Saturday, April 07, 2007

Libby trial put bloggers on the map…

I first heard about the MBA on NPR prior to the start of the Libby trial. The MBA made history (journalism history?), when for the first time, bloggers were credentialed to cover a federal criminal trial.

Some sources dispute that assertion, saying bloggers have covered other trials before, most notably the Enron trial. I had an opportunity to speak to Robert Cox, president of the MBA, last quarter. He pointed out an important distinction. There were blogs about those trials. “Reporters credentionaled from their paper did blog it,” he said. “[but] they weren’t credentialed as bloggers.”

The question for us aspring journalists then is, whether there is any difference? Has the Libby trial elevated bloggers up to par with traditional journalists? Is the coverage by an independent blogger better than a traditional story or just unique (blog-to-print comparison)? do blogs of traditional reporters as good as those of stand-alone bloggers (blog-to-blog comparison)? Finally, what does it all mean for us aspiring traditional journalists?

I certainly won’t attempt to answer those questions in this blog, in case you were fast-scrolling down.

But my first impression is that independent bloggers tend to be more opinionated, with obvious political leanings. They appeal to people who share their passion and particular perspective. It’s mighty difficult for an average person browsing the Internet to jump in the middle of a blog series and understand the what, when, where, whys of the news story itself. In a regular print or broadcast story, those essential details are repeated in every story following the initial breaking story.

Mark Obbie, a professor of journalism and media law at Syracuse University, said in an interview “If bloggers pretend that they are a replacement of the NYtimes article, they are kidding themselves.”

But he did acknowledge that “When a blog is done well, bloggers can dig much deeper into the facts and the maneuver in the courtroom…You get into the real nitty gritty of the nuances of what this or that witnesses said and how the trial maneuvered, it’s a fascinating inside baseball.”

The audience for blogs, he said, are “junkies.”

And that, I think, is a point worth thinking about. Despite the fact that blogs are sometimes drenched with extreme-left, right or whatever opinion, can we find a way to make the news more like “inside baseball” and “fascinating” for “junkies?”

Because who wouldn’t want a loyal fan base? But then again, does that mean we’re pandering to the audience?

Ah, we’re back to the drawing board. See, I told you I won’t have an answer. But as someone once told me, it’s the question that’s important. We need to keep asking ourselves.


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