Media notice that blogs are not the enemy

On Blogs

March 18, 2007|By Troy McCullough | Troy McCullough,Sun Columnist

So blogging won't destroy traditional journalism after all.

That's one of the conclusions of the Project for Excellence in Journalism's annual state of the news media report, released last week. The report noted several problems that the mainstream American media are facing in 2007, but blogging no longer appears to be perceived as one of them.

"Much of the talk a few years ago - that blogs would supplant traditional media - seems antiquated now," the report states. "The relationship between blogs and traditional media, in the end, may be more complementary, even synergistic, as time moves on. Citizen journalism, and the interactivity it promises in Web 2.0, increasingly seems to offer the potential of enriching traditional journalism (by enriching citizens), not threatening it."

Several years of bloggers exposing media scandals, highlighting reporting inaccuracies and calling out biases have certainly taken their toll on the media's view of blogs. But blogs serving as media watchdogs is one thing; blogs overtaking traditional journalism is entirely another. Media outlets finally appear to be figuring this out and recognizing that there's a lot more to blogging than partisan sniping.

"While the blogs that generate the most buzz are ones devoted to politics, many popular blogs focus on other topics," the report stated. "Research from Edelman, a public relations firm, found that of the top 100 blogs in the U.S., 34 percent cover technology, 26 percent are about culture, and 25 percent are devoted to politics."

The report noted that blog readership has steadily increased over the past year and estimated that 57 million Americans now read blogs, even as the number of new bloggers appeared to level off in 2006 - about 8 percent of Internet users said they operated their own blogs, which is roughly the same as in 2005.

As previous studies have also pointed out, the PEJ report said that the majority of bloggers do not consider themselves journalists, and precious few were in it for the money. At 7 percent, profit was the least popular motivation that people listed for blogging. The most popular reason, at 57 percent, was creative expression.

None of this sounds like a medium that poses a direct threat to traditional journalism in terms of competition for ad revenues or for readership. And none of it is surprising, particularly to bloggers - many of whom have long puzzled over traditional journalism's reflexive hand-wringing over the blog bogeyman.

Without a doubt, there are plenty of online voices who are demanding and receiving a seat at the mass media table, but their very relationship with traditional journalism appears to be changing. No longer are these bloggers and Web site operators being treated as online menaces or being dismissed as irrelevant. At long last, journalists are recognizing the opportunity offered by this so-called "citizen journalism."

"A larger number of newspapers, indeed, began to allow users to weigh in on particular stories and to upload their own photographs. A few even incorporated citizen blogs alongside those of staff reporters," the report states. "And perhaps since overhead and production costs are relatively low for corporate media companies, citizen-generated content is increasingly becoming part of these sites' DNA. Citizen journalism, in short, is becoming less something that is dismissed as the amateur hour before the professionals take the stage and more something that enriches the conversation."

The question that we in the media should ask is: What took us so long?

troy.mccullough@baltsun.com

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