With the growing popularity of the Web log, commonly known as a blog, as a source of news and political commentary, traditional media outlets are beginning to recognize the need for blogs to have access to information —even to have a White House press pass.
On Monday Garrett Graff, editor of FishbowlDC (www.mediabistro.com/fishbowldc), a blog published by Mediabistro.com, became the first blogger to receive a permanent White House press pass.
“I had an idea it wasn’t going to be super easy,” Graff said. “I was surprised about how much of a news item it became.”
With this mark of progress, questions arise concerning where blogs fit into today’s journalism scene, how to decide which blogs get press passes and how blogs are changing to be more professional media outlets.
“I think this is a sign of blogs maturing into a medium of independent news gathering and reporting,” Graff said. “This is the latest evolution going on for the better part of a year, now.”
This news-gathering role for blogs has been masked recently by bloggers making headlines because of their political tactics. Earlier this year, a well-funded conservative group called USA Next posted political propaganda against the AARP on its blog. The propaganda was said to be a test of how liberal blogs would react.
“It’s using blog-against-blog game warfare,” said Clyde Bentley, MU professor of online journalism.
Some think political motivations should not hinder a publication’s ability to access information for news reporting.
“Clearly, bias is a problem, but I think bias is a problem in every medium,” said Bill Horner, MU professor of politics and the media. “You can have a very biased newspaper and a very biased broadcast — so, clearly, some blogs are going to be biased, but I don’t think that means the people that are running them don’t deserve access.”
By admitting the first blogger to the White House press corps, the question becomes how many bloggers should get a press pass and how they will be selected.
“It’s a surprise because the question becomes how many such press passes can you give to bloggers to cover the White House when all the mainstream newspapers in Washington don’t get enough passes,” said Stuart Loory, MU professor and a former White House correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. “One of the things I’m concerned about is that the White House is reading the Web logs and only giving passes to people who write approvingly of things in the White House.”
Graff said he doesn’t think there will be a stampede of bloggers lining up to get a press pass.
One reason Graff finally received a pass from the White House, however, was not by the administration’s choosing but by the pressure of other established media outlets — USA Today made calls to the White House, CNN brought it up on “Inside Politics,” and Ron Hutcheson, president of the White House Correspondents Association, mentioned it to the White House Press Office.
The blogs themselves have progressed to better reflect the setup of traditional media outlets as their popularity has grown.
“The term ‘blogger’ really no longer is a very good term — it’s used to describe too many things,” Bentley said. “The old idea of blogging referred to an individual out striking on their own, kind of a cowboy commentator not attached to any traditional media organization. Now the format is used by complex organizations — like newspapers.”
Graff’s blog, however, is run by a staff and linked to media organization Mediabistro.com which offers networking and services for journalists.
There are concerns that traditional media outlets, however, might be falling behind as blogs pick up readership and an audience looking for news.
“People that run these kind of Web sites develop contacts and develop relationships with people and get access to this information — it’s just a different kind of journalism in a different medium, but it’s still journalism,” Horner said. “And that’s the direction a lot for mainstream media outlets are going to have to go to keep competitive, so it makes sense to support it.”