Bloggers ? those Internet-based writers without rules ? are fighting back against criticism that their work is unreliable, libelous or just poorly written.
More than 300 of them were in Nashville Friday for a weekend conference heavy on training in techniques used by journalists in what bloggers term the mainstream media.
A classroom full of bloggers sat at computer stations at the Freedom Forum at Vanderbilt University, learning how to access government statistical databases and analyze the material in them.
Conference organizer Bill Hobbs called blogging “citizen journalism,” with a rapidly expanding popularity.
“If freedom of the press belongs to those who have the press, then blogging expands ownership of the press,” Hobbs said.
Bob Cox, president of the Media Bloggers Association, said there are more than 8 million people writing blogs, short for Web logs. Blogs are a running commentary of Internet postings on whatever their authors are interested in. Content often focuses on politics or media criticism and usually includes feedback from readers.
While much of his blogging has involved media criticism, Cox said he broke a major sports story when he posted the news that Notre Dame football coach would be fired before it appeared in mainstream news outlets.
Hobbs said he began blogging several years ago when the issue of adopting a state income tax in Tennessee was being debated in the General Assembly.
“I have a point of view and that is that less tax is better,” he said. “I had facts to support what I wrote and provided links to studies. I considered what I did journalism.”
Participants said they want to expand their research capabilities to strengthen the commentaries they post on their blogs.
Shelley Henderson of Los Angeles said attending the computer research training will help her in writing her blog, which is dedicated to keeping the Internet unregulated.
Conference participants took exception to criticisms from politicians and mainstream media pundits that their work is often inaccurate.
Nashville blogger Blake Wylie said Web log authors often provide links to let their readers go directly to their sources of information.
Friday, Wylie’s blog on his Web site www.nashvillefiles.com had four links to other publications in a 63-word blog entry.
Hobbs said blogs entries are corrected more thoroughly and prominently than in other forms of media.
“We write and then our readers edit us,” Hobbs said.
Linda Seebach, a columnist for The Rocky Mountain News, said traditional media outlets are experimenting with involving bloggers in their news reports. Her newspaper this week launched a series of 40 community-oriented blogs to serve the Denver area.
Hobbs said bloggers and the news media are linked, because bloggers use them for source material and that the relationship could grow closer.
University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds is attempting to establish a global blogger news service, Hobbs said.
The usefulness of the venture was shown when the Indian Ocean tsunami struck last year and the first accounts and pictures from the area came from bloggers, he said.