I’ve just returned from the blogging panel at the National Archives that I mentioned a few days ago. The panelists in attendance included NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen, author of the PressThink blog, Deborah Potter, president and founder of Newslab, and Robert Cox, president of the Media Bloggers Association. The panel was moderated by Frank Bond of Newseum. In general, the panel addressed the title question: what are the implications for the emergence of blogs for the practice of journalism?
All three of the panelists were fairly optomistic about the effects of blogs on journalism, with Rosen in particular emphasizing the fact that blogs allow writers to bypass the traditional “gatekeepers” that tended to promote one-way rather than two-way communication. Rosen cited A.J. Liebling’s remark that in the past that “Freedom of the press belongs to the man who owns one.” Of course blogging is relatively cheap, at least compared to other media, but I want to complicate this argument to some extent. Certainly this is one of the reasons I started blogging, and I’m fairly enthusiastic about the opportunities that blogging provides, but these claims about access essentially went unchallenged (I would have raised the question during the Q&A, but we ran out of time).
Cox did mention the fact that most blogs still only have a few readers per day, noting the Truth Laid Bear ecosystem as one illustration of this principle. This is where the question of “access” seems important, as the question of the leisure time needed to sustain a high-traffic blog was addressed only in passing (when one of the audience members asked in bloggers ever get paid). Aside from access to a computer, it’s difficult to have the time to research a topic and write about it.
As the panel’s title suggests, the discussion focused primarily on “journalist bloggers” and the role they have played in reshaping journalism practice. Potter cited the example of the Rathergate scandal a few months ago, noting the role of bloggers in “deconstructing” news stories and describing blogging as a means for people to “talk back to their TVs.” There’s certainly value in this potential, but I’m not convinced that what is happening on many blogs that claim to be practicing journalism can accurately be described as such. And much of what has been attributed to blogs (specifically news stories reaching the public faster) might better be attributed to the 24-hour news cycle.
But while I would have liked some “balance” on the panel, Cox and Rosen in particular noted the ways in which blogging has changed our reading practices for better or for worse, and that’s a point worth underlining. Blogging has presented some real challenges for thinking about the First Amendment issues implied in the panel’s title, and the attempts to contain, through Federal Election Commission regulations, or co-opt blogging are worth noting, if only because these efforts illustrate just how much weblogs have shifted the boundaries.