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Credibility effects of blogs and the mainstream media

Page history last edited by Sylvia 11 years, 7 months ago

           

Why do many people turn away from the mainstream media and towards blogs in their search for information about the war?

 Many Warblogs and Milblogs started out as a means to stay in contact with family and friends and keep them up-to-date about the situtation of their loved ones in the war zone. Over time this changed as more and more people found interest in reading about the on-going war from the perspectives of people on the front line. Many readers turn to blogs in the hope to find the "real deal" about the on-going war there - an eye-witness perspective.

This paper will try to answer the question why milblogs enjoy more public confidence than the mainstream media, although their credibility might sometimes be more disputable. This paper will furthermore look at the different credibility effects deployed by both milblogs and the mainstream media.


  1. What form of journalism is blogging?

  2. A short history of milblogs and warblogs

  3. Credibility

  4. Blogs as digital form of the "public sphere" (Juergen Habermas)

  5. Relationship between bloggers and their audience

  6. Conclusion

 

1. What form of journalism is blogging?

 

     "Various attempts have been made to identify the type of journalism new blogs produce. These concepts include:

  •      personal journalism

  •      do-it-yourself journalism

  •      black market journalism

  •      'we media' and

  •      postmodern journalism.

 Blogs have been described as a form of 'personal journalism', in which individuals - both amateur and professional - provide first-hand reporting, personal commentary, and places for others to contribute or respond (Allan, 2002:127 in Wall, Melissa: 'Blogs of War')

An additional definition can be found under <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/869092/blog> including a short outline of different aspects concerned with blogs.

 

2. A short history of milblogs and warblogs

 

"It is difficult to judge the exact moment when blogs came into existence since there is some debate about when a personal homepage becomes a blog. Blogging does not seem to have been invented by any one person or organisation (certainly not part of university research or designed initially as a research tool); rather it has emerged due to a series of events brought about by many people. In 1993 Mosaic, the nascent web browser company, published a page on its web site called ' What's New' (Blood 2003). This listed and linked to new sites on the web that users of the browser could visit. With the world wide web blossoming, more people soon took the cue to produce links to new and interesting sites found while surfing the web, and publish them on their personal homepages. As this style of web page became more popular, it became apparent that a name was needed to differentiate them from other web pages. Jorn Barger, a writer, was the first to use the term "web blog" in 1997. During the early summer of 1999, Peter Merholz, a user interface consultant and web designer, used the term "wee blog" on his weblog, which soon became truncated to just 'blog'." (http://www.essex.ac.uk/chimera/content/pubs/wps/CWP-2005-02-blogging-in-the-Knowledge-Society-MB.pdf)

 

The following passage is taken from "A day in Iraq", a popular milblog written by a soldier under the pseudonym "Michael".

"The first milblogs came after the invasion of Afghanistan, when the U.S. military gave soldiers internet access. Blogging became the perfect way for soldiers to stay in touch with and to tell their stories to their comrades-in-arms, their friends and families, and even the public at large. Milblogs were ideal for filling in the gaps that both the media and the military left out of the war. For the first time in the history of warfare, the public had access to an immediate, uncensored bird’s-eye view of what was really happening on the ground. [...]

Military bloggers offer the public unfettered access to the War on Terror. The public does not have to wait weeks or months to hear what’s happened, nor settle for the government’s approved messages. In the past, there were only three sources from which the public could learn about a war: Combat correspondents, who sometimes wrote in the midst of action but just as often did not; government reports, which were often a mix of truth, propaganda and even disinformation; and soldiers who gave their own accounts of what they witnessed in letters to friends and family, accounts sometimes censored by the military, and always written and received well after the fighting had subsided." (http://adayiniraq.com/ posted on 9/15/2006 )

 

 

3. Credibility

 

Since the War in Iraq started reams of weblogs emerged, both pro-war and anti-war. Weblogs give bloggers and, in the case of warblogs, soldiers the means to potentially tell their story to millions of internet users. Anyone with internet access can start a blog, according to technorati, the leading internet search engine for blogs, there are over 112 millions in existence (June, 2008). 

