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Blogs: Alternative Journalism or Full-Fledged Mass Media?

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Introduction

In a relatively short period of time, blogs have moved from a fad of online fans to a real alternative to the media. Blogs have formed a kind of a shadow media empire competing with the media in terms of political influence and gradually turning into an information channel for serious news and comment. Step by step the line between political blogs and the “big journalism” is blurring.

An active foundation of the new member of the communication process brings to life new forms of distribution of information, based on pervasive public communications. The media community is formed, based on information activity, the core of which is internal cooperation and active involvement of the mass media. In their turn, bloggers’ activity achieves the effects of the media.

American blogging pioneer Dan Gillmor called blogs “popular journalism, created by people for people”. Bloggers are often the only independent and objective journalists in countries where the media are under the pressure of censorship. A French-based international organization Reporters Without Borders has issued a practical manual of anonymity of IP-addresses for bloggers who live in countries where electronic media are censored by totalitarian regimes. There have also been cases of accreditation of bloggers as media representatives of Democrats and Republicans – two U.S. major parties in the Congress. In China, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, government agencies are constantly monitoring the content of blogs and subject bloggers criticizing the existing political order to criminal prosecution. There have been court cases for blog post texts with criticism of the country's ruling regime (Rosenberg, 2009).

The page of Tim Berners-Lee is considered a first blog, where he, started since 1992, published the news. Wider dissemination blogs received from 1996. In August 1999, the computer company Pyra Labs in San Francisco opened the site Blogger.com, which was the first free blogging service.

The key to the length of “life” of blog on the Internet is the interest for others. Recall the quote from “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupery - “... it means that someone needs it”. So, for creation of blog desire of its creator is enough, its successful development requires interest groups.

These arguments led to consider a blog with the positions of two dispersive categories: author and consumer. What motivates most the author of weblog?

Here are a few obvious motives, leading creators of blogs:

  1. Cultivation.
  2.  The development of literary skills (debatable when the story is in the “primitive language”).
  3.  Evaluation of personal growth.
  4. Exchange of experience in specialized areas of knowledge. Individual collection and provision of information can be considered as special cases of exchange of experience.
  5.  Getting expert opinion beyond the exchange of personal opinion.
  6.  Formation of a group of people with similar interests.
  7.  Communication with loved ones.
  8.  Building a reputation.
  9.  Demonstration of own success and achievements. Comparison with other developments in the area.
  10.  Obtaining an objective view of ourselves. In this sense, even the publication like “today I ate peas” also acquire so-called newsworthy. 

According to one version, blogs will replace the media around 2020. According to an online poll carried out by MASMI Russia (January 2010), today for 18.5% of the respondents blogs are a source of information and news about the political, economic, social and cultural fields. Also, according to this survey, the information function of blogs is in second place after reading the story about the fate of people of interest to respondents.

But is it possible only by performing the basic functions of media by blogs equate them to the media?

Let us consider this question in detail. 

Essential Features Of Blogs In The Context Of Alternative Journalism

Eugene Gorny highlights the objectives that blog readers typically have. They are as follows:

- obtaining of information;

- reading for entertainment;

- tracking of public reaction to certain actions (in fact, blogs are a great ready-made focus group);

- reading for socialization and feeling involved in  lives of famous people.

As for blogs’ functions, a communicative function is referred to most often. Most bloggers say they write, or read blogs for communication with interesting people. First of all, it is an opportunity to say something once that can be heard by many.

 For blogs’ “readers” and “writers” alike, there are two areas of communicative motivation to use blogs - talk with friends and expand their social circle. While some people give birth to a blog for the convenience of communication with existing friends, others start blogs in order to meet new people and expand their audience. In these two formulations, i.e. “meet new people” and “a wider audience” another difference is reflected: while some people need friends, others - listeners (Sreberny, 2007).

Interestingly, the popularity of blogging as a profession in the U.S. is growing rapidly: there are as much bloggers as lawyers, and more than the programmers or firefighters. Today 2 million Americans earn on blogs and nearly for a quarter of them it is the main source of income.

Some people noted that originally they intended to create a personal page (website), but later, after learning how easy blogging is, preferred this form of presentation of information about themselves.

