Helping Gillmor: Making the News

I’m a little behind in blogging Elwyn Jenkins’ response to Dan Gillmor’s Making the News. Here’s what Elwyn says: “Writing, that you see here in this [Elwyn’s] weblog, is not journalism. This is more about pedagogy than it is about journalism. This is about organizing information — some bloggers do that by simply amassing a list of links and a little comment to cause others to look and think. I practice more of what I used to do in school — drawing together an argument in order to present, cause thinking and seek from my readers their attention to think this topic through for themselves.|This differs from journalism, whether you are a linker and pointer blogger or a didactic blogger like myself. Journalists are much more even-handed, they are objective, edited and far more objective. We teachers tend to move towards the perimeters of thinking and over-emphasize what we are saying. Or we act like Dave Winer who keeps pointing and pointing to what he is reading and thinking. Do not trust him to be even-handed or objective. He is a teacher — he has even taken up a teaching job at a University, so much is he like a teacher. Bloggers worldwide would very easily take up teaching, few of us would be able to take up jobs as journalists.”

Helping Gillmor: Making the NewsMicrodoc News)

Hmm. I’d quibble with this. Really good teaching involves holding back your own opinion so that students can, on their own, develop skills that help them master the material. When I stand in front of the classroom and voice my personal opinion, the quality and direction of the discussion is affected. There are always a few bright students whose educational strategy is to get good grades by flattering and parroting the teacher. (It’s one reason why arrogance is an occupational hazard of college teachers– we are constantly surrounded by bright young people seeking our praise.) In the humanities, where there are probably more often conflicting philosophies than there are in the sciences, teaching involves empowering students to make their own judgments. In the sciences, where empirical evidence validates certain approaches and invalidates others, the nature of the material lends itself better to a mode in which an expert presents information to learners.

Jill Walker recently observed, “It’s hard to work out quite how to teach independent, critical thought. To my great surprise I’ve discovered that giving a 2 x 45 minute lecture is way easier than setting up tasks and discussions and problems that actually help the students develop their own skills.”

Perhaps blogging offers both Elwyn and Dan a middle ground, where teaching and journalism borrow from each other and become something new and better. Plenty of “Town Square Meetings” look very much like college seminars. I think all Gillmor really needs to do is state his assumptions up front, refer to what is to be gained from people whose opinions are different, and demonstrate how pursuing his particular line of thought will advance everyone’s understanding of the subject.

On a related note, Jenkins refers to “pointing bloggers,” which, according to “personality blogger” Rebecca Blood, are so different from the “journal blogs” that they need a different term. Taxonomy is fun, fun, fun!

We all look at blogging (and everything else) through the lens of our experience. Jenkins sees weblogging as information management; Gillmor sees it as a new kind of journalism; Blood sees it as a form of personal journal. (If I weren’t a teacher, here’s where I would say what I think blogging is — but instead I’m going to be coy.)