A lot of articles seem to get published recently about the topic of web logs — so-called ‘blogs’ — which the ‘news’ part of mediageek is an example of. I don’t typically post links to them here since there’s a lot of hype, and also because most weblogs–which certainly are a form of independent media–are, to me, a little idiosyncratic and personal, and so not necessarily intended to have much of an audience. Yet, the best blogs do tend to garner an audience, and that’s probably due to having some degree of focus in their posts and links, rather than simply being an agglomeration of the stuff one person finds interesting on a given day. It’s when a combination of focus, judicious choices for links (editing?), and sometimes thoughtful commentary come together that I find a blog to become useful, rather than a light diversion. That’s also when I think a blog comes closer to being journalism.
J.D. Lasica at USC Annenberg’s Online Journalism Review has an article considering the headline question, asking 6 prominent on-line journalists to weigh in. Lasica says that, “Weblogs offer a vital, creative outlet for alternative voices.” Fundamentally I agree with that statement. For me, the big problem is that word, ‘journalism.’ A hundred years or so into journalism’s life as an institution and profession, the term carries a lot of baggage, and stirs quite a bit of debate, especially outside the mainstream and in academia. I think reading the three commentaries in the linked article makes that clear; professional journalists are a bit wary of undermining their own efforts and professional stake by allowing the term to be reapplied, redefined or watered down.
In my own experiences working with in community radio and, recently, helping to put together the Urbana Independent Media Center the term journalism, and all in connotes (objective, authoritative, and similar concepts), certainly presents controversy and sparks discussion. Primarily, I think these controversies and discussions are necessary and constructive. But they do point out the disconnect between traditional journalism and citizen non-professionals who are no longer happy to simply have their news fed to them, preferring to try their hands at being producers rather than just consumers. Weblogs may be an element of this shift. At the most basic weblogs are just a tool, and they’re clearly a tool that makes web publishing easier, but the real power is nonetheless what you do with them.