June 22, 2007

Blogger media – a new branch of journalism?

BOULDER – Are bloggers journalists?

Some regard this question as a burning issue. Others think it’s the wrong question. In any case, blogging poses challenges to mainstream media and its canons.

A blog is a journal-like Web site that showcases the observations and opinions of an author or group of writers. Entries usually appear in reverse chronological order.

SPONSORED CONTENT

5 ways to boost your business with solar

Namaste Solar has helped businesses from all different industries and verticals invest in on-site solar. Whether you are a top public university, outdoor gear retailer, or local dog toy manufacturer, most property owners can benefit from solar in these five ways.

“Conversation” is the buzzword of the blogosphere – the realm of people who express their ideas online. Many blogs invite reader responses and comments.

According to Gartner Inc., an industry analyst firm focused on information technology, the number of bloggers peaked at 100 million earlier this year.

Some bloggers clearly are journalists. A study conducted by the Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism found that 75 percent of the largest U.S. newspapers offer blogs on business-related topics.

Typically written by staff reporters, these blogs transmit breaking news to readers quicker than print technology allows.

For most, however, blogs are a personal journal or a hobby. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, more than a third of bloggers write about their own experiences.

Wendy Norris, managing editor of Colorado Confidential, a Web publication focused on politics, said the crucial question in the blogger versus journalist debate is not about the technology. She said it makes no difference whether writers use typewriters or personal computers or whether their works appear “in print or in pixels.”

At Colorado Confidential, Norris said, “We regard ourselves as journalists” although contributors use blogging software.

Preparing a newspaper column and developing a blog require the same work, she explained. The writing “varies somewhat” because of differences between the way people read print material and the way they read online.

Norris said the difference between journalists and others is the process they employ and the kind of content they produce.

Colorado Confidential, like mainstream print and broadcast media, has editorial direction as well as research, fact-checking and copy-editing processes. As a nonprofit organization, it separates editorial functions from fundraising initiatives. It operates under a code of ethics similar to that promulgated by the Society of Professional Journalists.

A 1972 Supreme Court decision lends support to Norris’ view. Writing the majority opinion, Justice Byron White characterized as “traditional doctrine” – the idea that freedom of the press “is the right of the lonely pamphleteer who uses carbon paper and a mimeograph just as much as the large metropolitan publisher who utilizes the latest photocomposition methods.”

White added, “The press, in its historic connotation, comprehends every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion.”

Among the 34 percent of bloggers who regard themselves as journalists, some seek recognition as reporters to gain the legal privilege of refusing to disclose their information sources in certain circumstances.

Malia Zimmerman, editor of Hawaiireporter.com, is now engaged in litigation about whether she must disclose the sources behind her Web posting regarding the lethal failure of a dam on Kauai.

In California, freelance videoblogger Joshua Wolf spent 226 days in jail because he refused to turn over to officials the video outtakes of an anti-globalization protest.

Media law expert Thomas B. Kelley, a partner in the Denver office of Levine Sullivan Koch and Schultz LLP, said a blog that appears regularly and provides news or information related to public affairs would probably qualify as a periodical under Colorado’s shield law.

Sandra Fish, a journalism instructor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, doesn’t think an individual needs a degree to be a journalist, but she noted that not all bloggers are journalists.

“It depends upon what people are doing. I think at some point there is going to have to be a distinction made about what is blogging and what is reporting,” Fish said. “There are a lot of people out there who are ‘riffing’ on the news, as I call it, and where would they be without journalists? Then there are people out there who are offering an interesting combination of reporting and commentary. I think if you do something the right way, you’re a journalist.”

Fish added that people are starting to look for news that suits their individual biases – a contemporary shift that she described as dangerous.

“One of the things that’s happening during this technological shift we’re going through is that people seek out what they want to hear, and that’s a problem,” she said.

Bloggers still face resistance from some mainstream journalists. Some would exclude bloggers from the profession if they lack formal training.

Norris rejects that view. Journalism, she insists, is not limited to the credentialed.

“Going to journalism school doesn’t necessarily give you higher ethics or make you a better writer,” she claimed. “It doesn’t sprinkle pixie dust on you.”

According to Amy Gahran, a Boulder-based blogging guru, “Anyone can commit an act of journalism.” In a recent blog, she characterized journalism as “a collection of practices that can be done by anyone – not just a select few anointed by certain types of employers or degrees.”

Another point of conflict between bloggers and mainstream journalists concerns objectivity, a canon of traditional journalism. Many bloggers regard journalism as public advocacy. Norris noted that 19th century American print publications as well as contemporary European and Asian newspapers openly express political perspectives, and not just on the editorial page.

While some mainstream journalists regard this as less than professional, Geneva Overholser, a veteran of The New York Times and The Washington Post, reported that the ideal of objectivity is eroding under the influence of the opinionated tone of some online journalism.

Norris does not believe that embracing advocacy diminishes the quality of reporting. “You still have to tell a story, do it honestly and get the facts right,” she said. In her experience, online readers provide a variety of perspectives as well as instant fact checking.

Copy Editor Bob McGovern contributed to this report.

BOULDER – Are bloggers journalists?

Some regard this question as a burning issue. Others think it’s the wrong question. In any case, blogging poses challenges to mainstream media and its canons.

A blog is a journal-like Web site that showcases the observations and opinions of an author or group of writers. Entries usually appear in reverse chronological order.

“Conversation” is the buzzword of the blogosphere – the realm of people who express their ideas online. Many blogs invite reader responses and comments.

According to Gartner Inc., an industry analyst firm focused on information technology, the number of bloggers peaked at 100 million earlier this…

Categories:
Sign up for BizWest Daily Alerts