The world now seems to be divided into three classes: bloggers, citizen journalists, and journalists. A blog (short for weblog) originally started as a journal or newsletter that an individual wrote for public consumption and frequently updated. Today’s blogs are far more intricate, involving all sorts of information, from news, views, trends, personal thoughts, and comments and philosophies.

Citizen journalism is relatively new. It’s “ordinary people” writing news, posting photos and videos, and often being the first to publish breaking news. The bridge collapse in Minneapolis is a recent example. Just recently, a Canadian citizen journalism service based in Vancouver began recruiting citizen journalists to gather news and submit it to NowPublic.com As William Powers explains in the latest issue of National Journal, “At this participatory news network, anyone can write a story or upload images. Whatever gets the most votes from the reading masses ends up as the lead story.”

Unlike pure blogging and posting, NowPublic filters submissions, which means they may or may not see the light of day. And if they do, there is no guarantee there will not be some heavy editing – anathema to free-form bloggers. One drawback that has become immediately apparent, writes Powers, is that “more often than not, the top news on the NowPublic front page is about transportation mishaps. Evidently, the vast discerning crowd that is about to revolutionize journalism sometimes believes that smallish trains and road accidents are the biggest news on the planet.” Sound familiar?

Finally we come to that most sacred of all professions, journalism itself. Real journalists, so the story goes, are formally educated, preferably graduates of a leading J-school such as The Columbia School of Journalism, the University of Missouri, Stanford, etc. They are paid for what they do (sometimes handsomely, often not), are mostly given assignments by an editor, and are monitored for accuracy and style. How many bloggers ever consult the Associated Press Style Book? While bloggers seemingly answer to no one, a salaried journalist must be careful not to offend the parent company, advertisers, or the news industry itself, if he or she is worried about future employment in “the big time.”

Another major difference between bloggers and journalists, according to Jack Shafer writing in Slate, is that bloggers rarely venture outdoors to gather information. “The first generation of bloggers tends to resist taking off their Pjs and donning hip-waders to report the news from the swamp,” notes Shafer. Individuals with writing skills and reporting experience, says Shafer, are rewarded with salaries, plane tickets, hotel accommodations, car rentals, libel insurance, editing, and other resources. How many bloggers leave their rooms to cover first-hand a city council meeting or other activity that mainstream media disregard?

Another major partition between bloggers and journalists goes far beyond spelling, grammar, editorial input, and the obligatory AP Style Book. It has to do with civility and professionalism that bloggers routinely reject, injecting “vulgarity, scorching insults, bitter denunciations, one-sided arguments, erroneous assertions and the array of qualities that might be expected from a blustering know-it-all in a bar,” writes blog critic Alex S. Jones of Harvard’s Kennedy School and a former reporter for The New York Times.

Jones maintains that anyone, no matter how “cranky or hysterical” can occupy blog space and often be mistaken for someone speaking his or her mind with accuracy and sincerity. Many bloggers operate around the margins of mainstream journalism, thus gaining undeserved credibility and objectivity. All of which takes us back to NowPublic and its citizen journalists. Its website states there are “over 118,000 members from over 140 countries and 3,800 cities.” Active contributors submit up to 5 stories each month and, as noted earlier, each submission is ranked on the number of votes it gets. NowPublic has formed an alliance with the Associated Press which reportedly is purchasing stories and photos from NowPublic, based on the submitters asking price. NowPublic, subtitled “Crowd Powered Media,” says it is “changing the way news is made and distributed.” Does anyone see a potential problem here?

Blogger Nicki Arnold writes that “bloggers take a certain pride in being completely uncensored. Leave it to the newspapers to be censored by editors. Bloggers should have free reign.” So be it. But if bloggers want to be left completely alone to do their own thing, they must also carry the baggage of being open to some degree of mistrust and skepticism. As Jack Shafer concluded in his Slate article, “Writer for writer, mainstream journalists possess more talent than bloggers, and talent matters when you’re competing for an audience. It’s no accident that several of the best bloggers honed their interpretive, narrative, and reportorial skills in mainstream media.”

The last word goes to Mallory Jensen, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review. “People like to peek into others’ lives. Reading a blog has a bit of the voyeuristic thrill of flipping through someone’s journal, no matter how mundane the content. Today’s blogs are diaries and soap boxes where people can post everything from daily minutiae to manifestoes to sophisticated political and cultural commentary.” Yes, that is true, Mallory Jensen, but would you trust a blogger’s report on how many trees there are in Russia?

– Chase.Hamil

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