Are Blogs Credible News Sources?
Are blogs credible news sources? Yahoo's recent move to include blog results in routine news searches seems to indicate they are.
In fact, blogs may have in some instances additional credibility that the mainstream media lack, and as they refine and improve their own shortcomings, blogs can definitely play a unique role in today's media landscape.
As a matter of fact many in the news business claim that blogs are not real news sources because the quality-control process is not as stringent as a newspaper. Bill Keller of the New York Times described the difference in this article:
"We've only got two things that distinguish us from blogs," Keller said. "One is we have reporting staffs who actually go out and see stuff and are trained professionals. And we have standards which are enforced by editors -- you double-check things, make sure it's right -- and all that costs money."
Keller makes a valid point, and anyone who has spent time surfing around the blogosphere knows the lack of quality control and the rush to publish can damage credibility on blogs. Just look at the Drudge Report, the political blog by renegade citizen journalist Matt Drudge. It is known for its snap publication times and exciting stories, but intermittent accuracy.
Sites like Drudge have led many to doubt blogs' credibility. Many people don't trust blogs for news because they are not produced by trained professionals, and are not attached to a professional entity that practices quality control.
Of course, this is inherent to the nature of blogs as a public communication platform. Blogs can fall victim to the same pitfalls of any open discourse community, with unsubstantiated rumors being assumed as fact. Just as "you can't believe everything you hear" you can't believe everything you read on a blog - and that will never change.
Unique Aspects Of Blogs That Enhance Credibility
Blogs have qualities that can make them more credible than traditional news sources, and if bloggers work to eliminate the flaws that plague their medium, they can be seen with similar credibility as major news organizations. These qualities include:
Blogs are trustworthy because they are independent and are not connected to a larger organization with its own agenda. This can make for more transparent and credulous reporting than traditional news sources.
This attracts many politically-minded people to blogs from all sides of the political spectrum. Liberals are attracted to blogs because they see a corporate agenda in mainstream media, and conservatives like them because they believe the traditional press is a liberal-dominated media structure.
Blogs represent a solution to media bias for these people, providing news and perspective unavailable from traditional outlets that readers can trust.
Blogs offer a level of expertise that traditional news sources cannot achieve. Many blogs focus on specific topics and are written by experts in that field, such as PR blogger Steve Rubel or music industry guru Bob Lefsetz. These people have a first-hand familiarity with the issues they write about and offer a raw insider perspective that trained journalists often lack.
Trained journalists cover a diversity of topics, and although they usually have specific beats, they are simply not experts. Reading a blog is often hearing the info directly from the experts.
- The Blogosphere As A Peer-Review Community
Blogs are an open form for information exchange, and when a blog is not publishing accurate, quality content, it will be attacked on discussion forums and other blogs.
"In the aggregate, bloggers are much more balanced because they instantly call one another on bias, slant, errors in logic, and inadequate information. It's a network effect that is better than the mainstream networks."
- Transparency Of Ideology
News organizations strive for objectivity, seeking "fair and balanced" coverage at all costs. This is simply not possible. Experience and beliefs always frame people's actions, and personal views always leak into news items to some degree.
Bloggers don't strive for this unattainable objectivity, they bring their political opinions to the forefront and speak their minds without hesitation. While some may believe this degrades credibility because bloggers have open political agendas, it can actually build credibility with an audience because the agenda is out in the open.
"Because bloggers are open about where they're coming from, readers feel like they're given the background necessary to personally weigh the report," wrote Ryan Pitts.
Tips To Maintain High Quality In Blogs
If bloggers as a whole don't act with ethical standards, they won't be taken seriously as journalists. Credibility is earned, and bloggers need to earn the public's trust by writing and posting responsible, high-quality material.
Bloggers can increase their standing in the minds of the public by acting more like newspapers. Articles in publications are read by multiple editors for a reason: to make sure the mechanics of the writing are solid, and that the assumptions made in it are substantiated. Therefore, bloggers need to work with others to edit their material before it hits the web.
We also need to act with ethical standards. Journalists distinguish themselves by a code of conduct they learn at university. While bloggers don't need to follow a single credo or set of standards, we do need to adhere to some framework for achieving trust. Click here to read the Bloggers Code of Ethics from CyberJournalist.net.
It is also important for bloggers to use restraint in their rush to publish. The old adage, "haste makes waste" is very applicable to the blogosphere. If we don't wait until the facts are sorted out, we could report a story incorrectly - and this makes us all lose credibility.
Where does this leave the blogosphere? Even if the top news blogs do practice high journalistic standards, they will never be seen as equals because they do not serve the same purpose. But this doesn't mean blogs can't be seen as credible.
The news world is not a zero-sum game. Blogs and traditional news sources fill different roles. News organizations gather information from around the world and use their vast resources to bring that information to the public. While some blogs do this also, many simply spread stories from the mainstream media and offer a forum for public discourse to take place.
And when this unique discourse is conducted rationally and ethically, blogs can be credible sources of information and analysis that can exist side-by-side with traditional news, like they do on Yahoo! News Search.
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