The evolution of blogging within the digital media landscape as well as a journalistic tool has prompted its fair share of debates over the last decade. The topic often seems to reappear in media news articles as an ever increasing number of platforms populate the net. Since its inception, “the blog format has been increasingly adopted by mainstream news organisations” (Hermida, 2009, p. 269). Whether be it for first hand reports, independent journalism or expressing opinions (Rettberg, 2008, p. 95), blogs often provide journalists with a unique way to tell a story.
However, the fast-paced developing character of the internet means that new platforms, formats and social networks present an increasing number of alternatives to blogs. From Facebook Notes to Medium, journalists are constantly finding new ways to attract audiences. Some unique features and advantages of blogging seem to be able to maintain the format as a tool for quality journalism, while others simply disappeared under the daily showers of tweets and snaps.
In this essay I have selected three blogs as case studies. Each are giving us an example of an aspect of journalism used through the blog format. First, I looked at the ability to tell a story from a detailed and human perspective through the photographer Len Grant’s “Her First Year”. I then turned toward the newspapers use of blogs as platforms for opinion and subjectivity. For that I have selected a popular blog from the French Newspaper Le Figaro. Finally, I have picked the world famous ‘A Tunisian Girl’ from activist and blogger Lina Ben Mhenna, which demonstrates the power of live blogging.
Photo-Journalism, Blogging and Storytelling
The reason I have selected “Her First Year” (Grant, 2011) is because it is a prime example of a successful way to cover a story over a long period of time. While broadcast and newspapers would have to fit a story within a time frame or words limit, blogs have allowed for a more comprehensive use of this time element. Scholars have established that “whether they are fictional or not, narratives in blogs differ in several ways from traditional print or cinematic narratives” (Rettberg, 2008, p. 126). Not only blogging makes place for more details, it can also reflect the unique human perspective of a story.
In his blog, Len Grant was able to follow the life of young mum Frances in a way not always possible to traditional journalism, giving the readers a deeper insight. Daily and weekly accounts of Frances’ joys and difficulties of life with a newborn hooked the audience, almost like a TV show. Furthermore, Len also became a character in this story as he made use of first person style story-telling. It has been argued that “professional journalists have found blogs to offer a format of expressing experiences that does not conform to the conventions of traditional reporting “ (Hermida, 2009, p. 270). Many aspects of his blog are not expected to be found in a newspaper article or a TV documentary. Often he would spend a day with Frances, and happened what happened. In his role he became like a camera recorder, but instead of producing the events into films, he wrote them into posts. His position within the story was not even as a commentator giving analysis and explanations, but rather as someone spending a day with his friend.
It isn’t the fact that he is such a great storyteller, as many good journalists are, neither that he covered her story for so long, as newspapers are often able to follow stories too, but his ability to take on the reader into a moving story in which he has become a part of. This is a strong aspect of blogging in terms of journalism. While there are never been more platforms to tell a story, blogs, in such a context of photo storytelling, remain an effective tool fit to purpose. Having followed Frances for almost a year and a half, describing the events through narrative posts, Len’s blog resulted in an archive that could well be made into a book. In terms of photo journalism, the blog format has demonstrated a unique feature through this example, which also shows that blogging still has its place in the industry.
Opinions and Perspectives
While Len’s blog had a personal and human element, the second case study represents a much more mainstream aspect, and use, of blogging. Entitled “Liberté d’expression” (Rioufol, 2008), it is one among the many blogs that are run by the French newspaper Le Figaro. Blogging allows journalists to express subjectivity and engage closely with the readers more than standard articles.
While it has been argued that “increasingly, journalists and pundits take their cues about “what matters” in the world of weblogs” (Drezner & Farrell, 2005, p. 86), the openly conservative and neo-reactionary French journalist Ivan Rioufol has been writing on his blog since 2008. It has been a platform for him to express the subjective critical analysis that made his fame. It is also an effective way to engage with his audience on a much closer level. Indeed, it is common that journalist “bloggers are speaking to an audience that talks back” (Lebkowsky, 2005, p. 35) and are often keen to express opinions, feeling or agreement on a post.
This way of engaging an audience has not always been part of mainstream journalism. However, the latest developments of social networks platforms such as Facebook or Twitter, along with blogs have in many ways changed the relation readers-journalists. Also blogging remains an effective way for subjective and engaging journalism, it has become increasingly difficult to drive traffic from social networks to blogs and websites. In the specific example of “Liberté d’expression”, this issue is alleviated as the blog remains under the umbrella of a bigger traffic driver, Le Figaro itself. Usually, readers access the newspaper’s website, read an article and have the opportunity to then move onto the blog for a more subjective perspective on the issue. This is a particularly effective use of blogs, which remains accessible to, not only big newspapers but also brands, commercials, institutions and other organisations.
In regards to this newspaper website use of blogs, there is a final argument which I would like to mention here. As the web has developed, in terms of quantity of platforms, we have seen a multiplication of content being produced online. At its peak, blogging saw scores of posts published on the web, which were not always of the best quality. The evolution of platforms such as Facebook or Medium as more advanced publishing tools, directly on social networks, has meant a natural cleansing of the blogosphere. This is the reason why even if we have seen a diminution in number, it has been demonstrated that “blogs haven’t disappeared — they have simply morphed into a mature part of the publishing ecosystem” (Kabadayi, 2014), which has increased the overall quality of the content.
In the final part of this essay, and as a third case study, I have decided to look at blogging as a tool for citizen journalism. The blog “A Tunisian Girl” (Mhenni, 2009), by Lina ben Mhenni, depicted the reality of the Tunisian revolution as it happened.
