The Blogging Enterprise – The Death of Old Media?

Steve Rubel kicked off the day with a moment of silence for “old media”. OK, that may be a bit over the top, but as Austin American-Statesman Managing Editor Fred Zipp and Washington Post Opinion and Blogs Editor Hal Straus readily admitted, traditional newspaper readership is down (Washington Post was down 3% last year). According to panel moderator Lorraine Branham, a recent study reported that 44% of college students get news daily from internet portals vs. just 19% from newspapers.

That may signal a major shift in media, but the general consensus is that although citizen journalism may be a major new force to be reckoned with, blogging and journalism are not one and the same. As Jon Lebkowsky put it, many journalists are bloggers, and some bloggers may be journalists, but they each have their own set of rules.

Fortunately, everyone seemed to agree that there’s a place for both, and a potential symbiotic relationship between them. There’s simply too much going on in politics, corporations and other organizations for mainstream media to play the role of watchdog for everyone. Bloggers, who may focus on a very specific niche, help in that coverage. In the case of the Slidell Hurricane Blog, blogger Brian Oberkirchs quickly developed a working relationship with CNN and other major media, sharing information as soon as it was available, often before it ran. Bloggers can also help keep a story alive, providing continuing coverage that a mainstream journalist may not be able to do due to time and space constraints, but then come back to for a follow-up.

Straus said that for many years, the Washington Post ignored blogs. They saw blogs that weren’t “relevant, accurate and balanced” and avoided the topic. But the 2004 presidential campaign, particularly Howard Dean’s use of blogs, Meetup and other tools was a major turning point. By December 2004 they had decided to implement blogs and launched within six months. They have since noticed measurable increases in traffic and search engine rankings. They are also now looking at ways to embrace community journalism by opening up their platform to high schools and other community organizations.

The Austin American-Statesman have been some of the early adopters of blogging among traditional newspapers, first experimenting with blogs two years ago as a way to expand the types of information they could display to the public. The most successful have been the entertainment beat writers and the UT football blog, Bevo Beat. In September 2005, they became one of the first major-market newspapers to launch reader blogs. The motivation? While I was kind of hoping for some lofty vision of embracing consumer journalism, Zipp’s answer was much more practical: recouping some of that readership and traffic that was being sucked away by all this new media. Hey — it’s a business.

This topic is particularly hot right now, particularly in light of the recent debate over the controversial Forbes article and the current debate over whether bloggers should have the same rights as journalists regarding protected sources.

So what’s your take?
– Is old media dead? Or just going through a metamorphosis?
– Are bloggers journalists? And does it matter?
– Should bloggers be afforded the same right to protect sources that journalists are?
– How can mainstream media and bloggers best work together symbiotically rather than adversarially?

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