Meadville Tribune


September 5, 2006

Column: How blogging is challenging traditional journalism

NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — In this age of the blogosphere, journalists need a clear eye and a sure foot to walk that narrow line between reporting the news and advocating about it. There's increasing temptation to cross the line, given the proliferation of cyberspace commentary camouflaged as news.

Nearly everybody, of course, has opinions about the news. That includes reporters and editors. But they are trained to set aside their personal sentiments and play it straight. Fairness, balance and accuracy are supposed to be their guiding principles.

In cyberspace, that's the exception instead of the rule. Blogs and other forms of conversation on the Web, by their untamed nature, tend toward partisan speculation, assumption and bias. Credibility doesn't seem to matter.

Yet blogs are growing in popularity, reports James Gentry, dean of journalism at the University of Kansas. He told a seminar I attended at the Society of Professional Journalists convention in Chicago last week that a new blog is created almost every second.

The aggregate number of blogs on the Web is now in the 30 million range, reports Gentry. That compares with about 10,000 daily and weekly U.S. newspapers, and a like number of radio, television and cable outlets that provide at least some news.

"The business is changing right before your eyes," said Gentry. "Ordinary members of the public are turning into photographers and reporters. It is a world of mine, yours and ours."

This do-it-yourself journalism is practiced with camera phones, digital recorders and keyboards connected to the Internet. Everything from pet pictures to the sounds of the war in Iraq can be found on blogs. The vast majority are simply stream-of-consciousness text ramblings on general and special-interest topics.

Academics have labeled it "citizen journalism," and warnings that it could further fragment the media market have moved many news organizations to create their own blogs. They are seen as another way to provide news and improve communication with the communities they seek to serve. A newspaper in Madison, Wis., for example, even allows its readers to select stories for the next day's front page.

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