Debate over blog credibility called 'a false controversy'

Although the subjects of their sites differ, L.A. Observed blogger Kevin Roderick proposed Tuesday at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication that he and Defamer‘s Mark Lisanti are probably not all that different, particularly when it comes to the journalistic sensibilities that inform their work.

At the lunch discussion “Blogging Los Angeles, from Two Very Different Perspectives,” Roderick said he doesn’t see much value in the debate about whether blogging is journalism. He said he uses the same kind of reporting skills and ethics as a blogger that he used during his long tenure as both reporter and editor at the Los Angeles Times.

Both bloggers at least partly rely on reader-supplied tips and information to carry off their own brands of insider news — Lisanti’s on each day’s happenings in Hollywood, Roderick’s on Los Angeles media, culture and politics.

Lisanti agreed with Roderick that he tries his best to confirm tips and to avoid being used by tipsters with hidden agendas by applying a “smell test and common sense.”

But Lisanti also pointed out that the Defamer reports “gossip and on gossip.”

“I try [to check things out.] I also don’t pretend that I’m authoritative or the last word on anything,” Lisanti said.

“The standards are different” for what’s written online, Roderick said, mainly because posts can be instantly updated. Roderick said he applies a sniff test too, but added that he is very comfortable posting something “partially reported” — as long as he clearly tells readers when a rumor is a rumor, for example.

Roderick stated that so far, by using his journalists’ instincts when writing for L.A. Observed, he has not had to make any major corrections.

“Many blogs are being written by journalists,” and they’re using their journalistic standards. The issue of blog credibility is “a false controversy to me,” Roderick said.

ONA panelists share successful models of participatory journalism

At Saturday’s Online News Association New York conference, Moderator Kinsey Wilson, vice president and editor in chief of, introduced Will Femia, blog manager at; Robert Niles, editor of Online Journalism Review; and Christopher Grotke and Lise LePage, both of, as exemplars of participatory journalism.

“I’m not necessarily a citizen journalist evangelist. … I have a pragmatic feeling about it,” Femia said.

He explained that prompting responses is helpful but gave examples of times when this has gone awry, like when they asked readers “What would you ask Condoleeza Rice? What would you ask if you were on the 9/11 Commission?”

They got back many off-topic posts like, “Why do you have the flip in your hair?” Additionally, the volume of e-mails can be uncontrollable, Femia said. For example, during Hurricane Katrina, MSNBC received about one e-mail every 10 seconds.

As examples of MSNBC’s offerings, Femia showed the audience a section called Citizen Journalists Report and another called The Red Tape Chronicles.

Participatory journalism is about “using the tools of the Internet to do a more thorough job of journalism,” Niles said. Niles invoked Dan Gillmor’s familiar reminder, “My readers know more than I do” and explained that soliciting reporting from readers is simply a way to gather more information and more sources.

“Don’t get hung up on the tools. Think about the goals,” Niles suggested. He said to keep an open mind about new ways to gather information from as many sources as possible.

Niles recently used a wiki format on Online Journalism Review for an article with content he’d like to update over time, but at a static URL. He called this “a fundamentally different concept of how to handle information.”

Participatory journalism works best on niche topic sites, Niles said, where people feel like part of a community and will “take a sense of ownership and participation in the site.” is an example of a site where the readers have an investment in the site’s content. The site serves an important purpose because the community of Brattleboro, Vermont was not being adequately served by larger media.

Site editor and developer Lise LePage said that the project has “been successful beyond our wildest dreams.”

LePage and partner Christopher Grotke said they started the site in February 2003 using open source code and that they advertised the launch with fliers they distributed in town.

They seeded the site with content to encourage participation and to serve as a model and then watched as their readership slowly developed. Soon, LePage and Grotke said they’ll be turning to advertising to help pay for the site.

Grotke and LePage said the natural evolution of the site has led to a soon-to-be-released policy about what can and cannot be posted.

Currently, they moderate content and take down “ad hominem, name-calling, nasty things.” They have not banned anyone yet, but said that there are some readers in danger of being excluded from the site.

Niles summed up the relatively new practice of participatory journalism by saying: “We’re still doing the same thing we’ve always done. We’re still reporting information to an audience.”

International panelists share multimedia success stories

Broadening the Bandwidth,” the international panel at the Online News Association’s New York conference Friday, was an opportunity for journalists from Spain, Brazil, Germany and the U.K. to share and discuss cutting-edge online news developments in their respective countries.

Alberto Cairo, assistant professor of infographics at the University of North Carolina and infographics editor of in Spain told the audience that he considers himself a journalist, not a designer. “I went to school for journalism. I moved to [interactive graphics] later.”

Cairo is currently on leave from to teach at UNC but took time out to come to ONA and share some of the infographic features he designed for the news site, which has 6 million unique users.

Cairo said has a commitment to visual journalism and that Spain has long been a leader in the creation of powerful infographics.

At, they produce their own infographics and also do their own reporting, rather than relying on the work of print reporters. Infographics can stand alone, Cairo reminded the audience, making them a unique information-sharing device. is trying to move away from print-inspired graphics to a more multimedia model that includes audio and video, like the Deep Impact story.

Cairo’s co-panelist, Marion Strecker, is cofounder and director of Univierso Online, Brazil. Strecker explained successful interactive features at UOL.

To attract a younger audience, Strecker said, UOL asked Marcelo Tas, an actor, videomaker and multimedia showman to create a satirical blog about the 2004 local elections.

This blog led to a spin-off project where the website did live coverage of the opening of a satirical play written by Tas called The History of Brazil by Ernesto Varela. Ernesto Varela is a character Tas created to play a reporter who asks bold questions everyone wants to ask, but no one dares.

German panelist Guido Baumhauer, editor in chief of Deutsche Welle, emphasized the site’s availability in many languages and also discussed Deutsche Welle’s forays into producing content and multimedia for mobile phones.

BBC Interactive deputy editor Paul Brannon read a few of the 20,000 plus e-mails the BBC received the day of the terrorist attacks on London’s transit system. The e-mails gave the news service reports of events all over the ctiy and conflicted with the authorities’ reports that there had been an electrical explosion on one of the trains.

Brannon also showed audience-supplied photographs of the attacks and reminded the audience that “we are all reporters now.