Journalist, Weblogs, & Journalism

An executive of a newspaper Web sites posts:

“Mercifully, blogging will join the ranks of mood rings, pet rocks and Rubik’s Cubes in the not-too-distant future.”

With all due respect, we doubt that.

Consider that in their lifetimes Lewis & Clarke, Henry David Thoreau, James Boswell, and Charles Darwin wrote and published analog versions of weblogs. Lacking electronic technology, they weren’t able to publish those live, but we’re certain they would have if they had had that technology (wouldn’t a blog have been wonderful!)

Lord Byron, Abraham Lincoln, and Albert Camus also wrote analog versions, which were published only after their untimely deaths. Leonardo Da Vinci’s draws great crowds today when it’s exhibited at museums (Bill Gates purchased it for $30 million a few years ago). Had the electronic technology existed during their lives, I think that they too would have written and posted digital versions (although Lincoln probably wouldn’t have published his live until after his presidency). Likewise, Mark Twain would certainly be blogging the way that Dave Barry to lesser effect does today.

If not Herodotus, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Alexander the Great, Cato, the Plinys the elder and the younger, and Marcus Aurelius, then Dante, Marco Polo, Ibn Battuta, Chaucer, Luther, and Shakespeare would probably have published journals if only the scribes or printing and transportation technologies of their times had been able to disseminate those journal inexpensively to the public. (In which cases, Athens would probably have condemned Socrates to death sooner and Polo would have returned to the West a celebrity.)

The words journalists and journalism arose from keeping journals, an activity as old as writing. If a journalist wanted to publish his journal (live or archivally) in print, that was and is expensive to do and to disseminate. Weblogging now eliminates those costs and difficulties.

Just as people throughout recorded history have kept journals, they will continue to do so. Those who want to publish their journals will likely use whatever technology is easiest and least expensive. So, Weblogging will be here at least for generations.

With several hundred thousand bloggers now operating (around 500,000 was the last count we’d read), it perhaps is indeed time to reassess the colloquial usages of the words journalist and journalism, because those words’ original meanings are beginning to return. There today are more journalists (people who keep journals) publishing daily worldwide than there are journalists (people whose paid work is edited by someone else before it is published).

But bear in mind that those returned definitions of journalist and journalism shouldn’t subvert what is taught in journalism schools: accuracy and honesty. Yes, there unfortunately are inaccurate or dishonest bloggers, but so too are there Jayson Blairs.