Blogs Take Center Stage at ONA Conference

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The woman who writes Wonkette needed no introduction and offered no apologies Saturday, telling her peers in online journalism that Web logs like hers have spurred a quicker response to breaking news by major media outlets.

Ana Marie Cox and others who run blogs were criticized after the Nov. 2 presidential election for posting exit polls throughout the day, a practice frowned upon in the mainstream media because the data could sway the outcome.

“To the extent to which they affect voter turnout is to the extent people believe them,” Cox told the Online News Association conference in Hollywood, noting that blogs have made it more difficult for mainstream news organizations “to sit on a story.”

Cox, whose gossip-packed and sometimes bawdy postings make her political blog among the most-viewed on the Web, said she did nothing wrong and had the right to give people information they wanted.

Blogs have begun to play a major role in both elevating politics-related stories to more established media outlets and punching holes in flawed journalism by those same newspapers and television news programs. But some at the gathering said they can face a near-constant struggle to establish the credibility enjoyed by professionals.

“Things get picked up by bloggers that take awhile to get picked up by the mainstream media,” said Mark Glaser, a columnist for the Online Journalism Review who writes about Web logs. “Bloggers have to start from scratch in building trust.”

Glaser noted the importance of bloggers in tearing down CBS News’ election season story about President Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard. The constant barrage of questions and charges from the Web kept heat on the network until it admitted a mistake in relying on fake documents for the story, which said Bush’s commander felt pressured to sugarcoat an evaluation after the future president failed to take a medical exam.

Mindy McAdams, a journalism professor at the University of Florida, applauded the work by bloggers, but urged them to adhere to ethical standards held by mainstream journalists.

“Our credibility is suffering with so many people rushing to publish things without checking them out,” McAdams said after Cox’s speech. “Blogging is really great. I like that more and more people have a voice. That’s good … But it doesn’t give people who call themselves journalists an excuse to not check out the information.”

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