RECENTLY, THE FIRST "blogger" was given credentials by the White House to attend the daily press briefings. The implication is that bloggers have a status similar to that of journalists. Naturally, this makes mainstream journalists react with hand-wringing, worrying that their professionalism is being compromised by "quasi-journalists," or worse.
Before addressing the larger issues of the relationship between bloggers and journalism, key concepts need to be made clear. "Blog" is short for "Web log" and generally connotes an online journal that is managed by one person or a group of individuals (bloggers).
Blogs considered collectively are the "blogosphere." As a blog is a journal, there are usually multiple daily postings to the Web site about contemporary events or issues, and links are provided to articles, news stories and other blogs.
The subject matter of blogs and the type of people who run them vary considerably. Many blogs are political, but others are devoted to sports, photography and medicine. Some bloggers have no expertise in their subject matter, while others have extensive knowledge and backgrounds.
Finally, blogs differ widely in their credibility. Some bloggers think little about the information they pass along or how they characterize it, while others worry greatly about what one might call ethical standards of presenting information.
As to the question of the relationship between blogging and journalism, journalists, or members of the "old media" (print news and major news networks), often make the case that blogging is a detriment to the public good. This argument often highlights two major disadvantages of bloggers: their bias and their lack of expertise.
Bloggers are characterized as being ideologically motivated (some of the most influential bloggers have been conservative) and therefore prejudiced in their presentation of information. Moreover, bloggers are seen as being neophytes, as people sitting at home in their pajamas - as one "old media" insider snidely put it in September - with little knowledge or experience reporting on critical issues.
Counterpoised to these bloggers are professional reporters with extensive backgrounds in subject areas and, what's more, journalistic training that promotes objectivity.
To be sure, some bloggers are biased and will pass along gossip or even blatantly untrue incidents; there are also many uninformed and inexperienced bloggers. But one can certainly find mainstream journalists who are partisan and who often opine on issues beyond their ken. The larger question is this: Are these "bad" bloggers outright liars or typical?
Most of the top political blogs and bloggers set rather high standards in their commentary and "reporting." And because of this, bloggers offer a critical service to journalists. While they will not and should not replace journalists - bloggers who think so are getting quite ahead of themselves - their influence is largely positive. Top blogs on the left and the right, such as Eschaton, Talking Points Memo, InstaPundit, National Review's The Corner and Andrew Sullivan, to name a few, have set a high bar of credibility and illustrate that blogs and mainstream journalism together can contribute measurably to the public good.
Much of what these top blogs discuss and critique are stories produced by major journalists. While some bloggers are journalists, few see themselves as traditional journalists. Rather, they see themselves as commentators and public intellectuals. At any rate, they reinforce the work of other journalists even while they sometimes critique and question them.
Moreover, they discuss and provide links to such a large amount of information that they greatly aid readers in organizing and synthesizing information. Some Washington insiders are now seeing this virtue in blogs and start their mornings with a look at the blogs before picking up The Washington Post or The New York Times.
Further, blogs are more grass-roots than the mainstream media. Most top blogs are reader-friendly in that they communicate regularly with their readers (often posting comments and critiques from readers) or have "comments" sections on the blogs where readers can post the functional equivalent of a "letter to the editor."
This allows bloggers to quickly correct mistakes and get perspectives from individuals - some of whom are experts on the issues at hand - from all across America and the world. This is something at which the mainstream media are not particularly adept.
Finally and most important, bloggers (on both the left and right) watch the presentation of the news by mainstream journalists and offer critiques. They are like an additional layer of fact-checkers and bias-detectors. True, there is sometimes a witch hunt mentality among bloggers. But more often, they point out very real biases and mistakes in the presentation and characterization of the news, and in the process help to improve the work of journalists.
Mainstream journalists often see themselves as "surrogates of the people." Bloggers have shown the limitation of this characterization. Yet bloggers may also help to make the characterization more appropriate. Mainstream journalists should welcome the rise of blogging.
Michael J. Korzi is an assistant professor of political science at Towson University.