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by Rob Carrigan

As blogs grow, newspapers 'refuge'

It seems like all we have anymore is our reputation. Maybe that is all we ever had.

And our reputation is getting more difficult to protect in today’s supercharged virtual atmosphere, where Weblogs proliferate.

Case in point: last month’s presidential election, where early reporting on exit-poll data floating around in the blogosphere incorrectly gave the impression that John Kerry was benefiting from a powerful voter surge.

“What happened,” according to Jesse Drucker and Glenn R. Simpson of The Wall Street Journal is, “the early exit polls were wrong in some cases.”

The Blogosphere includes all Weblogs. Those blogs in turn, are heavily interconnected with other blogs.

Barb Palser, in her October American Journalism Review column, identified another instance in which the blogs were wrong.

“Early on the morning of Aug. 7, four versions of an Associated Press story reported that video of a San Francisco man being decapitated had surfaced on the Internet. The story had appeared on several Web sites. even sent a breaking news e-mail alert: ‘Web site shows beheading of American in Iraq.’”

The only problem, said Palser, was that the video was a hoax, “an experiment produced in a Bay Area garage by three amateur filmmakers who wanted to see how fast and how far it would spread.”

Most blogs, it seems, are designed to be cutting edge, reporting events early, before all the facts may be known.

By pursuing that route, there is a greater risk that those “reporting” can get something wrong.


Another role

But here in Colorado, at least in the community newspaper arena, one editor sees a blog functioning differently.

“My intent is to encourage reader participation in the Tribune and to explain how and why newspaper decisions are made,” says Chris Cobler, editor of the Greeley (Colo.) Tribune, about his editor’s blog “Virtual Greality.”

“We want to hear every day about what you like - and don’t like - in your hometown newspaper.

“Everyone needs an editor,” says Cobbler. “I firmly believe this, of course, but that’s not the spirit of most blogs. To keep the conversation moving quickly, my posts will appear unedited. That means you may find some typos because the writing doesn’t go through the newspaper’s normal editing procedures. Please point out any mistakes you see, and I’ll stand corrected.”

On the week this column was being written in early November, Cobler used the daily blog to further explain his positions for a political candidate’s endorsement by the paper, address concerns by school officials about a story on gang activity and weigh in on “the myth of the liberal media.”

In this age of self-directed journalism on Weblogs and the rush to be first - perhaps at the expense of being right - we need to focus on journalism’s real mission: to provide accurate, useful and timely information.

As Barb Palser notes, “Traditional media may not be the gatekeepers anymore, but they can provide a refuge of reliability.”

In this light, it seems to me that Cobler’s approach is the correct one. He offers the blog as a tool of communication and understanding of the newsgathering process - not a source for unchecked facts, careless assumptions and early speculation and conjecture.


Rob Carrigan specializes in prepress systems for weekly newspapers. He is the publisher of the Ute Pass Courier in Woodland Park, the Gold Rush in Cripple Creek and the Extra in Teller County, all ASP Westward LP weeklies in Colorado.  He can be reached by e-mail at or