Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Case for Blogging

On more than one occasion I have had the discussion with my brother-in-law and a couple of other family members about the point of blogging. Some of them don't see it.

I guess you could easily figure that I do.

I know I just posted about how sad I'll be if the Boston Globe ceases its print edition, and I will be, but I also think it's important to acknowledge the significant effects blogging has had on journalism.

While my brother-in-law argued that there are too many blogs out there serving as empty ramblings from people with nothing better to do (I'm paraphrasing here), I had to make the case that there are many that have made an important contribution to the industry as they have uncovered stories that the mainstream media has managed to overlook.

So maybe he's right--there are millions of bloggers out there who may use this platform as a means to sound off on anything and everything in which one might argue, who cares? But I still say more power to's not hurting anyone. It might not be contributing to anything in the larger sense but it's harmless.

It's the bigger picture that counts. Blogs have made a huge impact on how people absorb the news and how news is broken. Back in 2007, TechNewsWorld provided a roundup of the top ten news stories brought to the forefront by bloggers. The firing of U.S. prosecuters by U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the Dan Rather scandal in which he aired a false report on "60 Minutes" that supposedly provided valuable information about former President Bush's time in the Texas Air National Guard during Vietnam were all brought to light by bloggers. I'd say that's a pretty significant impact they've made.

Recently, Marcy Wheeler from emptywheel helped break the story about the use of waterboarding by CIA interrogators on prisoners from Al Qaeda. She also had a role in liveblogging for the Lewis Libby Jr. trial. Apparently, Wheeler has had a tough time getting funding from major donors to help her put her investigative journalism skills to use, according to firedoglake. In response, a campaign has been started to raise $150,000 to support Marcy, another investigative blogger to work with her, and a researcher to help them. In less than two weeks since the post about her predicament was written, $63,000 dollars have been raised so far. The great part is, all of the donations have come directly from readers. It says something that readers recognize the impact that bloggers can have.

In addition, it's the analysis and dialogue that blogs generate that make them a valuable asset to the industry. A post on MediaShift summarized this concept well:
The blog has emerged as a powerful platform for journalists to provide context, analysis and interpretation, often including behind-the-scenes information that does not fit into the structure of a traditional news story. It has also provided journalists with a way to communicate with readers in a more conversational and informal tone, rather than in an abstract voice of authority.
All of this is important in journalism as it keeps the conversation flowing and guides journalists to be better reporters and investigators. By inviting readers to join in on the discussion, as blogs have a knack for doing, journalists help expand their reach for sources and information and often find that readers are willing and happy to be a part of something.

Blogs have continued to create that element of dialogue among those that I mentioned earlier whose main purpose is not to contribute to journalism. It still creates a sense of community among people, whether they've started a blog on vegan cooking or hunting or fashion and celebrity gossip or whatever else people feel the need to discuss. When it comes down to it, that can be valuable too as it promotes writing, thinking, creativity and a marketplace for ideas that people can share.

So while some may ask what's the point, there really doesn't need to be this cosmic, world-changing movement for every blog. What matters is that there will be some that do make a drastic impact and others that just keep the conversation going. With that in mind, where's the harm in that?

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