 "A plenitude of information leads to a poverty of attention. When we are overwhelmed with the volume of information confronting us, it is hard to know what to focus on. Attention rather than information becomes the scarce resource, and those who can distinguish valuable signals from white noise gain power. Editors, filters, and cue givers become more in demand, and this is a source of power for those who can tell us where to focus our attention… Among editors and cue givers, credibility is the crucial resource and an important source of power." (Nye, Joseph S.: Soft power. The means to success in world politics and understand international conflict. New York 2004) 

 

Before looking at credibility effects employed by both the mainstream media and bloggers the following is an attempt to define credibility itself.  

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary credibility is the "the quality or power of inspiring belief".(http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Credibility)

"Andersen and Clevenger (1963) define the construct of credibility as "the image held of a communicator at a given time by a receiver - either one person or a group" (59)." (http://www.ou.edu/deptcomm/dodjcc/groups/06A/capstone.pdf)

Credibility can only be assigned by the addressees, only they can deem a source credible. And there are as many criteria for credibility as there are addressees due to the fact that sometimes credibility is a very subjective matter. This can be seen on the different credibility effects deployed by milblogs in comparison to the mainstream media (MSM).

 

The question now is how do bloggers and the mainstream media (MSM) establish credibility? Whereas the MSM tries to establish credibility by objectivity, rational reporting, bloggers use the exact opposite to establish credibility.

"With the exception of columnists, the traditional voice for a professional journalist is detached, neutral, and tells 'both' sides of the story. The voice of the typical current events blogger is personalized, opinionated, and often one-sided. Indeed, an opinionated voice is a hallmark of blog writing and those mainstream journalists who fail to reflect this are  criticized as not being true bloggers. In terms of audiences, the traditional role was that of passive recipients. On blogs, audiences are often invited to contribute information, comments, and sometimes direct financial support." (Wall, Melissa: "Blogs of War")

 

As stated before, bloggers and the mainstream media / traditional journalism employ different methods to establish credibility. The following chart is taken from Melissa Wall's "Blogs of War"

 

 

Traditional journalism

Blog journalism

Narrative style

Detached

Neutral

'Both' sides

Personal

Opinionated

One-sided

Approach to audience

Audience as passive recipient

Audience as co-creator

Story form

Structured format (e.g. inverted pyramid)

Answers basic questions (who, what, etc.)

Closed text

Sources and datelines for credibility

Fragments

Incomplete

Open text

Hyperlinks for credibility

 

 

While the traditional journalism is a one-way street when it comes to information stream, the audience being passive receivers, bloggers invite the audience to comment or add to the entries, making them co-creators of the site.

 

What makes it hard to determine the credibility of bloggers is that they don't pretend to cater for a mass audience. Studies have shown that people filter information on the Internet according to their prevailing ideas and opinions. So, most bloggers cater only for a like-minded audience, people already thinking alike, so there does not seem to be much conviction needed.

One also has to distinguish between blogs that mainly just comment on mainstream media reports and blogs that supply own information regarding the war. The first blogs can only be as credible as the source they are citing. The latter blogs, the ones that supply own information, are most of the time written under a pseudonym in order to protect the identity of the blogger, some of them still in active duty in the war zone.

Anonymity, is a bless and a curse at the same time. On the one hand anonymity enables bloggers, who are still in active duty, to openly express their views. On the other hand it raises questions concerning the credibility of bloggers.

This anonymity makes it hard to verify the stated information, readers only have the bloggers word for the authenticity of the supplied information.

But bloggers also emphasize regularly that their posts are only their opinions. They don't pretend to be objective or to look at both sides of a problem, they state their opinion and some even invite readers to join the debate on their site.

