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Blogs as journalism's not-so-evil twin

New Internet technologies redefining the news

By Michael Stoll
Posted Sept. 22, 2004
Updated Sept. 24, 2004*

We as bloggers cannot live without journalists, and we as journalists cannot live without bloggers.
-- Mary Hodder, Technorati
The effect of blogs and other new Internet technologies on journalism seems to be accelerating. And even though bloggers are not necessarily journalists, it's clear they still have something valuable to contribute.

Just in the last week, Bay Area online journalists saw something portentous in the role that Web loggers played -- as a slew of personal online diaries quickly questioned the authenticity of memos from CBS News alleging George Bush shirked his National Guard duties.

This was the hot topic at a conclave of the Online News Association in San Francisco Tuesday night.

"As of today, as of this story, they can't live without each other," said Mary Hodder, who measures the linkages among blogs for Technorati.com. "We as bloggers cannot live without journalists, and we as journalists cannot live without bloggers."

Bloggers may not hold themselves up to the same ethical standards as journalists, but they exist in a "symbiotic" relationship, Ms. Hodder said: Journalists realize that bloggers can muster more brainpower far more quickly to do things like fact-checking. But bloggers need journalists to research, legitimize and propagate their messages.

To me, blogging has made that little socialist dream come true.
-- Jackson West, SFist.com

Before Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz published his piece on CBS's gaffe, hundreds of blogs linked to one another -- one site was referenced by more than 200 other blogs within 12 hours, Ms. Hodder said.

That kind of clout is empowering, said Jackson West, who runs the San Francisco-focused blog SFist.com. In about 2000, he said, the population of potential diarists and the new blog-writing software came together.

"It's a lot of work," Mr. West said. "We have scooped the paper on a couple of occasions. On a couple of occasions we could have scooped the paper if people weren't sick, drunk or out dancing with their boyfriends, or whatever. But the idea is that we're just poor kids out there writing."

Technology, he said, has turned A.J. Liebling's classic media critique, that the freedom of the press belongs only to those who own one, on its head: "To me, blogging has made that little socialist dream real," Mr. West said.

This kind of bottom-up emerging media coverage is something that the traditional media is certainly needing to respond to.
-- Jeffrey Veen, Adaptive Path

"This kind of bottom-up emerging media coverage is something that the traditional media is certainly needing to respond to," said Jeffrey Veen, founding partner of the consulting firm Adaptive Path.

"Everyone sort of thinks, I'm an amateur journalist, and when you have the thousands -- then millions -- of people who are doing this, and sort of self-organizing around those stories that are interesting and happening all the time, well that's where the interesting stuff starts to emerge."

But bloggers shouldn't become too complacent, he said. As San Jose Mercury News technology writer Dan Gillmor points out in his new book, "We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People," examples of the "amateurization" of journalism and media are popping up all over the place. Wikipedia, an online collaborative encyclopedia that anyone can change, has just posted its one millionth article. Craigslist has destroyed many newspapers' classified sections. And sites such as upcoming.org, which allows visitors to see what music events their friends plan to attend, are drawing readers away from weekly papers.

Right now, this is an incredibly small phenomenon.
-- Scott Rosenberg, Salon.com

In a panel discussion (listen online in mp3 format courtesy of www.niallkennedy.com) Scott Rosenberg, managing editor of Salon.com, said he sees news "aggregators" as the next revolutionary technology. Programs that use RSS, or "Really Simple Syndication," to pull together news from all sorts of Web sites, including blogs, is poised to become a mainstream Web tool because it provides an easy-to-use, completely customizable news portal. Still, only half the online journalists in attendance said they actually used news aggregators.

Other speakers at the talk included political animation cartoonist Mark Fiore, who described the Web's potential for high-impact multimedia commentary; Bill Gannon, editorial director of Yahoo!, who described the efforts of what he called the Web's leading news aggregation site to balance hard news with the bottom line; Jeff Pelline, editor of CNet News.com, who described the evolution of his technology-review site from a news portal to a news provider; and Tim Olson, interactive director at KQED.org, who spoke about the public broadcaster's ability to go into depth about issues in Web features such as "You Decide."

*We edited to remove a partial quote of Mr. West's that some readers found classist and a distraction from the article's import. J.M.

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