Internet encyclopedia Wikipedia, built on wiki technology enables anyone to create their own articles or edit existing ones. And despite the fact that there are constant disputes and scandals around the Wikipedia, this resource is extremely popular and widely visited. 

Will Weblogs Take The Place Of Traditional Journalism: Opinions And Prospect

In recent years, the discussion of the relationship between traditional media and blogs arises more and more frequently (Lowrey, 2006), comparing the traditional printed literature and creative online network support of this idea. These discussions show irreducibility of blogs to any of the existing classes of phenomena in the Internet environment.

Time will tell whether blogs will become significant cultural phenomenon and lead to any major changes in the cultural paradigm of the modern world in the long run. However, there is no doubt that they are one of the most important elements of contemporary culture.

The author of the weblog is driven by a kind of excitement from the realization of his exuberance. It is a sort of instinct capture of new territories. Author receives positive feedback when he realizes how much plastic the material he works with is. Metaphorically speaking, the virtual space easily accepts the outlines of his virtual body. The plasticity of the world allows anyone to make their mark easily. The user can create an account in online blog in five minutes; in ten minutes he can build a template home page and initiate a discussion in the forum, which will involve a lot of other people, again in a very short time. The author may waive his identity and intervene in this debate as the other person.

The thorough analysis of already developed (but not definitive) scientific and practical knowledge of online journalism can raise the question of the need for a clear separation of the journalist persona on the internet from the figure of the blogger, “citizen journalists” and other writers on the Web which are not journalists, but position their work as a journalistic one, as it affects socially relevant themes.

The task of defining the status of the journalist in the Internet and revealing its specificity is rather complex and multifaceted. But it is clear that it has transformed and is not defined enough because of the features of the network. The current laws of most countries in the sphere of media do not take full account of these characteristics and need improvement.

It should also be noted that the norms and rules of professional ethics of journalists recorded in the documents of self-regulation apply to journalists of online media, but are not sufficient and require the addition of network ethics rules.

Differences between online media and blogs are fundamental and are caused by the difference in the legal status as well as the goals, objectives, forms and methods of work of their authors. On the Internet, the concept of journalist is interpreted more broadly than in the legal system. Online activity, similar to journalism, is not confined to members of registered media, but bloggers, “citizen journalists” and content creators of different sites. Obviously, the self-activity of the journalist in the Internet must be based on a combination of ethical rules and regulations developed both by a professional journalist community and the Internet community.

Blogging is also called citizen journalism. Citizen journalism as a significant phenomenon arose in the mid-2000s. After a number of cases when independent bloggers provided unique and valuable information which had not been provided by the “conventional” media, the possibility of citizen journalism supplanting the traditional one started to be discussed. Subsequently, however, it became clear that unprepared bloggers occasionally producing significant material cannot replace the full-system media. Nevertheless, it can be concluded that attention to the blogosphere is great. While this kind of journalism is still complementary, its benefits make up for the shortcomings of traditional journalism (Singer, 2005).

Citizen journalism (often referred to as “social”, “democratic”, and “united”) is not a professional activity. It can be defined as active audience participation in the process of collecting, analyzing and disseminating of news and information. According to the group of American researchers, the goal of this audience participation in journalism is to provide independent, reliable, accurate, complete and current information in accordance with the requirements of a democratic society (Carlson, 2007). Generally, people involved in citizen journalism do not benefit financially from their activity. Owners of internet portals where reports of citizen journalists are hosted can gain some financial benefits, while citizen reporters are content only with glory and attendance ratings (Matheson, 2004).

According to some observers, the position of the press as a tool of interaction between different social groups has lost its democratic principles. The press started to serve political and economic structures of society and affect the mass consciousness for non-democratic purposes. At the same time, the major feature of citizen journalism is the central position of a personality that is characterized by civic consciousness, support of the idea of civil society, and expression of independent thinking. Such characteristics as virtual or paper publication, professionalism and non-professionalism of a journalist, getting some or no payment for journalistic work, and the speed of accessing information are not enough to define civil journalism. Indeed, these characteristics do not provide appropriate internal content.

