Weblogs and Journalism

Nieman Reports, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Weblogs and Journalism


At a time when access to the high-speed Internet is getting easier and do-it-yourself publishing software abounds, Weblogs are cyberspace's quick-moving, multilinked, interactive venues of choice for millions of people wanting to share information and opinions, commentary and news. In launching the Chicago Tribune's Weblog in August, columnist Eric Zorn--who writes that paper's daily Weblog Breaking Views--described his new role as "leading the Tribune into this emerging hybrid media form."

In this section of Nieman Reports, bloggers and journalists (some of whom wear both hats) write about the points of convergence and divergence of Weblogs and journalism. What separates these forms of communication? How do they influence each other? Is what's happening on Weblogs changing how journalists do their jobs and, if so, in what ways? Can news organizations embrace Weblogs and maintain the standards of the craft?

Weblogger Rebecca Blood, author of "The Weblog Handbook," tackles the issue of how Weblogs and journalism are connected. Many bloggers, Blood argues, are a part of what she calls "participatory media," highlighting and framing news reported by journalists, "a practice potentially as important as--but different from--journalism." Blood does not expect that bloggers will adhere to the journalistic standards of fairness and accuracy but regards transparency "as the touchstone for ethical blogging." Paul Andrews, a Seattle Times technology columnist and Weblogger, contends that blogs, acting as catalysts, "are transforming the ways in which journalism is practiced today ... [by nudging] print media to richer and more balanced sourcing outside the traditional halls of government and corporations." Bill Mitchell, editor of Poynter Online, envisions Weblogs as improving journalism by helping news organizations "become more interesting, more credible, even essential." As he writes, "Especially when big news breaks, it's tough to beat a Weblog."

Tom Regan, who cowrites two blogs on The Christian Science Monitor's Web site, gives examples of how bloggers "have forced traditional news organizations to change the way they covered a big story" and examines several areas of threat that some journalists feel from Weblogs. J.D. Lasica, a blogger and senior editor of the Online Journalism Review, observes that blogging communities exist on "grassroots reporting, annotative reporting, commentary and fact-checking, which the mainstream media feed upon, developing them as a pool of tips, sources and story ideas. The relationship is symbiotic." And he contends, blogging is beneficial to news organizations. Former investigative reporter Paul Grabowicz, who teaches journalism students about Weblogs at the University of California at Berkeley, believes blogging can help journalism "to regain the public trust" by inviting readers to participate instead of seeming impervious to correction. "... this don't-bother-calling-me attitude--all too common in journalism--is a message that has been taken to heart by the public."

Sheila Lennon, a blogger and features and interactive producer at The Providence Journal's Web site, explains how bloggers expand the news media's agenda "by finding and flagging ideas and events until traditional media covers them in more depth." She shows how her paper's Weblog gave readers a way to share information about Rhode Island's deadly nightclub fire in February and how that "reporting" helped to shape the paper's news coverage. Dan Gillmor, technology columnist and blogger for the San Jose Mercury News, uses his newsgathering approach to illustrate how blogging conversations with readers provides ideas and information for his reporting. …

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