce," I usually just gave them an answer I thought would be easily digestible and suitable for small talk.
Blogs had been around for at least seven years or so at that point, but most in the newsroom didn't know quite what to make of me and my fellow paid blogger Brittney Gilbert.
We might have drawn a paycheck but reading and writing blog posts all day did not merit entry into "the club" — at least not initially.
In my four years as a pro blogger, both at WKRN and nashvillepost.com, I often encountered journalists who did not view me or what I did as "legitimate." I never really protested too much. I still don't. As Eminem so eloquently put it, "I am whatever you say I am."
From the time I was first hired as a professional blogger by WKRN to the time I was sacked at nashvillepost.com, I was at one time or another a pure blogger with a strong voice, an aggregator passing along news of interest to readers, and even, with varying frequency, a provider of breaking news previously unpublished by other media outlets. Very rarely during any of that time did I wonder whether what I was doing was "Big J" journalism. I was more concerned about keeping the readers engaged and coming back for more.
In 1998, when I was fresh out of school, I applied for many journalism jobs and was turned away from every one. By the time I eventually became an employee of a media company in 2006, after a string of dead-end jobs, I had more or less given up on the dream of being a journalist, so it never much concerned me whether my colleagues in the two newsrooms in which I worked viewed me as such. I was getting paid by a media company to read and write blog posts. I intended to keep doing that as long as I could.
Of course, I was aware of the treatises being written on the effect of bloggers and "new media" on the craft of journalism, but the debate over whether bloggers were journalists was one I mostly shied away from. I was less interested in waxing philosophical about blogging than I was in trying to actually keep readers abreast of news and generating page views for my employers.
Blogs are merely a delivery system for — well, whatever. It's a platform, not an art form. Like the printed page, television, radio, or Twitter, a blog is just a medium. Time-stamped posts displayed in reverse chronological order — that's what a blog is. It can be a diary or a list of recipes. It can be a log of libel or an archive of real-time reporting.
Aggregation, analysis, commentary, and reporting all have come under my byline on a blog at one time or another. You can call that journalism or you can call it pancakes, it doesn't really matter. What does matter is serving the reader.
Online gurus who say that blogging, citizen media, or whatever the latest buzzword is will eventually replace the "mainstream media" have always been smoking that proverbial "good stuff."
The news still has to be gathered. After that, it can then be analyzed, commented on, and, yes, aggregated. So when I am asked about the future of news aggregation, all I can say is that the future is only as bright as the news being aggregated. Technology has made it very easy to receive and send information. It has lowered the barrier to entry to the publishing business significantly. To hold open the possibility that the challenges confronting the news business are ultimately insurmountable is not pessimism, it is realism.
This is not to say that the craft is going away. The news is not going to die. Readers and viewers are going to get information. Whether that information is going to be trustworthy and whether people will continue to make their living distributing it, however, is still an open question. A question, unfortunately, that my four years of professional blogging still leaves me unable to answer.
A.C. Kleinheider is a Nashville-based blogger-aggregator — and, at the moment, unemployed.