The next time you catch a full-of-himself newspaper journalist bitching about bloggers ripping him off or a publisher bellyaching about his intellectual-property rights being violated by pajamaed parasites, wave a printout of this column in his face and knee him in the groin.
According to media scholar Brendan R. Watson, bloggers writing about local public affairs do not rely primarily on established media for most of their source material. Watson, a University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill media scholar, is presenting his paper this week at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication conference (“Bloggers’ Reliance on Newspaper, Online, and Original Sources in Reporting on Local Subjects Ignored by the Press”).
Watson originally selected 330 public-affairs blogs in 92 cities that were independent of ties to traditional media outlets, commercial operations, chambers of commerce, and politicians. From that group, he culled at random 100 blogs for study, and from each blog he plucked 10 posts from 10 random days in 2009 and parsed their contents for their sources.
In the 1,000 blog posts examined, bloggers used 2,246 sources, of which only 517 were from traditional media, and Watson found that local public-affairs bloggers are more likely to depend on original sources—documents, government databases, shoe-leather reporting (interviews, eyewitness reports, etc.)—than on media sources. “Additionally, when these bloggers do use traditional media sources, they are also likely to use additional, non-media sources,” Watson writes.
The bloggers studied use significantly greater numbers of traditional media sources when writing about nonlocal topics, but as Watson notes, their use may be analogous to a local paper’s use of a news wire to cover nonlocal news: Neither has the resources to collect nonlocal news.
Locally, the fact that bloggers’ use of news media sources to discuss subjects frequently ignored by the news media—and the frequency with which bloggers write about these subjects—also says something about how local public affairs place blogs may complement newspapers as a source of local information. The contributions of local public affairs place bloggers has been masked by an overestimation of their reliance on the traditional news media.
While Watson’s work won’t erase the popular image of freeloading bloggers sucking the fat out of media heavyweights, it may help reset the argument about what local bloggers really do. Here’s hoping that his paper finds publication in a journal soon. Now, please excuse me while I print out this column, stretch my kicking foot, and go on the prowl for those bitching journalists and their bellyaching publishers.
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