Blogging and the End of Journalism

I’ve had a running debate with someone very close to me—I won’t say who, just that he is a journalist—about whether blogging has killed journalism.

It’s true that journalism as we have known it is dying an agonizing death.  Walk into the newsroom of any major newspaper, my journalist tells me, especially its Washington bureau, and it’s a ghost town.  The bodies that are there are those of the young.  The old, along with their relatively big salaries, have departed.

The once-mainstay source of income for newspapers, the classifieds, has migrated to the net.  The old business models have shattered. No one wants to pay for the news anymore.  The advertising and eyeballs model of web journalism can’t pay for good reporting. And in the wake of journalism come all these blogs that just comment upon what real journalists do. If it weren’t for REAL journalists, the bloggers would have nothing to comment on.  And increasingly bloggers come to be taken as journalists.  But what the hell do they know?  And so goes the rant.

My journalist isn’t the only one complaining.  In my work on media and democracy I’ve convened and attended lots of meetings of journalists as well as new media types.  Get the journalists in the room and they start kvetching and bitching and whining and looking for the nearest razor blades.  Journalism as they know it, journalism that lives on newsprint, is dead.  And so go their jobs.

Get a bunch of new media people in a room, and there’s glee mixed with trepidation.  The world is their oyster; there’s something new every five minutes; and everyone will be there twittering about it, or watching via twitter, and clicking on the latest tinyurl to come their way with news of the newest, latest thing.  There will be an obligatory session on “new business models,” as in, “how the hell are we going to get paid for this?” But there’s joy all the same.

What about journalism?  Has blogging become stand in and interpreter? Miscreant? Monster?

Let’s make one thing clear: what you are reading here is not journalism.  I am not pretending to dig up stories and give you the truth of the matter.  The blogosphere is more like the op-ed pages. I’m going to give you my perspective on things.  Of course the op-ed page can’t stand alone, it needs the news pages to comment on; but it is a vital place for making sense of the news, for thinking out loud about what it all means for us. The op-ed pages and the blogosphere are places for regular folks to think through and work through what kind of people and communities we want to be, what we stand for, what we think is vital and of value.

But to say that this isn’t journalism is not to say that I can just make things up.  This communication, like any communication, ought to live up to what Habermas calls valididty condidtions. You have every right, and I have every obligation, to be truthful, sincere, and appropriate.  These are obligations that journalism, blogging, and regular conversations all share.

So what about journalism? Definitely we need new models.  I like my morning newsprint newspaper; I hope it continues.  Yet clearly the main platform is becoming the web.  But whatever the medium, the messenger needs to make a living.  How are we going to support and sustain good old fashioned reporting, especially investigative reporting?  Maybe newspapers need to be endowed. See a New York Times, ahem, op-ed on the subject. That’s a decent idea.  There’s no easy answer to this, especially in the midst of an economic melt down.  But while we try to figure it out, please don’t shoot the likes of me.

By Noelle McAfee

I am professor of philosophy at Emory University and editor of the Kettering Review. My latest book, Fear of Breakdown: Politics and Psychoanalysis, explores what is behind the upsurge of virulent nationalism and intransigent politics across the world today. My other writings include Democracy and the Political Unconscious; Habermas, Kristeva, and Citizenship; Julia Kristeva; and numerous articles and book chapters. Edited volumes include Standing with the Public: the Humanities and Democratic Practice and a special issue of the philosophy journal Hypatia on feminist engagements in democratic theory. I am also the author of the entry on feminist political philosophy in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and well into my next book project on democratic public life.


  1. Noelle, I just read your “Beyond Manipulation: Democracy and Media” in the Kettering Review. I was quite spellbound throughout most of it (conclusion left me hanging/wanting more). Until reading this, I was both unfamiliar with you and/or your writings. What a discovery I made TODAY!! I will most definitely subscribe to your blog, and I will go out and buy your most recent book ASAP. Your ideas are so refreshing, and I can’t wait to delve into more of your work.

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