Finding the Truth:  The Citizen Journalist
and the Mainstream Media

 

by Lucy Blomfield

The Bombs in London 

If you wanted to find out about a current event – the failed car bombings in London and Glasgow, for example -- what would be the best source?  In the past, you would turn to a TV Network or large news organization (Mainstream Media - MSM) for your information.  The MSM had the money, and the experienced researchers and reporters to tell the story.

 

But what if you could read many different accounts of eyewitnesses to this event, see their pictures, hear them being interviewed?  What if this network of citizen journalists was able, collectively, to correct itself and to also correct the Mainstream Media? 

 

So which would you choose?

 

Would you not (and this is why the news is so exciting today) choose both?!  The collective story from the eyewitness network, made possible today by computers, the Internet, and individual “BLOGS,” is very different from the MSM.  But it cannot exist without the MSM.  And the MSM cannot now operate without the interactive, dynamic blogs!

 

What is a Blog?  -- Definition and History

A blog (a portmanteau of web log) is a website where entries are often written in chronological order and displayed in reverse chronological order. “Blog” can also be used as a verb, meaning to maintain or add content to a blog.  Blogs provide commentary or news on a particular subject.  Some function more aspersonal online diaries.  The ability for readers to leave comments in an interactive format is an important part of many blogs.1

 

In 1983-84, an individual named Brian Redman and a few associates posted summaries of news postings and threads on the web. “In the 1990’s, Internet forum software, such as WebEx, created running conversations with “threads.”  Threads are topical connections between messages on a metaphorical “corkboard.”  The modern blog evolved in 1994 – 2001 from online diaries.  This was made possible because “…the evolution of tools to facilitate the production and maintenance of web articles posted in reverse chronological order…made the publishing process feasible to a much larger, less technical, population.”  In 2001, several popular American political blogs emerged. Schools of journalism began researching blogs, and noted “the differences between journalism and blogging.” 2

 

How Did Blogs Become Influential?

One of the turning points for bloggers occurred in 2002.  U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said in a speech that the U.S. would have been better off if Senator Strom Thurmond had been elected President.  This comment was viewed as supporting racial segregation – which Thurmond had advocated in his 1948 presidential campaign.  Bloggers researched and reported the story before the MSM.  Trent Lott was eventually forced to resign as Majority Leader. 3

 

In 2004, bloggers brought to light (through many individual Internet “postings” with parts of the truth) the inaccuracy of documents Dan Rather presented about President Bush’s military service record.  CBS was forced to apologize.  Blogging grew in influence. 

 

Large, powerful conglomerates have purchased many radio and TV stations and newspapers.  Rupert Murdock’s purchase of The Wall Street Journal is an example.  As large companies now control smaller MSM organizations, profit is perceived as their main goal. Many MSM organizations are now seen as not operating for the public good. This has contributed to loss of trust by their audience. The audience, searching for more independent media, has turned to the Internet.

 

Viewers and listeners, using computers, also wanted news at their convenience.  They often wanted continuous news from many sources that the Internet has made possible.  Pod casting further fragmented newsgathering. 

 

 

How Many Blogs are on the Internet Today?  How Many People Access Blogs?

 How many blogs are on the Interest, and how many people access them?

 

In May 2007, the blog search engine Technorati was tracking more than 71 million blogs!  A blog called DailyKos has one million visits a day during peak events – only one prominent example. 4

 

New, Informal Voices Complement the MSM

The MSM used to see blogs as the antithesis of journalism, but that has changed.  The MSM have their television and radio presence, but most networks now have websites that encourage participation by their web visitors.  For example, the BBC reported the collapse of the Interstate 35 Bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota in the US.  The story was on their website.  Beneath the story was a comment space for eyewitnesses to post their story or submit pictures of the disaster. 

 

Many MSM journalists write their own blogs – about 300 currently. 5

 

Soldier and citizen bloggers from many nations have presented their views of the War in Iraq – giving the world a more complete picture of events there. Iraq is seen as the first “Blog War.” What they have written has sometimes contradicted the reports of traditional news agencies.  The accounts have often been seen as more reliable than MSM reports. 

 

An important blog from Asia is Global Voices Online.  Many topics covered by GVO are not reported in the MSM.

 

 

Listeners Setting News Agendas

A dynamic and influential program (imitated by other networks) where listeners set the agenda is the BBC’s "World Have Your Say".  Broadcast daily, the show travels to different locations throughout the world.  Local issues influence topics discussed on the show. 

 

In February 2007, a program was broadcast from The Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in the US.  The show’s topic was the Egyptian blogger Abdel Kareen Nabil Suleiman, who was given a four-year prison sentence for what he wrote on his blog. Callers called in via phone, text messaging and e-mail from  Egypt, Iran, Iraq,  Nigeria, India, France (the caller from France was from Reporters Without Borders) and other countries.

 

WHYS has a blog where the discussion begins before the show & continues afterwards.  This international participatory aspect of this show makes other traditional news programs seem one-dimensional and static.

 

Another example of listeners setting the agenda was the Democratic Candidates  “YouTube” debate. Ordinary citizens made videos (more than 2,000 were made) that were posted on YouTube that asked the candidates questions.  Some were selected to be on the show, which was produced by CNN and YouTube.

 

 

Economics:  What Will the Media Look Like in 10 Years? 

Fragmentation has affected many media organizations. Newspapers have been especially affected, and readership has declined.  The result has been:  The Boston Globe closed its foreign bureaus, The Atlanta Constitution cut some of its staff,  The Minneapolis Star & Tribune sold for half the value (compared to the previous year).

 

The situation is changing very rapidly. It is difficult to know whether newspapers are dying or simply in transition.  The current dilemma is:  How can the Internet – blogging audience be turned into a paying audience? 6

 

Conclusion 

The Internet and Blogs have changed the way many of us now get our news. The concept of a “primary medium” is rapidly departing, as audiences tune in to “user-contributed” websites.

 

“Does this mean the old media is dead? Not at all. Blogs depend on the journalistic resources of big media to do the bulk of reporting and analysis. What blogs do is provide the best scrutiny of big media imaginable — ratcheting up the standards of the professionals, adding new voices, new perspectives and new facts every minute. The genius lies not so much in the bloggers themselves but in the transparent system they have created. In an era of polarized debate, the truth has never been more available.” 7

 

 

Journalism scholar James Carey has said, “Journalism in its essence is a conversation among citizens.”8   The cyber process has made the conversation of many citizens possible. The dynamic contribution of many citizens brings a collective, corrective voice to the news. Each view is important, and complements the other views.  This treasury of voices of the participatory culture has brought us closer to the truth.

 

References:

1, 2,3,4,5   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blogging

6,8  NPR, Talk of the Nation, A report from The Study for the Project or Excellence in Journalism, March 12, 2007.

7  Time Magazine, “A Blogger’s Creed,” by Andrew Sullivan, Sept. 23, 2004.

 

 

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