Kennedy School Conference: Blogging, Journalism and Credibility

January 21, 2005
Doug Gavel

Traditional journalists, enthusiastic bloggers, and those who straddle both worlds convened at the Kennedy School for a two-day conference on blogging and journalism—the battle between the two, and the common ground for both.

Yet the idea of even holding such a conference created a buzz in the “blogosphere”—the collective term for all those who keep online journals—before it started. And much of it was negative.

“There was a great deal of reaction,” said Rebecca MacKinnon, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, during her opening remarks. "They thought this would be an exclusionary conference and we would be pronouncing standards for bloggers.”

But several speakers discussed ending the adversarial relationship in which bloggers are seen as a threat to journalists, and journalists see bloggers as inherently biased and able to sidestep traditional reporting methods that ensure accuracy.

"I can speak for most if not all bloggers," said Dave Winer, editor of the weblog Scripting News. "We have never woken up saying, 'How do we get rid of journalists?' If anything we want to bring (traditional journalists) in. We want you to use our tools.”

No one in attendance would doubt the impact bloggers have had in the way news and information is spread. Bloggers located onsite in the aftermath of the tsunami disaster gave vivid and immediate portrayals of the events as they unfolded which circled the world in the blink of an eye. And controversies surrounding the allegations from fellow veterans against Sen. John Kerry and the disputed Dan Rather "60 Minutes" documents all came to life online before they hit the mainstream press.

At the same time, blogs can be used for spreading unsubstantiated rumors and incorrect information—and the term “wingers” was used at the conference to label those who do just that.

“For both journalists and bloggers, credibility is key,” said Alex Jones, Laurence M. Lombard lecturer in the press and public policy and director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.

Jay Rosen, an NYU professor who spoke at the conference, referenced bloggers in an online essay: “We know they're journalism—sometimes. They're even capable, at times, and perhaps only in special circumstances, of beating Big Journalism at its own game….The tsunami story is the biggest humanitarian disaster ever in the lifetimes of most career journalists and the blogs were somehow right there with them.”

Complete coverage of the conference is available at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society’s website. The conference was cosponsored by the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at the Kennedy School and the American Library Association’s Office of Information Technology.

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Journalists take notes while David Winer speaks.