Due to the microperspective bloggers offer it is hard to judge a blog credible or noncredible. How can you judge whether an opinion is credible or not? Well, you can not, it is just an opinion. Nevertheless, bloggers try to back up their opinion by proof, many of them are soldiers or veterans with special background knowledge, and most bloggers even invite the audience to participate and provide knowledge themselves.  

 

 

4. Blogs as digital form of the "public sphere" (Jurgen Habermas)

 

As Melissa Wall stated, blogs are the new, digital "town halls". More and more people have access to the world wide web and use it to inform themselves about current events. Jürgen Habermas'  "public sphere" is a philosophical model, concerned with the forming of public opinion, which is also suitable to apply while analyzing milblogs and warblogs.

 

According to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, the public sphere, as determined by Jürgen Habermas, is "an area in social life where people can get together and freely discuss and identify societal problems, and through that discussion influence political action. It is "a discursive space in which individuals and groups congregate to discuss matters of mutual interest and, where possible, to reach a common judgment." The public sphere can be seen as "a theater in modern societies in which political participation is enacted through the medium of talk" and "a realm of social life in which public opinion can be formed"." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_sphere)

 

In our digitalized age, more and more people use the internet to find information and join discussions about current events. Blogs invite people all over the world to come together and exchange opinions and infomation.

"The term public sphere appears as a kind of buzzword or godterm, inviting nearuniversal approval because of its flexibility in fitting into different (positive) contexts. The public sphere developed in the context of the Enlightenment, changing significantly with the development of democracy along with mass media; subsequent change is all around us with further developments in electronic technology. Habermas distinguishes between “mere opinions” and “public opinion”: the latter requires “a public that engages in rational discussion” (p. 399). Established news organizations are commonly the dominant sources for information needed for the public sphere to flourish; they are, however, almost exclusively one-way channels, and given the social organizations of contemporary Western society too few venues exist for the equivalent of 18th-century coffee-houses and salons.

Weblogs are one type of web text that offer more open participation in an electronic public sphere. In contrast to print and broadcast media, they allow or encourage two-way communication. Much of what has been observed about the democratic potential of web texts generally applies to weblogs as well. Some of the early research on the text-based Internet (e.g., MUDs, e-mail, chat, IRC) points to characteristics that also apply to weblogs, particularly those which have comment features or which are collectively authored. Weblogs are commonly pseudonymous, with different degrees of disguise ranging from complete concealment to open secret, to persona, to actual professional name—as is common in text-based communications. Depending on the venue, the writers’ personae may be highly performative, with irony, satire, sarcasm, and invective commonly present, particularly in communal weblogs such as Fark.com and Metafilter. Patricia Wallace’s observation that “The Internet is an identity laboratory” (p. 48) is well illustrated in such cases." (http://transformations.cqu.edu.au/journal/issue_07/article_02.shtml

 

 

5. Relationship between bloggers and their audience

 

According to a paper by Adam Reed "My blog is me': Texts and Persons in UK Online Journal Culture" many  bloggers see their blogs as an extension of themselves and strongly identify with it. "This introduces a sense of corporeality to blogging, whereby blogs are the bodies of the bloggers, offering a representation as well as a space for the embodied digital individual [...] For the blogger, the blog is corporeal, but for the reader, it is a space for conversation" ( Boyd, Danah: "A Blogger's Blog"). Or to put it with the words of Melissa Wall, blogs are "a sort of virtual town hall but one that can be and often is anonymous."

Blogs appeal to many readers due to the feeling of interactivity, described by Martin Lister's paper "New Media and New Technology".

"[...] digital media offer us a significant increase in our opportunity to manipulate and intervene in media." At the ideological level, interactivity is understood as one of the key 'value added' characteristics of new media. Where 'old' media offer passive consumption new media offer interactivity."