The Tunisian Revolution started on the 18th of December 2010 with Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation. It resulted with the ousting of dictator Ben Ali on the 14th of January 2011. The Tunisian blogger and activist not only took the readers right into the revolution, but also became “a virtual newsroom for foreign journalists” (Hoffmann, 2013, p. 170). Through the blogging platform she fed the world with photos, videos and comments on events where international journalists were often absent.
This concept of citizens reporting has transformed modern journalism. As compared to traditional journalists, who had to build up years of accuracy experience, credibility and reporting skills, citizen have enjoyed an extended amount of freedom through the use of blogs. In the case of ‘A Tunisian Girl’, “the traditional journalistic creeds of credibility and fact-checking were of no relevance” (Rettberg, 2008, p. 101) as she was there, in the middle of the action.
This use of blogging as a tool for citizen reporting played a great role in increasing the popularity of the format. However, the way most social networks have developed, and as mentioned earlier, it has been argued that it will increasingly be difficult for such a big number of blogs to survive (Kabadayi, 2014). The reason is simple, readers and web users have been centralized. If an event such as the Tunisian revolution was to happen again today, local actors would most likely use Facebook, where the power to disseminate is much greater.
In fact, another contender here would also be Twitter, for the social network has penetrated journalism deeply, “ facilitating citizen journalism” (Murthy, 2013, p. 51) and “ being prominently associated with wide-ranging forms of sociopolitical activism (Murthy, 2013, p. 92). As we speak, many of the social networks are introducing new ways to write, report and share content. For any starting bloggers, what Ben Mhenni did just back in 2010 with her blog would prove more challenging five years later, unless moving over to a different format, and a more popular one.
If in terms of the future of blogging, it is difficult to imagine what will happen, we can grasp an idea looking at content. It has been pointed that, through this centralization of readers on few social networks, “you are just likely to start finding more and more posts distributed through fewer channels” (Greenberg, 2015).
It is often said that “as readers’ attention has migrated to apps and platforms, blogs have faltered” (Greenberg, 2015). This essay was about the evolution of blogging from a journalist perspective, but it is possible that similarities could be found in other areas. Through the first case study, I have demonstrated one of the biggest strength of the blogging format. Namely, this ability for the writer to be part of a story and share with the readers a more emotional and human perspective. I believe such quality blogging will find a place in the future for the value it can bring. Secondly, looking at the way big brand newspapers use blogging, it appears they are exploiting two major advantages. Web traffic is already there as readers usually are attracted directly from the main website.
Furthermore, the platform allows for much more engagement in the writing, which can drive the audience’s emotions and excitement. This form of blogging is well spread among most major news outlets and has performed well. However, news organisations are constantly in the look out for new ways to engage the readers. It is no surprise that very recently, Sky News was an early adopter of messaging platform Snapchat to reach out to a younger population. Finally, as we have seen with ‘A Tunisian Girl’ blogging was a powerful tool for citizen journalism, but the constant innovation from other platforms is pushing blogs further way from the main stage.
Generally speaking, the web is becoming increasingly centralized. From a traffic perspective, social networks such as Facebook and twitter are absorbing an always greater part of web users. Content wise, new platforms such as Medium have found this way to centralize both quality reading and writing, taking away from traditional bloggers the burden of reaching an audience. To conclude, I would say that blogging, as a format, is facing greater challenges and many of its uses have been taken over by social networks. However, many still believe in its relevance (MEYER, 2015) since it still has strengths as we have since with photo reporting and newspaper. The number of blogs might be decreasing, but the quality of what is left out there makes me confident, blogging has many years ahead.
BlogAwardsUK. (2014). National UK Blog Awards 2014 Winners. Retrieved November 10, 2015, from Blog Award UK: http://www.blogawardsuk.co.uk/national-uk-blog- awards-2014-winners
Bradshaw, P., & Rohumaa, L. (2011). The Online Journalism Handbook: Skills to Survive and Thrive in the Digital Age. Essex: Pearson Education Limited.
Drezner, D. W., & Farrell, H. (2005). Web of Influence. In D. Kline, & D. Burstein, Blog! How the newest media revolution is changing politics, business and culture (pp. 83–101). New York: CDS Books.
Grant, L. (2011, September). Retrieved November 10, 2015, from Her First year: http://herfirstyear.co.uk
Greenberg, J. (2015, February 10). So Long Blogging. Hello — Yep, We’re Going to Say It — Plogging. Retrieved November 10, 2015, from WIRED: http://www.wired.com/2015/10/long-blogging-hello-yep-going-say-plogging/
Hermida, A. (2009). THE BLOGGING BBC. Journalism Practice, 3(3), 268–284.
Hoffmann, D. (2013). Citizen rising : independent journalism and the spread of democracy. New York: CUNY Journalism Press.
Kabadayi, O. (2014, July 16). Blogging is dead, long live blogging. Retrieved November 10, 2015, from The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/media-network/media- network-blog/2014/jul/16/blogging-dead-bloggers-digital-content
Lebkowsky, J. (2005). Extreme Democracy, Blog-Style. In D. Kline, & D. Burstein, Blog! How the newest media revolution is changing politics, business and culture (pp. 34–41). New York: CDS Books.
MEYER, R. (2015, February 25). What Blogging Has Become. Retrieved November 10, 2015, from The Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/02/what- blogging-has-become/386201/
Mhenni, l. b. (2009, Juin). Retrieved November 11, 2015, from A Tunisian Girl: http://atunisiangirl.blogspot.co.uk
Murthy, D. (2013). Twitter. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Rettberg, J. W. (2008). Blogging. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Rioufol, I. (2008, Janvier). Retrieved November 11, 2015, from Ivan Rioufol :http://blog.lefigaro.fr/rioufol/
If you enjoyed this article, why not recommend it, so that others will be able to see it too. Here are some of my most recent articles that might interest you: