newspapers vs. blogs: I think we’re catching up

moveable type.jpg

Two and a half weeks ago, a columnist for the Globe and Mail phoned to ask if I had any thoughts on Christmas trees.  She said she’’d call me back.

By the time she did, I had posted 700 words on Christmas trees.  My internal grammar has been so refashioned by blogging that it is now hard for me to think about anything that does not then threaten to issue in bloggable form.

According to the old logic, the Christmas trees idea was hers, and I guess I should not have posted before she had filed her story.  On the other hand, if you ask me to work for free (as she was effectively doing when she solicited my opinion), it seems to me you can hardly complain when I repurpose my gift to my advantage.

Anyhow, she asked me to take the thing down and I was happy to.  Then something odd happened.  My computer crashed and I now had no copy of my Christmas trees post.  I phoned the columnist and asked her if she wouldn’’t mind returning to me the email in which I had sent the post to her.  I phoned her 4 times over a week, leaving a message in each case.  She responded once in a vague way, and did not return the email. 

Happily, I found a copy of my Christmas trees post in the MT archive.  Bless you, Movable Type.  And I posted it on the weekend.  I still have not heard from the journalist.  Were it not for the MT archive, my post would remain her captive.  (It may be of course that she deleted the email in question.  It may be her own computer crashed.  A clarifying phone call would have been helpful.)

I can’’t imagine what her motive was, and there might have been a miscommunication here.  (Though I must say it is hard to imagine a journalist who ignores her answering machine…or permanently deletes her email.)  I think it’s possible that she was happy that I had lost the email.  Perhaps she imagined that this preserved the uniqueness of her piece.  And if this is so, we may see her acting according to the old logic twice: first, when she asked me to take my piece down and again when she refused to give my post back (if this is indeed what she did, one can’’t be sure).

What are the rules of the old logic?  Is it that people who publish play a zero sum game?   If blogging has done anything, it is to encourage a somewhat more collaborative, "creative commons”" approach.  In the blogging world, several takes on the same topic are welcome, if not the very name of the game.

But the real question: why would she be threatened (if she was) by a "little blog that could"” like this one.  It’’s not like I have Tyler Cowen’’s readership or anything.  It’’s not like any blog has a readership that can rival the numbers of the Globe and Mail (Canada’’s newspaper of record). 

My conclusion (and I do have one): that journalists in the mainstream are perhaps beginning to feel the heat, they can hear the typing, that they are now a little nervous about the thousands of bloggers who, many of them, produce in a day what the journalist labors (heroically and gainfully) to produce in a week.   

Competition, it’s a wonderful thing.

p.s., some weeks later after this post appeared, the journalist in question sent me an absolute scorcher of a reply.  Really it was something to behold.  Darn near hysterical.  You would think the critic had never been criticized before.  And, come to think of it, chances are, she hasn’t.  Scrutiny, it’s a wonderful thing. 

7 thoughts on “newspapers vs. blogs: I think we’re catching up

  1. AH

    Perhaps it’s belaboring the obvious, but journalists used to have a hammerlock on publishing, so that they could condescend to gather a variety of our opinions, and select the ones they could profitably use. Now anyone worth asking, and more, are already publishing. What a shock that must be! Essentially, the reporter can now only ask other reporters for material, unless she does real primary or documentary research.


  2. Steve Portigal

    I wonder there’s a conflict in her mind in terms of ownership of “the story” – is it your story or her story? I’m sure the writer feels the ownership, but as a content contributor, I’m sure you feel the same.

    It’s kind of like ethnography – we sometimes entice people to participate with the indication that their contribution will help drive the creation of a future product. But of course, when we synthesize and deliver findings from these interviews, we don’t think of any insights that came from those interviews as belong to them, they belong to us! We did the interviews!

  3. Ginna Dowler

    Or it may be that she’s personally threatened. I read the Globe every day, and while Sarah Milroy’s name is vaguely familiar, I can’t remember a single thing she’s written.

  4. Dingwall

    The person who “owns” a story is the person who tells the story best. I suspect after reading your take on the subject, Ms. Milroy recognized she was going to be in trouble on that point.

    Merry Christmas to you, Pam and Cat.


  5. Virginia Postrel

    I suspect you’re overinterpreting her lack of response. She may be busy, may be on vacation, may not be good about responding to email, may have deleted your email, or there may be any number of other reasons she didn’t respond. Or she may just wonder why you don’t have a copy in your “messages sent” file.

    At any rate, I know lots of journalists and I don’t know any journalists who would see your post as stealing an idea as general as “write something about Christmas trees.” Indeed, if you’d written the post first, a journalist could easily have called you to get you to elaborate or just say it again over the phone. It happens all the time with other forms of publication, from books to academic papers. I don’t know why it wouldn’t happen with blog postings and, in fact, I’m not entirely sure it hasn’t happened to me. I’m pretty sure it has happened to some of the legal experts on Volokh Conspiracy.

    A newspaper reporter is going to round up a bunch of different people’s different thoughts on Christmas tree and weave them into something new. A blog posting that represents a single source’s thoughts is not in conflict with such an article.

  6. Grant

    AH, Ginna, and Jim, my feelings exactly. Thank you, Grant

    Virginia, I didnt sent her an email, but a phone message. And you tell me, is there a journalist on the planet who ignores their answering machine. (And I have no backup copy because my computer crashed, a fact she knew.)

    As to your 2nd paragraph: perhaps this is a Canadian-American difference. Canadians in the cultural domain play it very zero-sum. So much for kinder and gentler.

    Thanks, Grant

  7. Liz

    Responding to a tangent: I compose most posts (and not a few responses or comments) in a text editor (BBEdit) and then paste. Saves that annoying loss problem.

    BTW, I wish you and yours peace joy & increase for the coming year.

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