 Interactivity " stands for a more powerful sense of user engagement with media texts, a more independent relation to sources of knowledge, individualised media use, and greater user choice. [...] So the audience for new media becomes a 'user' rather than a 'viewer' of visual culture, film and TV or a 'reader' of literature."

News become a kind of communal experience, both blogger and audience participating in a discussion of current events. Thus the more personal a blog is, the more people will feel it to be credible and keep on reading and commenting.

 

6. Conclusion

 

The relationship between the mainstream media and bloggers is a love-hate-relationship. Bloggers can't live without the MSM but also can't seem to live with it. Bloggers still heavily rely on the mainstream media to provide them with material, due to the fact that the MSM has access to material bloggers do not. Will blogs displace the traditional media? Probably not, but they will likely complement them. More and more people have internet access and use the world wide web to get information about current events in addition to the traditional news outlets. Blogs are particularly useful, due to the fact that they form a kind of network, linking several sources together, supplying several perspectives on one topic or current event. The first and foremost ability of blogs is, that they can engage directly with their readers and spark and continue political discussions.

Milblogs and warblogs present a new perspective on the war in Iraq, an eye-witness-perspective. Military bloggers, e.g. soldiers, veterans, family members of active soldiers, add an inside and human perspective to war coverage. In the case of "Michael", the creator of "A day in Iraq", the blog becomes increasingly personal to the end. Particularly the entry titled " God, Hope, and Johnny Cash" is very emotional, conveying the feelings of a soldier in a war-zone. As can seen by the amounts of comments this particular entry received, people respond strongly to the way "Michael" depicted his experiences.

Concluding it can be said that mainstream media and bloggers are complementing parts of the war coverage. Bloggers use their websites as a forum to talk about media reports, to discuss the credibility of these said reports, to exchange ideas and opinions. In short, they give people an opportunity to inform themselves about the war and discuss it with like-minded people in a "virtual townhall". This way they add another way to the information stream, readers can instantly answer or comment to entries, making blogs a two-way-street when it comes to information stream. Blogs offer politically interested netizens a forum to exchange ideas and informations, discuss and debate current political events.

 

Further Reading:

 

Anderson, Bruce et al: Don't tread on my blog: A study of military web logs

 

Kumar, Rahul: Bloggers versus the mainstream media: A study on Iraq

Matheson, Donald. and Allan, Stuart. "Weblogs and the War in Iraq" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, Dresden International Congress Centre, Dresden, Germany, Online <PDF>. 2008-08-17 <http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p90964_index.html>

Robbins, Elizabeth: Muddy Boots IO: The Rise of Soldier Blogs

Thompson, Gary: Weblogs, warblogs, the public sphere, and bubbles

 

Works cited:

 

 Boyd, Danah. 2006. "A Blogger's Blog: Exploring the Definition of a Medium." Reconstruction 6 (4).    http://reconstruction.eserver.org/064/boyd.shtml

 Lister, Martin: New Media and New Technologies. In: Martin Lister et al.. New Media: A Critical Introduction.  Routledge, 2003.

Wall, Melissa: Blogs of War. Weblogs as news.

Wikipedia, "Public Sphere," 2008, http://http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_sphere (accessed 18 Aug. 2008).

Anderson Bruce et. al: "Don't tread on my blog: A study of military web logs"

http://www.ou.edu/deptcomm/dodjcc/groups/06A/capstone.pdf (08/12/2008, 18:03)

Brady, M. (2005) 'Blogging, personal participation in public knowledge-building on the web', Chimera Working Paper 2005-02>. Colchester: University of Essex. (http://www.essex.ac.uk/chimera/content/pubs/wps/CWP-2005-02-blogging-in-the-Knowledge-Society-MB.pdf,)( 08/16/2008, 16:03)

Thompson, Garry. "Weblogs, warblogs, the public sphere, and bubbles" Transformation Journal. New Media Technologies, Issue No. 7 (September 2003)(http://transformations.cqu.edu.au/journal/issue_07/article_02.shtml)

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