Blogs doing something new with the news

ON BLOGS

October 30, 2005|By TROY MCCULLOUGH

Interesting things are happening where blogs and journalism collide.

Several online innovators and a few traditional news outlets have begun pairing news stories with Web pundits, and in the process are quietly changing the way many people read and process news.

Conversations are opening up. Headlines are finding a broader context. The news, in essence, is becoming newsier.

The challenge - as always on the Web - is how to find intelligent voices amid the endless chatter. But almost-daily developments are making it easier than ever.

In a prominent step, Yahoo News recently began including blog entries in its search results - which caused no small amount of grumbling in some media circles about the erosion of lines between reputable news sources and opinion-heavy but fact-light Web denizens.

But the grumblers missed the point. Yahoo's move was not meant to equate bloggers with journalists; it was an attempt to provide readers access to wider discussions that people were having on the news. The results range from slightly interesting to incredibly informative.

Searching recently on news. yahoo.com for stories about Iraq, the day's news articles appeared on the left side of the search page, and a handful of related blog entries showed up on the right - including passionate essays for and against the war, questions about whether Syria will be drawn into the conflict, a debate on interrogation techniques used on Iraqi prisoners and an entry linking to recordings of interviews with veterans talking about their tours of duty.

Just a few clicks of the mouse button, and you're well beyond the day's headlines.

Traditional news outfits have picked up on the value of this.

This fall, The Washington Post Co. teamed up with the prominent blog tracker technorati.com to pair blog commentary with its news stories. Click on any article on the Post or Newsweek Web site and you get a box highlighting what bloggers are saying about that article.

"News is not static. With the help of the Web, interesting stories immediately become part of a broader national conversation," said washingtonpost.com executive editor Jim Brady, in a news release.

This conversation happens even without newspaper involvement.

BlogRunner operates an independent site called annotated times.blogrunner.com, which tracks New York Times articles and the blogs commenting on them.

Memeorandum.com goes even further by tracking thousands of traditional news sites and blogs and listing both according to topic.

"The Web is humming with discussions on politics and current affairs. Memeorandum is page A1 for these conversations," the site says.

It updates every five minutes, which makes for blazing fast news reports and blog commentary.

Similarly, blogniscient.com uses a computer algorithm to list and rank blog posts related to current events.

And perhaps simplest of all, Google's blogsearch.google.com has quickly become a powerful tool enabling people to find relevant views on whatever topic they choose. Type in a few key terms on any current topic - "hurricanes," "world series," "bird flu" - and an array of blogs with entries on those topics appear on your screen. It's not the news, but rather a broader discussion on the news, a broader context in which to view the facts.

The lines indeed are blurring.

And we are becoming more thoughtful consumers of news because of it.

troy.mccullough@baltsun.com

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