Second Arab Women‘s Media Conference, October 24-27, 2002, Jordan

Online Journalism and Development of the Arab Media

— by Magda Abu-Fadil

Blogs, or Web Logs:

Journalists who feel constrained by their news organizations now have an outlet: their own sites through which they can publish stories, open up discussions with others on certain topics and have a forum for discussions.

Some of these personal sites exist independently, are part of the news organizations for which the journalists work, or are part of sites for other organizations, such as journalism education institutes.

The New York Times reports that a journalist got fired after his bosses discovered he was writing nasty things in his personal web log about people he covered in the paper for which he worked.

It would have been even more catastrophic if he had been writing it for a web log operated by that paper because there would be issues of liability and lawsuits. Quoting a professor of journalism, the Times said that if a news media organization edits a web log it would damage spontaneity and would become responsible for content.

How did this new form of journalism come about?

It began in the late 1990s with software making it possible for anyone to publish and update in cyberspace.

“Do-it-yourself journalists are able to link to and dissect freshly published articles, adding many voices to the national debate. Blogs have been promoted by some commentators as a potential challenge to traditional news media companies,” wrote David Gallagher in the New York Times.

He added that the format also appealed to professional journalists who publish web logs as a creative outlet, or as a way to raise their visibility, or as part of their jobs. And the best part is that they don’t have to be as formal or to abide by strict writing style rules as they do for their traditional media. And, they can make some money on the side with blogs.

But there is some editing. It’s not entirely free of all controls. Journalists realize that if they’re completely offensive or antagonize their readers, they may be out of business. They must also decide on where their content will go – on the traditional site, in the traditional paper, or on the web log. In other words, which venue gets priority.

Unofficial estimates put the number of blogs at 200,000-500,000. On September 11, 2001, masses of people logged onto traditional news sites to get more information on the attacks against New York and Washington but many of those sites crashed from the sheer volume and others failed to provide timely updates, wrote Renee Tawa in the Los Angeles Times.

But bloggers got a lot of traffic on their sites and in emailed comments from the public which were posted instantly in a forum likened to an infinite and unedited letters-to-the editor page, she added.

“As a result, bloggers, who typically have day jobs, turned into 'do-it-yourself journalists'…seeking out sources and sometimes assembling these ideas for others,” she quoted a study conducted about September 11 and the internet by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

It’s become so fashionable that the University of California at Berkeley is offering its first course on web logs and students in the class are scheduled to launch their own blog in November.

One of the aspects the students will examine is intellectual property and copyright since a critical part of the blog is a link to a traditional news site or other copyrighted source, said Paul Grabowicz, the university’s director of the new media program at Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism in an interview with The Mercury News.

Although bloggers can’t engage in long-term investigative journalism, web logs expand the media universe, noted Scott Rosenberg in the widely read Salon.com ezine. “They are a media life-form that is native to the Web, and they add something new to our mix, something valuable, something that couldn’t have existed before the web.”

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