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Think a blog is news? Think again

Sun Advocate publisher

As the electronic world moves forward and people use the Internet more and more to get their news and information, one has to step back and really examine what they are getting from the new medium.

Now I am venturing into this opinion piece sounding like an old timer when I call the Internet "new." For those of us that grew up listening to vinyl records, taping sounds on reel-to-reel tape recorders, reading books on paper and newspapers in their actual print form, the Internet is new. For those under 20, the Internet is the way it has always been.

But let's take a look at the difference between what we get from unregulated new sources and those that at least have some kind of out-of-the-loop editor looking them over. In fact, let me give you and example of what can and does happen every day in our society right now.

Suppose a reporter from a local newspaper gets an agenda from a local zoning entity. There are six things on that agenda, two for conditional use permits for gas wells, one for a subdivision planning session and two for zoning changes. One zoning change involves a business that wants a piece of property next to it changed from a residential zone to a commercial zone so they can expand their building. The other has to do with a zoning change so a guy who owns a pig farm can zone another piece have animals on it, zoned that way so he can raise more pigs for his business.

At the same time a guy has a blog where he talks about the community all the time catches wind (no pun intended) that at the zoning meeting the guy who lives down the street wants to expand his pig farm.

Both attend the meeting when it starts at 3 p.m. The reporter takes copius notes concerning all the actions that occur in the meeting, from the conditional use permits to the pig farm expansion. At the meeting there are a lot of people who are opposed to the conditional use permits because they don't like the idea of the gas wells so close to their homes. There are a couple who oppose the pig farm, including the blogger who is attending. One person doesn't like the idea of the building expansion. The subdivision planning part has no opposition.

That evening, for the next day,s paper and for the paper,s Web site the reporter writes a story about the meeting. He puts the emphasis of the story on the conditional use permits, because that is what generated the most interest in the meeting. Farther down in the article he writes about the pig farm and then the commercial building expansion. In the story he reports the board holds up the CU permits for awhile so they can study and possibly come up with some solutions for the concerned residents, allows the commercial building expansion by changing the zone and waits to make a decision about the pig farm until more information can be gathered and residents polled.

The blogger, on the other hand, goes to the meeting and then writes in his blog nothing but the pig farm issue. He is against it and gives all the reasons why it should not happen. He quotes nothing from the pig farmer, who in the newspaper article is quoted as being concerned about surrounding residents and offering to do things to help with the situation should it be approved. The blogger has made it clear that the only issue that counts within that meeting is the pig farm expansion and that the board should make it the top priority, even though there were a dozen people there concerned about the conditional use permits for the gas well.

So which of these two accounts would you trust for your "news?" Certainly newspaper reporters have biases, but that is the reason editors exist in news organizations. They have their biases too, though. But at least the most important story in the meeting was reported upon.

The blogger on the other hand acts like there is no other issue to pursue or that is important. If you read only it, you would think there was nothing else discussed in the meeting because he is trying to sway you to his point of view.

That's not to say blogs are bad; they aren't. But today people mistake blogs for the news; often the independent bloggers have no oversight over what they write - no one to say, is this fair and balanced. Even at that some are; but there are many that aren't.

Real, truthful news is not simple to report, nor is it always entertaining. Taking a stand is okay on issues, even in a newspaper; but it should be done on the opinion page or at least in a "new analysis" format that is clearly marked that way.

We all have blogs we love to read; but remember they are generally one person's opinion and perception of what has or will happen and no one else's.

The fact is, the truth in the world of journalism lies only in balanced, neutral reporting.

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