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On equating blogs to the news

Let’s get this straight: blogs do not publish news and bloggers are not journalists.

CNN has a couple of shows, On the Story and Reliable Sources, that are not news shows themselves. Instead, they report on the news and on journalists. In the process of doing so, they both feature a spot on blogs and bloggers, reporting on the news coming from blogs. However, this does a disservice to CNN, a respectable news network, and to journalists at large.

CNN is not alone in this. Many other mainstream news sources regularly refer to “news” from blogs. Some have even gone so far as to write TV news’ obituary because of the influence of blogs. It’s unclear why professional journalism participates in this self-destructive behavior but it’s time to set the record straight.

Blogs do not report the news. Blogs analyze it. When was the last time you read an original news story on a blog? It doesn’t happen. Instead, a respectable blog will cite other sources of news in its posts by hyperlinking to them and, if they’re worth their salt, the links will be to credible news sources.

It’s also important to realize that bloggers are not journalists. Most blogs post very biased analyses of the news. If you read a large number of posts in a given blog, you’ll likely find a conspicuous slant to either the left or the right (or some other specific ideology). Journalists, on the other hand, are expected to be relatively balanced. Furthermore, respectable journalists hold to a professional code of ethics in the process of gathering and reporting the news. This code is crucial to maintaining the integrity of the journalist’s publisher. Bloggers have no code of ethics to which they all adhere (which is not to say that none of them are ethical)—it’s still the “wild, wild west” in the blogosphere.

Even the law does not consider bloggers to be journalists. For example, the California Shield Law addresses the refusal to disclose news sources. However, when you read the following clause identifying all those covered by the law, you’ll see that it does not include bloggers:

A publisher, editor, reporter or other person connected with or employed upon a newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication or by a press association or wire service, or any person who has been so connected or so employed…

That said (and not said), blogs do play a role in the news. The best journalists only provide information but do not give normative meaning to it. That’s left to the consumers of news who, more often than not in the case of mainstream Americans, are prone to putting insufficient effort to the task. Blogs provide those consumers easy access to analysis of the news of the day. Additionally, there are plenty of viewpoints from all points in the societal spectrum represented by blogs—all of which should be supported to ensure a balanced perspective on current events.

Another value of blogs is validating the credibility of the news. By linking to various sources (e.g. The Progressive Zone links to sources from The Washington Post to Aljazeera), blogs ground their analyses with news. The broad spectrum of news available on the World Wide Web permits the reader to extract the facts that are consistently cited by all blogs as the most reliable grounds on which to base the position the reader takes for his or her own. Because of the dynamic nature of the Web, blogs also rapidly direct readers to esoteric sources of news that they would otherwise overlook.

Regardless, the reader needs to be cautious of accepting everything they read in blogs as the “gospel” truth. There are plenty of blow-hard bloggers who spout their opinions without citing any sources. Furthermore, there are many bloggers who use conspiracy theorists and other incredible sources to ground their warrantless claims.

The next time you see a news publisher give credence to a blogger, take it with a grain of salt. And the next time you read a blog, don’t accept it as fact until you verify its grounds as fact through other credible sources. Most importantly, remember that blogs do not report news.