Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Blogs as news? Let readers decide

From Anonymous:

http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/opinion/11422791.htm

San Jose Mercury News Mon, Apr. 18, 2005

Blogs as news? Let readers decide
DEBATE OVER FUTURE OF JOURNALISM CONFUSES THE MESSAGE WITH MEDIUM
By Richard Craig


Blogs are the best thing that's ever happened to journalism. Or they're going to kill it. One or the other.

Weblogs are undeniably the hottest online venue for information. In the debate over their possible impact, however, there seems to be no middle ground.

Blog enthusiasts trumpet the venue's democratization of information, seeing a future where everyone participates in informing everyone else, and where stodgy old newspapers no longer have a monopoly on news. Detractors respond that most bloggers have no accountability, training or professional standards to follow, and that the blizzard of blogs makes it hard for users to discern the credible from the incredible.

Can't we all just get along?

Before making any bold pronouncements about blogs' relevance, we should examine whether blogging actually constitutes journalism or simply the posting of a public diary. The recent Apple lawsuit aimed at making bloggers reveal sources that leaked proprietary information has turned this from a semantic to a legal debate.

Outside the legal arena, however, what's silly about this is that the dimensions of the dispute -- ``Is blogging journalism or not?'' -- ignore a truth that's obvious to those without an agenda. Declaring that blogs equal journalism is like saying that television equals journalism -- people mistake the medium for the message.

The overwhelming majority of blogs on the Web have nothing to do with journalism -- most provide nothing more newsworthy than photos of a blogger's children, discussions of a recent vacation or perhaps opinions on such weighty questions as ``Why are the drivers around here such idiots?'' A tiny minority choose to gather and report news, and, among these, there are outlets both legitimate and loony.

Whether you're a judge or just a reader, good reporting is generally self-evident, and it's not necessarily the exclusive property of the journalism industry. Freedom of information has always been a bedrock principle of journalism, so why should journalists themselves suddenly want to impose professional boundaries upon it?

This leads directly to a second issue. Most professional journalists have been trained not only in writing and gathering information but also in the standards of their profession. While journalism has no Hippocratic oath, it does have guidelines that informally govern the behavior of reporters and editors. Most notably, the Society of Professional Journalists has a detailed code of ethics outlining principles of professional integrity. Some journalists argue that because bloggers need not adhere to such standards, why should traditional media protections apply to them?

Unfortunately, while most reporters and editors operate honestly, in many minds the recent well-publicized ethical lapses of a few journalists have cost the industry its moral high ground. Indeed, there's been plenty of recent evidence to suggest that blogs may provide a good antidote for this, as most of journalism's most recent high-profile blunders were exposed by bloggers.

While the pro- and anti-blog screedfest continues, some smart journalists have begun to see a very different future for news reporting. In looking forward, they also look backward, seeing the business of news in a larger historical and social context. They see precedence for less ``legitimate'' news sources having a positive effect on American society.

Our nation's founders saw the press as an essential element to the functioning of a healthy democracy. They envisioned an ongoing public discourse that would drive debate and policy, and saw the press as a vital venue for that discourse. Toward that end, early U.S. newspapers were participatory in nature. They included personal news, eyewitness accounts and other elements that made them part of the fabric of their communities.

In some ways, blogs might help to restore such a model. They could easily supplement traditional media outlets, giving voice to less-publicized people, causes and points of view. They also could force mainstream media outlets to maintain high standards and take a fresh look at the subjects they cover.

Not every blog is a news outlet. But shouldn't it be up to readers to decide what's news and what isn't?

- RICHARD CRAIG is an assistant professor in the School of Journalism & Mass Communications at San Jose State University. He is the author of the book ``Online Journalism: Reporting, Writing and Editing for New Media,'' and numerous articles and papers on the online medium. He will be a participant in ``Joining the Blogosphere,'' a public forum hosted by the Commonwealth Club Silicon Valley at 7 p.m. Tuesday at San Jose's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library.


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