November 30, 2007

Final Blog Paper

“I would define a journalist as someone who brings news to the public,” said Martin Garbus, the First Amendment lawyer who represented Josh Wolf, a 24-year-old blogger who spent more than six months in prison for refusing to turn a videotape of a protest he filmed over to the courts (1). Garbus’s description of what makes a journalist is an accurate one, and he was advocating that his client was one. However, after a semester of contributing to and immersing myself in the blog world, I realize that this description does not necessarily apply to blogging and bloggers themselves, as much as they might like it to. Blogging has the potential to be journalism, and when it is done at its finest, it is. Much of what I have seen and done in blogging is not journalism. Blogging is however a pervasive and effective form of dissident media, one that works against hegemony and improves the dissemination of information that Stephen Brookfield, in his essay on critical theory, says is essential for an adult population to truly “practice democracy.” (2)
What stood out in the Dissident Media class blog “Renewing Political Debate” was not, for the most part, journalism, but rather analysis, opinion, and taking existing news from established media sources and compiling it in a useful way. The blogging that took place was indeed a valuable form of the practice. Even if the information was gathered primarily from existing sources, which does not “contest hegemony” as Brookfield says, the analysis and debate among the bloggers that resulted from the information, does.
As I mentioned earlier, when blogging is practiced at its finest, it is journalism. The political blog “The Washington Note” is a source for news and analysis which utilizes the immediacy and personality of blogging and combines that with original reporting and the ethic of accuracy that professional journalists carry. When blogging reaches this high plain I believe that it outmatches other traditional forms of reporting news due to its immediacy.
Good examples of this that occurred over the semester were the live blogging that was done in the classroom when the guest speaker, Newt Gingrich’s press aide, talked about the ongoing effort to renew political debate. Another was the “long blog post” assignment, which required original reporting. In these two instances the full potential of blogging, not only as a dissident media, but as a form of effective journalism, was realized.
There is no question as to blogging’s effectiveness as a dissident media. The way it allows for information to be spread, instantly shared, analyzed, and debated confirms this. In some ways it mirrors the way in which which dissident publications throughout America’s history dealt with ridicule from the mainstream press. Blogging is embraced by many in the mainstream journalism community, but there are also many who view it with extreme skepticism, such as Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Michael Skube. “Bloggers have all the liberties of a traditional journalist but few of the obligations,” he writes in his article “Blogs: All The Noise That Fits.” Through working with blogs this semester it is clear to me that they are an invaluable part of today’s dissident media, but at the same time I can’t help but feel some of the skepticism and worry that Skube does. (4)
Many of the specific points about blogging that cause me to feel this way are highlighted in the articles written by Steve Outing about what bloggers and journalists can learn from each other. Outing is right in that the two sides do have room to learn from each other, and need to. However, I feel that bloggers need to take advice from journalism more desperately if their craft is going to develop and maintain the trust of readers. Outing writes: “with so many new people involved in blogging, most of them having no training in journalism practices, ethics, and media law, personal legal liability is a big deal...In the years ahead, I expect to see some solo bloggers get in trouble.” This is a major issue, especially in a blogging world that is highly opinionated and is often quick to make accusations without doing the proper journalistic “legwork.” By that I mean talking to multiple sources, fact-checking, and so on. “Here’s something you frequently see with bloggers that trained journalists usually avoid: Making accusations or strong criticisms without asking the target for reaction,” says Outing (3). It wouldn’t take too many high-profile libel cases of bloggers to put blogging’s reliability and usefulness into question with American readers. I’m well aware that some in the blogging community do practice their craft with journalism’s ethical and accuracy standards, and if there were embraced fully by the blogging world as a whole, than it would be stronger for it.
As stated before, blogging is dissident media’s newest and currently most effective outlet. It successfully contests the hegemony that mainstream journalism tends to enforce, and when blogging is performed at its finest level, it surpasses mainstream modes of journalism with its combination of solid reporting and instant accessibility. Blogging is still, through my experience, a new form of media which still has a lot of growing to do, and responsibility to accept. If the blog world can keep its creativity and accessibility while adopting more of the ethics of professional journalism, it will be not only an excellent form of dissident media, but the primary news and reporting form as well.

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