By James Baetke
Colorado State University
Robert Cox, founder and president of the Media Bloggers Association, has been on a month-long mission to get journalists’ opinions about the blogosphere.
Cox is ending his jet-setting journey at the SPJ convention, asking journalists how they define bloggers and how a set of ethics can be applied to the emerging profession.
Cox is also interested in applying parts of the SPJ Code of Ethics to the MBA’s “statement of principles.”
The controversy with Web loggers lies with accountability, accurate reporting and fair access to information. Some in the mainstream media question the truthfulness of blogging reports, while the bloggers themselves maintain they are an unheard, ubiquitous voice that filters missed opportunities by bigger media outlets.
“There are forces out there who want to mute the bloggers, but we want the right to speak our piece without fear,” Cox said. “Just like the newspaper industry has to contend with the Globe or the Star, the bloggers face the same thing.”
Some of the estimated 10 to 15 million worldwide bloggers are fighting for accreditation as true journalists — partially so they can be covered under state shield laws. Others are happy leading a Web life of anonymity.
“I would at least like to say: I’m not a journalist, I’m just a blogger,” Cox said.
SPJ President Christine Tatum says the rift between mainstream media and bloggers is unnecessary and she would like to see more training for bloggers.
“To be honest, I suspect a lot of bloggers could use some very basic training that extends beyond the study of ethics,” Tatum said. “Many don’t understand the need to contact all parties involved in a story.”
Cox, who has been blogging for six years, found himself involved in a lawsuit with the New York Times in 2003. Through his blog, the “National Debate,” he criticized a Times columnist who Cox says manufactured a quote pulled from a Bush speech.
Cox then blogged his entire legal experience — including e-mail correspondence and memos exchanged between Cox and the Times — and gained national attention after more influential blogs circulated his story.
Eventually, the Times met with Cox, dropped the lawsuit and complied with demands from Cox that forever changed the way they handle corrections and clarifications.
Cox says he met with Times editors after they became aware of the negative attention the newspaper was getting in the blog world and the mainstream media. The Times agreed to improve the visibility of corrections by publishing them at the bottom of opinion columns.
“Some bloggers have done a great job of holding people accountable and uncovering all sorts of corruption, but news organizations have been doing that for hundreds of years,” Tatum said.
“While I appreciate the rise and increasing importance of blogs, I just don’t think we’re looking any time soon at a means of delivering information that is going to completely wipe out the more traditional news providers we have appreciated.”
The MBA, located at mediabloggers.org, is a 1,000-member group that Cox says will grow 10-fold by the end of 2007. The membership is a non-partisan organization dedicated to promoting MBA members and their blogs, educating bloggers and promoting the growth of citizen’s media.
To become a member of the MBA, a blogger must, among other things, “have a demonstrated history of a serious commitment to blogging evidenced by blogging for more than several months, posting regularly and frequently, and writing posts of some reasonable level of quality.”
Cox’s hope is that journalists and the mainstream media will give bloggers a chance to grow, develop and weed out the bad.
“Blogs that abuse the trust of the readers will be seen as unreliable,” Cox said.