Citizen Journalism and Blogs

What exactly is a Web log?

There are various definitions, including these given a few years back by blogger-journalists participating in a national Online News Association conference in Berkeley, Calif.:

  • “It’s a template with dynamic content, updated frequently, with links. It doesn’t have to be commentary.”—Denise Polverine, editor in chief of www.Cleveland.com, which started several Weblogs in spring 2003
  • “It’s a new form of journalism. It’s irreverent, it’s not in the authoritarian male voice…and transparency is important.” --Sheila Lennon, who writes a blog on www.projo.com
  • “Blogging is a conversation…” –Jeff Jarvis, president and creative director of Advance.net
  • “Call it participatory journalism or journalism from the edges. Simply put, it refers to individuals playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, sorting, analyzing and disseminating news and information—a task once reserved almost exclusively to the news media”; and “an emerging new media ecosystem—a network of ideas.”-- J.D. Lasica, senior editor of OJR, writing in the fall 2003 Nieman Reports
  • “It should be obvious that Weblogs aren’t competing with the work of the professional journalism establishment, but rather complementing it.”—Managing Editor Scott Rosenberg writing in Salon in 2002.

    Many would agree: blogs are updated often, from the top down; they include reader comments and questions; they include links to documents or stories; they can build a non-geographic or a geographic community; they can be written with attitude and edge.

    Who’s doing it?

    Leslie Walker, who until late-summer 2006 wrote a dot.com column for The Washington Post, reported that free blogging tools have been available since 1999, but they didn’t catch on in a big way until the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. She quoted Evan Williams, chief executive of one of the earliest tools—blogger.com—saying that site had more than a million registered users in early 2003.

    Technorati, which allows users to search for blogs (www.technoratic.com), was tracking 60 million sites as of late November 2006.

    Teens are turning to blogging in a big way: A November 2005 Pew Internet & American Life Project study reported that 4 million youths between the ages of 12 and 17 had made a Web log--or 19 percent of teen Internet users.

    But Web logs have also played an important role in emerging democracies.

    Jeff Jarvis estimated that in 2003 there were about 100,000 Weblogs in Iran. He said: “Countries without free speech are finding free speech in Weblogs.”

Are there negatives to blogging?

Tom Regan, associate editor of csmonitor.com, wrote in the fall 2003 Nieman Reports: “In the eyes of many journalists, blogs are poorly written, self-absorbed, hyper-opinionated, and done by amateurs.”

Some have called the citizen writing on them a threat to the gatekeeper role that news organizations have held.

On the flip side, supporters have argued: “They introduce fresh voices into the national discourse on various topics and help build communities of interest through their collection of links.”—Walter Mossberg writing in the Wall Street Journal in March 2003.

On a personal note: They are a good way to stay in touch with friends and family, while traveling or studying abroad.

And, of course, lots of political stories have been influenced by bloggers:

  • Then-Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott’s comments in 2002 about how the country would have been better off had they elected segregationist presidential candidate Sen. Strom Thurmond in 1948 eventually cost him his leadership post. Initially, the mainstream media ignored the comments, which Lott made at a birthday party for Thurmond. But bloggers kept the story alive, and Lott stepped down as minority leader.
  • During the last presidential election, bloggers questioned the credibility of CBS News Anchor Dan Rather’s September 2004 piece, which alleged President Bush had used influence to evade the draft and join the Texas National Guard. Bloggers raised the possibility that the documents Rather and his producers built the story around had been forged; Rather later resigned the anchor job.

In addition, citizen reporters and bloggers helped the Times Picayune in New Orleans to report on the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in fall of 2005.

Commonly used blogger publishing tools:

Sites to check out:
Washingtonpost.com’s Best Blogs Politics and Elections page, based on readers’ picks for 2004: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-adv/marketing/blog/. Among the blogs picked are Wonkette (http://http://www.wonkette.com/) and National Review’s The Corner (http://www.nationalreview.com/thecorner/corner.asp).

Also check out: Jeff Jarvis’ www.BuzzMachine.com, Andrew Sullivan’s “The Daily Dish” at www.andrewsullivan.com, Glenn Harlan Reynolds’ www.instapundit.com and
E-Media Tidbits, http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=31, with postings by a gaggle of new-media experts.

And, of course, go to www.Technorati.com to find out who’s linking to whom in the Weblog universe, and to search by topic.

No comments: