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Blogs? Or Online News Journals?

The instructors of the basic news writing course, along with several graduate TAs, had a lively discussion about how to introduce a news blog to students without sending them unfettered into the partisan, opinion-based, questionably reliable world of the blogosphere. From my viewpoint, blogging is simply a tool -- a technology that allows postings, comments and efficient access to varied sources of information. The other instructors worried, however, that the word "blog" has too unfavorable and unjournalistic a reputation. So students will get confused, they argue, and muddle the distinctions between fact and opinion on these blogs.

After some discussion, our solution was to more clearly define and restrict the blogs. We are limiting the kinds of sources they can use, restricting those to credible journaistic enterprises. Where relevant, they can link to other blogs, but only insofar as those blogs have reported news taken up by credible news organizations. Their entries must 1) summarize the news; 2) link to other sources of information and identify differences in reporting; 3) offer context or background by linking to direct sources of information; and 4) offer analysis of the reporting methods or writing effectiveness in the stories they follow. They must attribute or link to everything they cite. They must note HOW the reporters appear to have gotten the information. They must report, not judge or rail in any partisan fashion about the news.

In short, they must approach the news blog as journalistically as possible. This is useful beyond the exercise itself. It's no good to complain about blogs disrupting journalism. That's just history. The time has come to integrate sound journalistic training with those blogging technologies that have already disrupted and changed the industry. This seems like just the place and the way to do it.