Is it journalism?…

Antonia Zerbisias chastises the internet for its lack of “original journalism.” Which brings up this question for me: Can the internet be a source of original journalism?

Unlike TV and print, the internet encourages its users to poke their noses into every little nook and cranny they can find. That means starting on one site (perhaps a blog or a portal) and ending up who knows where. That’s not the kind of behavior old media promote (“Stay tuned! We’ll be right back.”). Further, the internet encourages the vertical consumption of information, i.e. seeking out only that which is of immediate interest.

Okay, so you know all that. These behaviors are encouraged by the structure of the internet as a medium. Can this structure support original journalism?

I don’t have an answer except to point to bloggers and say: There’s something very like journalism–an almost ancient variant called pamphleterring given new life and form by the internet. Here’s what Zerbisias says:

Oh sure, there are plenty of bloggers: free-ranging opinionators from right-to-left who post their thoughts on their Web pages, inviting commentary from visitors.

They link to other sites, refer to other media, even attack the mainstream press but they rarely, if ever, set out to do an investigative report, an original interview or actually step out into the daylight to cover an event.

So one of the reasons that they’re free-ranging is that most do it for free, for love not money.

Money is an important consideration, but I want to set that aside for a moment and consider something else: stepping into the daylight. We have seen many recent examples of bloggers doing reporting (as opposed to journalism) during the Columbia disaster. Many bloggers have been covering the blizzard in the east. Joshua Marshall at Talking Points Memo did some excellent reporting on the Trent Lott affair. And you can bet if war breaks out someone will find a way to blog it from close proximity. Does reporting require a press pass and a paycheck? Well, one answer might be to point to the numerous news photos, taken by amateurs over the years, that have won the Pulitzer Prize.

To a certain extent, reporting merely requires that you be on hand with a recording device. Journalism, however, requires an editorial process sustained by a solvent organization. And that is the big difference. At the moment, there are a limited number of journalism organizations using the internet as the primary medium. I think the structure of the internet makes journalism difficult to practice because it’s difficult to make money in a medium that encourages consumers to range widely.

UPDATE (3:30 p.m.): The OmbudsGod offers additional reasons why it’s difficult to do journalism on the internet. He’s optimistic, however, that it can and will be done.