Wired.com is running a story about the usefulness of blogs and some downfalls as well.

When man bites dog, who’s the first to report it? Don’t assume it’s your local paper or CNN. These days, “our man on the scene” is often a swarm of amazingly prolific nonprofessionals posting up-to-the-minute stories and pictures of breaking news from their laptops. Their amateur dispatches vary wildly, from small-town sites tracking potholes to some 40,000 “citizen reporters” filing stories for half a million daily readers of South Korea’s hugely successful OhmyNews. Even the pros are turning to indie operators for help. After the London blasts in July, the BBC relied on bush-league shutterbugs with digicams and cell phones to assist with its coverage. Here’s the lowdown on the new proletariat press.

Aren’t we really talking about blogs?
Yes and no. Yammering about a story you read in The New York Times doesn’t qualify as reporting, even when it’s “participatory” yammering. But news – i.e., real, original information – is news whether it breaks on NBC or your sister’s boy-band site. Besides, there’s more online than bloggers. Wikinews, an open source site, relies on hundreds of volunteers to pull together headlines, stories, and pictures each day. And don’t get too hung up defining who’s a journalist. “Most people are perfectly capable of – and will at some point do – an act of journalism,” says Dan Gillmor, author of We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People.

Don’t the media already ask citizens for help?
Sure. News organizations have been hitting up audiences for tips and footage for years. Think back to all the homespun tornado and hurricane vids (not to mention the Rodney King tape). But this is different. Rookies are no longer handing their source material to the pros; they’re publishing it themselves. Journalists still need Joe Citizen, but he doesn’t need them.

Cool! So, we’re all reporters now?
Proceed at your own peril. Courts have been reluctant to extend to amateurs the First Amendment protections or shield laws enjoyed by the Fourth Estate. Bloggers hoped that Apple’s recent lawsuits targeting the source of product leaks on rumor sites would settle the issue, but the superior court ruling skirted the question of who’s a journalist. In any case, where were the trade-secret subpoenas when The Wall Street Journal scooped Apple’s switch to Intel chips?

Do we even need the Times anymore?
The pros still have one thing most amateurs don’t: resources. Grassroots reporting fills the gaps in mainstream coverage, keeps members of the old guard on their toes, and shines when there’s a premium on fast facts from the scene. But laypeople can’t do much with a story like Watergate or Enron. “Big investigative projects require deep pockets,” Gillmor says. “I’m not trying to tell anyone that we don’t need paid journalists. I hope for an ecosystem where many forms of information can survive and thrive.”

By Lucas Graves

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