Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Monday, January 24, 2011

More thoughts on the role of Genealogical Blogger

We have all viewed those scenes on TV and in movies with the news media swarming around the famous person or news event, cameras flashing and microphones aggressively being pushed into the face of the noteworthy person. Looking back, photography, especially news photography, was a profession. News reporters started as cubs and worked their way up in the news room and ended up as editors or columnists. For some of the most famous people in the world and in the larger cities, this scenario has not changed. But for the rest of us who are not quite so famous, news reporting has changed dramatically as have the print newspapers that used to print the news.

There is a website called "Newspaper Death Watch" that lists the U.S. metropolitan dailies that have closed since that site was created in March of 2007. The list contains 12 newspapers. There are dozens of online articles chronicling the long term decline of the print newspaper industry. It is almost universally believed that the rise of the digital world will ultimately replace the printed newspaper.

To a great extent, this has already happened with regard to special interests such as genealogy. The traditional media traditionally ignored interests such as genealogy.  Larger newspapers may have had a genealogy column or some small articles on family history, but by and large, genealogy has always been an ignored topic. When was the last time you saw a newspaper story about genealogy. For example, Well, they do exist, but if you read a newspaper daily, you probably have not seen anything about FamilySearch, or whatever for a long time.

So what is happening to the way people obtain news? For one, news is going online and onto video. A survey conducted jointly by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and Project for Excellence in Journalism showed that the overwhelming majority of Americans (92%) use multiple platforms to get their daily news.  See Understanding the Participatory News Consumer. Blogging is part of that participatory news and is becoming the news gathering and disseminating media outlet, especially for specialized interest groups. In other words, Blogs provide the news that is either no longer supplied or was never given much coverage in the first place. In addition, the Blog posts are more immediate than magazines or journals which may take months to report a single occurrence.

In recognition of that dramatic shift in the news outlets, genealogy organizations and companies are turning more and more to commercially produced Blogs to compete for audience time in the marketplace. All you have to do is look at any of the larger genealogy sites and likely the site will be associated with a Blog post of some kind. The organizations and companies cannot afford to ignore the Bloggers, they collectively influence too great a number of the companies' potential customers.

The irony of the whole situation is that probably a great number of the readers of the Blogs are Bloggers themselves so effectively no one is reaching out to the non-Blogging community. So to a great extent, some, not all of the Bloggers are part of the larger move from traditional paper news reporting to a more diffuse and less structured format available online.

But it is also a fact that very few of the Bloggers have formal training in either writing news stories or reporting at all.


  1. “very few of the Bloggers have formal training in either writing news stories or reporting at
    And unfortunately that is very obvious in the offering of the many. One of the features of a news story is its primary focus on the subject, which this reader feels is another ‘fault’ of a number of blog post. Many blogs seem to have some bearing on the subject stated yet move off into a personal story or extraneous subjects more of interest to the author than to the title subject.

  2. I think we need to differentiate between the types of genealogy blogs - many bloggers set up their sites as personal genealogy and family history sites and to share information with their own families and other researchers.

    Others have more of a reporting bent and will report on the genealogy industry which requires a more journalistic voice and background.

  3. Your point about the training is very important. While I don't feel uncomfortable about the writing aspect I do at times feel uncomfortable with the legal/ethical aspects that are taught in journalism school. I feel like I would be a much better blogger if I could get training in that. I have gotten books on journalism writing but none that will give me the nuance of the fine line between public / private. So I give it a wide berth. Another thought provoking post as always James!

  4. Yes and no James. Certainly the online presence has had an effect. But I feel that there is more to it than that. There are many reasons for the difficulties that the newspapers are in. One is the increasing lack of professional journalists that were prevelant 20 to 50 years ago. I see as many badly written stories in our newspapers as I do online. Second is the take over of most of the smaller dailies by large conglomerants. These huge company pay attention only to the bottom line not to quality. Three it is far more expensive to run a newspaper in today's world. You won't get a good journalist for $10,000 a year anymore. Fourthy, the promising young journalist to be does not want to write for a paper. They want the glory jobs on cable or T.V. Fifthy (if that is a word) I have noticed that young people do not read. They are conditioned for the quick bite. I expect that if I think about this subject further I can come up with other examples.

  5. "But it is also a fact that very few of the Bloggers have formal training in either writing news stories or reporting at all."

    @James - blogs are not news stories. Blogs are journals, a diary of sorts. Some bloggers post information pertaining to current news items, but the majority do not. What formal training does one need to have in order to keep a diary?

    "Many blogs seem to have some bearing on the subject stated yet move off into a personal story or extraneous subjects more of interest to the author than to the title subject."

    @Norm - that's because a majority of blogs are personal blogs, not corporate or commercial blogs. If someone wants to pay me to write my blog, I will be happy to stay as on topic as possible. Until then ... it's MY blog and if I want to share a personal anecdote or go off on a rant, I will. I don't consider it a "fault." So far, none of the people who have read my blog have complained.