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Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Truth to power

This time next week I'll be sitting on a panel with the founder of Ohmy News, a professor from Korea's Ewha Womans University and the executive director of the Journalism Association of Korea's Journalism Research Institute talking about trends in the new media industry.

We'll be amid delegates from all over East Asia gathered at the Korea Press Center for the second East Asia Journalists Forum. I'm not sure what to expect of this event. I was asked to prepare remarks in advance, which I did and sent to Korea in October. My subject: "How Blogging is Shaping News Coverage."

Found it curious that at last night's program, "Media Ethics and the 2004 Presidential Campaign" at John Carroll University (sponsored by SPJ and the JCU Center of Media Ethics and Program in Applied Ethics) that most of the panelists spoke about bloggers with venom dripping from the corners of their mouths, nearly choking on the word.

I chuckled a bit because it was providing ad lib fodder for my presentation next week in Korea. Clearly missing from the panel was a blogger who could address some of the invective directed at them en masse by the four representatives of the traditional media and the token academic.

Their characterization of bloggers working in the middle of the night on computers in their rooms with no windows spewing vexatious lies was off base and missing the larger point: That bloggers are serving a readership, sometimes with clear point of view, other times without. And that the public, in some measure, and the media, probably to a larger degree, are reading them.

Many, though clearly not all, bloggers “devour information, making them a smart, skeptical audience. Any journalist who would not welcome that is a fool. Given a choice between a world of nonreaders zoning out with MTV or a posse of tart-tongued digital watchdogs, I say: Up with blogs!” said Chris Satullo, editorial page editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, in a Sept. 26 column.

Traditional media should fear not. It will always have a place. After all, it is traditional media that often provides grist for the daily blogging mill. The larger question is: Isn’t there a way for us all—journalists and bloggers—to get along?

I think there has to be. If journalists are to continue to serve the public, we have to find ways of delivering quality content in formats to which readers will respond. In the end, we’re all reporting on events. New media is simply another method for reporting.

The danger comes in the outbursts of both sides blasting one another. Journalists dismiss bloggers as non-journalist scum while the bloggers shout big media bias and monopoly at traditional media organizations. There’s an underlying friction and maybe a bit of it is healthy for the craft. As a blogger and freelance writer for traditional media, I would venture to say we need each other more than either side will admit.

There’s no question that there is power in blogging. They serve increasingly as newsmakers and news breakers, but also as the watchdog of the watchdog.

And if there’s any good to come of this, it’s that bloggers will continue to challenge journalists. In our hearts, journalists are fierce competitors and bloggers are pushing us to become better—at research, sourcing, interviewing, verifying and, yes, writing. Those journalists and news organizations with any foresight will figure out a way to create a symbiotic relationship between the two. The smart organizations are doing it already.

Journalism, regardless of the method of delivery, must survive “(Media conglomerates) enable the craft, but they also inhibit and cheapen it. What matters is that journalism survive, that the craft of speaking the truth to power with factual care not be snuffed out. Because power prefers lies. Without journalism, lies flourish and liars rule,” said Satullo.

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