People's journalism is gaining position on all fronts: it thrives in blogs and news aggregators like Smi2, YouTube, and a variety of other sites on which one can submit news that immediately appears in the public domain, gets indexed in search engines, and seeps into the official media. What the audience willingly publishes is immediately reached by users of the Internet whether these are videos from the scene shot by some casual witness with the phone or anything else. Ironically, the need for the media’s maintenance of their park of industrial cameras gradually disappears. By the time the film crew meet,  arrive at the scene and shoot what is left, casual witnesses will have already caught the moment of the event and uploaded it on the site. Indeed, everything is engraved on a phone or iPhone and then published in the network, with the help of the same device. It is only the analysis that remains at the mercy of professional journalists.

In some cases, bloggers themselves are a source of information about the places to which the eyes of the world are chained. When terrorists seized the “Nord-Ost”, many Internet users regularly observed not only the media news but also blogs of Muscovites among whom they quickly found those who lived nearby, or those who were able to reveal some relevant information. The cases when bloggers made live reports from the scene of fighting in Iraq were very common. A lot of important information was spread through blogs in the aftermath of the tsunami in the Indian Ocean.

A famous U.S. sociological center Pew Internet & American Life Project released its latest research findings about blogging space. The aim of the research was to reveal the extent to which American bloggers are introduced in the U.S. information field and whether they are serious competition for the traditional media. Employment specialists analyzed the information environment formed in the course of the last U.S. presidential elections, and came to the conclusion that citizen reporters shared space with traditional ones, but were not driven by them. It was found that the media are a primary source of any information, and bloggers provide them with a large-scale “information support”.

Talented bloggers are regularly invited to work for the mainstream media (unless, of course, they are not initially journalists). In May 2003, The Guardian, one of leading British newspapers, hired  a blogger who wrote under the name Salam Pax to work as a regular columnist for Iraq. Salam Pax was one of those who reported  from the scene about what happened during the storming of Baghdad in their blogs (Simmons, 2005).

Perhaps, the blog can be seen as another step in the evolution of journalism, which is characterized by decentralization of the media, increasing desire for interactivity, shift from monologue to dialogue, etc. In this way, understanding blogging as a part of the evolution of journalism was the idea of Web 2.0 and podcasts.

A separate part of the blogging journalism is online journals of various commercial companies which not only communicate with the public, but also contribute to the emergence of personal relationship between a company and its customers. Company blogs help companies to give a human face to business and thus become a powerful tool for PR.

Hence, the assumption that blogs are the future of journalism is not without foundation. Many critics fear that blogs as an uncontrolled phenomenon neglect the sacred mission of the media to provide accurate information, are contemptuous of copyright and often display a lack of professionalism and basic literacy. However, a number of others disprove these arguments. The questions arises whether traditional publications are immune of the same ailments. Moreover, traditional journalism, as it is very expensive, is more affected by its main problem – engagement and bias, which is less inherent in blogs now.

Proposals are expressed about the need of legislative registration of blogs as a part of the media. One of common reasons for expressing the need of such registration is a complaint  that people  write what they want in their blogs, which often leads to misinformation, slander, etc. Extremist web blogs and other materials inciting national hatred are common, too. 

Conclusion

Studies of blogs and social networks which are seen as deserving and promising media competitors are just beginning. To find out the real potential of the blogosphere as a source of socially relevant information and convenient means of communication, one needs to constantly monitor the blogosphere, noting significant changes reflecting the evolution of blogs.

The question of measuring the effectiveness of blogs as a valid replacement for the media is quite difficult. Although some blogs have taken on many functions of the media, the overall productivity of the blogosphere as a part of the information environment is now in serious doubt. In addition, it is difficult to measure the degree of validity of the information provided in the blogosphere, and the effectiveness of presenting information in blogs.

Of course, blogs are not perceived as seriously as official news channels. However, authors of blogs must be aware of the fact that everything they write is public. This is especially important today when more and more people spread information through social networks. One never knows what the consequences of their publication will be.

The reputation of a blog is a guarantee of its accuracy and the key to its popularity. After all, blogging is an online phenomenon, and the feedback allows to instantly feel the mood of the public and the mainstream direction. 

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