E&P Confab Kicks Off With Panel on Blogs and Journalism

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By: Jennifer Saba

The Editor & Publisher/Mediaweek Interactive Media Conference kicked off in New Orleans Wednesday morning, and many speakers at the first panel discussion (on journalism and blogging) seized the opportunity to make light of the blogosphere by using scatological references that played on the word blog. (That is, it sounds like something emanating from a bathroom on Bourbon Street.)

Fratboy humor is, of course, one way to conceal the mainstream media’s nervousness about the exploding popularity of blogs. “We’re not in control, and we don’t know it yet,” said panelist Ken Sands, online publisher of The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash.

Whether the fear is well founded — after all, most blogs consist of links to newspaper reporting — Wednesday morning’s session provided a rather lively discussion about whether newspapers should even be dabbling in the blogosphere, and what newspapers should (or shouldn’t) be doing if they start their own blogs.

The panel, moderated by E&P Editor Greg Mitchell, featured of three executives from the mainstream: Joshua Jennings Moss, managing editor of FoxNews.com; Jeff Pelline, editor of CNET News.com; and the Spokesman-Review’s Sands — along with one not-so-mainstream executive, Nick Denton, publisher of Gawker Media, the company behind such popular blogs as Gawker, Wonkette, and Defamer.

“The media needs to be more aggressive, because bloggers are coming at us,” said Moss of Fox News. “Bloggers are aggressive, and the mainstream media needs to be more aggressive back.”

Denton, the lightning rod on the panel, seemed perplexed by the notion that blogs are at war with traditional media. “I don’t understand why newspapers are so scared,” he said. “It’s been presented as a battle to the death, like Israel and Palestine. But it’s more like the United States and Canada.” While he thinks blogs and traditional media can work together, he doesn’t think newspapers should dive in with their own blog offerings: “I don’t think traditional media does blogs very well.”

Some on the panel agreed with Denton, who noted that for a blog to work well it has to link to other content regularly. Newspapers don’t like to link to their competitors.

“I agree with what you’re saying,” Sands responded. “If you’re going to do it, you have to do it right. It’s one-stop information shopping. You have to aggregate all the news the people want on that subject, including linking to your competitors.”

When Denton noted that newspapers hiding their content behind registration walls lose out on traffic — his sites, like many blogs, won’t link to them — Mitchell quipped that perhaps all newspapers should have registration, thus “screwing the blogs.”

The real debate of the panel, though, was on the question of accuracy.

“The ‘throw-it-up-and-see-what-happens’ method doesn’t work as well for newspapers maintaining blogs,” challenged Tom Regan of The Christian Science Monitor and the Online News Association. (Blogs typically sacrifice accuracy for immediacy, posting information as it becomes available and clarifying or correcting it as more information is available.) Regan explained that he writes two blogs, one personal and one for the Monitor. Anytime he writes something on the Monitor’s blog, he noted, people expect the same level of accuracy they get from the newspaper.

News.com’s Pelline explained that his staff edits opinions or points of view on the site’s blogs. “What’s powerful about these blogs is that they empower reporters,” he said. “They remind everyone to get off their high horse about accuracy. [Mainstream media] should stop pointing their fingers at bloggers — and be more introspective.”

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