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Blogging The Status Quo

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If ever you’ve taken a course in media, communication, or journalism, then it was impossible to escape the phrase, “the media tells people not what to think, but what to think about.” With the advent of broadband, the weblog and other citizen journalism outlets, that fundamental tenet of media theory may reverse itself.

“The media industry has changed more in the past 8 years than in the previous 80 because of broadband,” Reuters executive and journalism veteran Dean Wright told John Burke at The Editor’s Weblog.

Indeed it has changed and is changing as consumer generated content lights up the eyes of Yahoo!, Google, AOL, among many, many others. People are reversing the classic agenda setting power of the media by creating their own agenda and thereby telling the media (and advertisers too) what to think about instead.

AOL’s purchase of Weblogs Inc., a reported $25 million investment, shows the e-commerce world’s faith in citizen journalism. The blogosphere is fast-paced and analytical, more editorial than journalistic, and most importantly the weblog style is engaging with a personal feel-almost like an online, real-time text soap opera.

And it’s not just that e-marketers understand the appeal of bull’s eye targeted advertising (or even the unscrupulous practice of faux weblogging to generate product buzz), but also that the personal account of world and local events accomplishes something very important-a relationship with the reader.

The same communication professors that teach us about agenda setting theory, also weave tales of grandmothers who form imaginary personal relationships with soap opera stars and media figures, and mothers hoping their sons grow up to be Tom Brokaw.

Comment sections and instantaneous email correspondence will do nothing short of strengthening these over-the-airwaves (once the Internet goes wireless) relationships. And that provides something all advertisers want-return visitors.

The most interesting paradox of citizen journalism is that in the traditional media realms where news sources are held to an ideal of impartiality, bloggers have no such responsibility and aren’t really expected to. A newspaper will lose readers once the paper is perceived to be slanted one way or the other. Those same readers may not hold citizen journalists to the same standards. If a blogger’s too liberal, it’s easy to find a more conservative one.

If the weblog is a fad, as many suspect, the big Internet and media players like the Washington Post and MSN are wasting tremendous amounts of money investing in it.

This doesn’t mean the mainstream (read here, traditional) media is obsolete-just that it will have to change to survive in the 21st century to embrace online content and even create its own. And overall, in a true egalitarian (or if you’d rather, utopian) sense, that is good news for everybody-readers, town criers, newspapers, search engines, and advertisers.

Blogging The Status Quo
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