Blogging along
Popular online format spurs creation of fall J-School course

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs



Adjunct Professor of Journalism Paul Grabowicz wants students in his new fall course to not only read weblogs, but make their own.
Noah Berger photo

15 August 2002 | Blogs. Though the name is clumsy, the method is deft: A weblog (“blog” for short) is a web-based tool for spreading information on a variety of topics around the world via the Internet.

Using blogs, individuals or groups post a running commentary on topics that interest them — politics, technology, pop culture … nearly anything at all. The sites typically include links to other web resources and a space for readers to provide feedback or interact. They are updated frequently, even several times a day, as new information flows in. Estimates put the number of weblogs currently online at anywhere from 200,000 to 500,000.

Intrigued by this growing phenomenon and its potential for journalists, Paul Grabowicz, director of the Graduate School of Journalism’s New Media Program — along with Berkeley teaching fellow and Wired magazine co-founder John Battelle — has created a new fall course on weblogs. Students will create a weblog that explores the subjects of intellectual property and copyright, topics of keen interest to the online publishing community. They will post news bulletins, stories, background information, and links to related blogs as well as solicit feedback from readers; local experts, including campus faculty, will contribute as well.

“Weblogs are a great way to get the latest information on an issue,” says Grabowicz, himself a contributor to a weblog focusing on online journalism ( “Breaking news, court decisions, speeches, and other updates are often posted in real time, which can be very valuable to reporters.” Another benefit, he says, is that the sites are interactive, with comments pouring in from readers all over the world, much like a global network of news bureaus.

“Traditional news formats are static — once a story is published, it doesn’t change,” Grabowicz says. “But weblogs are more organic, continually changing shape as new details are added. And the information is not filtered through an editorial process.”

Grabowicz acknowledges that adopting the weblog approach to publishing — where “we post a story and then engage our readership to expand on it” — raises some questions about the role journalists can or should assume in this new medium. “Do we just serve up a story and have the public take it or leave it, as in traditional media? Or do we make it more interactive and try to connect with people?”

He’s not alone in pursuing these kinds of questions, though his tone may be more measured. When news of the planned class broke earlier this summer, it created an uproar among blogging purists.

“All hell broke loose,” Grabowicz says, recalling the media flurry that surrounded the controversy. One weblogger said the class would be “the Altamont of blogging,” referring to the ill-fated 1969 Rolling Stones concert that symbolically ended the peace-and-love era.

One oft-stated concern is that blogs will be co-opted by corporate media giants, who will pervert the passion, spontaneity, and accessibility that are the hallmarks of weblogs, morphing them into traditional news vehicles, Grabowicz explains. Indeed, he points out, many weblogs were created by people frustrated by the narrow scope of mainstream media. Blogs put the power of newsgathering in the hands of the people, many of whom feel they are just as good as — or better than — professional reporters. A class that will train journalists to blog is seen as a threat to this grassroots effort.

“What the bloggers don’t realize is that many of us at the journalism school share their same criticisms of big media,” Grabowicz says. “Our hope is that journalists and bloggers can work with each other instead of against each other.”


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