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Is blogging the new journalism?
The medium does provide an outlet for anybody and everybody to voice their opinion. But does it fit into the traditional boundaries of journalism?
January 7, 2009 3:00 by Dana Moukhallati
Blogs offer some of the most fascinating content on the Internet today. They allow people to vent their anger, release their frustrations, and simply say what is on their minds. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Especially for people living in more conservative countries where it can be hard to find an outlet for unsanctioned opinions. However, blogs can go on and on, often biased, sometimes making no sense, and most of the time written without using credible sources. Yet, they threaten to become a new form of journalism.
Journalism is “writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts or description of events without an attempt at interpretation,” according to the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Encyclopedia. Unfortunately, not all journalists hold on to these principles, and so the line between blogger and journalist becomes unclear.
The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines a blog as a website that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer. Posts are in chronological order and can contain text, music, images, and videos.
The dictionary’s definition doesn’t mention “truth.” A blog can be completely fabricated. Blogs have no guidelines, and do not even have to be grammatically correct.
According to Deborah Branscum, a contributing editor to Newsweek, blogging offers creative freedom, instantaneity and interactivity, and does not need many marketing skills. Bloggers can write whatever they want, however they want, and there is no need to wait until an editor decides to publish.
So, even though blogging is seldom considered a credible source of journalism (at least not yet), it has definitely served as an outlet for people all over the world, especially in the Middle East where some conservative countries implement strong censorship laws. Just because blogging is not a form of journalism does not mean it may not bring out some truth and raise awareness about certain subjects.
A recent report from Reporters Without Borders says five of the world’s top 13 Internet-censoring regimes are in the Middle East. “Only four Arab countries have little or no filtering: Lebanon, Morocco, Jordan and Egypt – but Egyptian politicians are considering a law that would criminalize some online activity,” says the report. Saudi Arabia and Syria are considered as the most “hostile” towards the Internet. Other countries in the region fall somewhere in between; the government imports the latest technology, censoring some websites and drafting laws “to curb online dissent.”
Fouad al-Farhan, 33, one of Saudi Arabia’s most popular bloggers, was detained for questioning an Interior Ministry Spokesman in his blog. He described his online mission as “searching for freedom, dignity, justice, equality, public participation and other lost Islamic values,” and refused to hide behind a penname. Farhan would vent about the corruption in Saudi Arabia’s political life. It was the first known arrest of an online critic in Saudi Arabia.
Blogging has been on the rise in Saudi Arabia recently, allowing people to “speak up” in a society where the media is censored and where political parties and public gatherings are banned. There are an estimated 600 bloggers in the kingdom, male and female, conservative and liberal, writing in English and Arabic.
According to Trevor Mostyn, a Senior Advisor to the Journalism Fellowship Program at the Reuters Institute, bloggers have a very difficult time in the Middle East, with many of them facing arrest.
Bloggers have not become substitutes for journalists in more conservative countries. Even though a lot of websites are censored in the region, people have always found ways to get around this by using proxy servers. However, this will remain risky and people are still vulnerable to arrest. Until this changes, even if for a short period of time, blogging serves as an alternative outlet for opinions and points of view.