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Are Bloggers Really Journalists?

A big post-election discussion in the blogosphere this week is whether the Republican party will overreach with its agenda, now that it has extended its hold on the House and Senate in the wake of President Bush's re-election.

As bloggers grow in readership and influence in the media world, they might consider the same question.

By that I mean this: Blogs are a welcome reminder of the importance of grassroots media, of staying in touch, and keeping media arrogance in check with their form of fact-checking. They are here to stay and have forever changed how the media does its job. That's good.

But when bloggers start to consider themselves journalists in the traditional sense -- without adopting any standards and practices in use in old and new media -- they risk becoming what they often detest and deplore in traditional and new media.

Take the blogs that ran with the faulty exit polls showing a big lead for Kerry early on in the election results. What an even bigger letdown that helped create for Kerry supporters.

Lots of journalists cheered to see the blogosphere fact-check the fraudulent documents scandal at CBS. But when was the last time you read a story by a blogger that showed he or she picked up the phone to conduct an interview, check his understanding, or ask for insight? They fact-check and help keep media honest, but rarely are bound by the same standards and practices of news sites.

Some are just downright lame. Take this one from LiveJournal. It used an article from internetnews.com about a change in PayPal's policy, which contained numerous confirmations of the story, such as direct quotes from a company spokesman. Yet the poster on LiveJournal asked: Can anyone validate this info is accurate? Not one poster bothered to try to verify the info. They all just posted opinions.

I'm not knocking bloggers that cover events and cover them well, such as the eyewitnesses at the Republican and Democratic conventions.

Dave Winer's BloggerCon conference this weekend at Stanford University will be another good example. We'll get to read "discussions" about topics such as how to keep track of blogs, election reaction, mobile blogging and the rise of podcasting.

I hope the bloggers will show up in droves for the discussion of journalism. Scott Rosenberg already has a warm-up discussion going on blogging and journalism -- and their differences.

"Some bloggers think they will raze the existing media establishment and replace it with something new," wrote Rosenberg. "Some journalists think they can simply ignore the arrival of blogs as a new many-to-many news channel. Both groups are missing the reality of today's media ecosystem.

"Good bloggers keep good journalists honest; good journalists read blogs and find sources and stories. There's constant foot traffic across this border. Trouble arises when people don't step across the line."

Well, as for stepping across the line, we'll see. But he makes a good point.

Blogging has its place and we celebrate its impact on media, especially technology journalism. But I worry that its success is leading to the same kind of media arrogance that inspired it in the first place.

Indeed, plenty of thought leaders that were often quoted widely in the media are now so caught up in their blogosphere -- which often reads like an echo chamber -- that they are shunning reporters' queries about their posts. Instead, they expect them to quote their blogs.

It smacks of an arrogant, digital version of "talk to the hand" and assumes that everyone is reading blogs. Journalists are. Netizens are, too. But there is a wider audience that is missing their thoughts, partly because too many influential bloggers think they are the news source and no longer see traditional media as something to be a part of. In the process, they only stifle their potential to inspire the wider world.