We are entering a new age of information access and dissemination. Tools that make it easy to publish to the Internet have given millions of people the equivalent of a printing press on their desks and, increasingly, in their pockets. Unless we understand the difference between amateur reporting and personal publishing--and recognize Weblogs as just one form these activities might take--we will not be able to fully understand the implications they have for culture, journalism and society.
Let's start with the Weblog--a frequently updated Web site, with posts arranged in reverse chronological order, so new entries are always on top. Early Webloggers linked to selected news articles and Web pages, usually with a concise description or comment. The creation of software that allowed users to quickly post entries into predesigned templates led to an explosion of short-form diaries, but the reverse-chronological format has remained constant. It is this format that determines whether a Web page is a Weblog.
Note that the form preceded the software. Easy-to-use software has fueled the fast adoption of the form, but Weblogs may be created without it. The Weblog is arguably the first form native to the Web. Its basic unit is the post, not the article or the page. Bloggers write as much or as little as they choose on a topic, and although entries are presented together on the page, each post is given a permalink, so that individual entries can be referenced separately.
Hypertext is fundamental to the practice of Weblogging. When bloggers refer to material that exists online, they invariably link to it. Hypertext allows writers to summarize and contextualize complex stories with links out to numerous primary sources. Most importantly, the link provides a transparency that is impossible with paper. The link allows writers to directly reference any online resource, enabling readers to determine for themselves whether the writer has accurately represented or even understood the referenced piece. Bloggers who reference but do not link material that might, in its entirety, undermine their conclusions, are intellectually dishonest.
Are Weblogs a Form of Journalism?
The early claim, "Weblogs are a new form of journalism," has been gradually revised to "some Weblogs are doing journalism, at least part of the time." As even the enthusiasts now concede, Weblogs used to record memories, plan weddings, or coordinate workgroups can't be classified as journalism by any definition. So in any discussion about Weblogs and journalism, the first question to ask is: Which Weblogs?
The four Weblog types most frequently cited are:
* Those written by journalists;
* Those written by professionals about their industry;
* Those written by individuals at the scene of a major event;
* Those that link primarily to news about current events.
Weblogs maintained for respected news organizations will certainly qualify as journalism if they uphold the same standards as the entire organization. But some argue that independent sites maintained by journalists automatically constitute journalism, simply because their authors are journalists. A Weblog written by a journalist does not necessarily qualify as journalism for the same reason a novel written by a journalist does not: It is the practice that defines the practitioner, not the other way around. The case of Jayson Blair, recently fired from The New York Times for fabricating stories, illustrates that whatever the journalist's reputation or affiliation, journalism is characterized by strict adherence to accepted principles and standards, not by title or professional standing.
Some advocates of Weblogs as journalism point to the Weblogs produced by industry insiders as the future of trade journalism. They argue that, while reporters tend to rely on only a few sources even when reporting very complex stories, Weblogs written by the people working in a field will naturally convey a more complete version of the news about their profession. …