Are traditional medias threatened by blogs, those personal websites that are multiplying all over the Web at exponential speed? The European Parliament recently showed its rising interest in the blogosphere at the launch of its new website (www.europarl.eu.int) with a series of round table talks on the information society, the first of which was about ethical questions arising from the emergence of millions of weblogs.
The discussion, entitled "Weblogs - competition, challenge or chance? Who's afraid to open Pandora's blogs?" took place on 12 September 2005 and was chaired by Guido Baumhauer, the editor-in-chief of Deutsche Welle's online service. Guido Baumhauer noted that there were currently 31 million blogs online and that 80,000 were created every day, many of which aim at providing additional or contradictory information to the traditional media’s.
At the round table, Labour MEP Richard Corbett (who was the first Member of the Parliament to launch a blog) said that he first started his blog as an online dairy, illustrating what an MEP's life was like. He has however now switched to a more topical approach, reaching out to voters and rebutting eurosceptics. Some of the journalists attending admitted that they had been known to use blogs to gather information, especially in occasions when official information was not available like during the tsunami last December.
Of course, this is not to say that traditional media like the BBC or CNN will become obsolete in years to come as people will always want credible and trustworthy information, which is where most blogs fail as many mix information and advertising or do not reference their sources.
This issue is fast becoming even more complicated as many journalists start blogging themselves, editing news that do not get published by their employers. Do they then become a threat to them? Aidan White, Secretary General of the International Federation of Journalists, himself regularly updates his blog. For him, blogging is a positive development, as long as this additional information is of the same standards as the one found in standard media. According to him, the problem with blogs is that they do not operate within any ethical framework, a statement that Karlin Lillington from the Irish Times agrees with, adding that bloggers could behave like cowboys in the Far West blogosphere ,especially when it comes to ethical issues and defamation.
Personally, I am acutely aware that whatever I read on blogs out there is a personal take on an event, that it is by definition tainted with personal beliefs and opinions and that’s one of the reasons why I read them. For entertainment purposes and yes, I admit, additional information sometimes like during hurricane Katrina. I do take them with a pinch of salt as they are what they are: a space for individuals to express their views freely with no constraints or consequences (unless, of course, you bitch about your employer and they find out)… It does raise, however, the issue of the right to a private life for the “victims” too…