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Invasion of the "blogs": Growing popularity of weblog publishing spurs creation of J-school class

5 August 2002

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs

BERKELEY - Blogs are everywhere, and they’re spawning at a rapid pace! Not to worry, though; they’re not alien creatures invading Earth, but rather the latest rage in online publishing and the subject of a new class at Berkeley this fall.

A growing number of people across the globe are using blogs — the popular abbreviation for "weblogs" — to disseminate and receive information on a variety of topics, such as politics, technology and pop culture. Estimates put the number of weblogs currently posted on the Web at anywhere from 200,000 to 500,000.

Using a weblog, individuals or groups post a running commentary on a particular subject. The sites also include links to other resources and a place for readers to provide feedback, explains Paul Grabowicz, director of the New Media Program at the Graduate School of Journalism. Weblogs are updated frequently, even several times a day, as new information is acquired.

Paul Grabowicz
Paul Grabowicz, assistant dean and director of the New Media Program at the Graduate School of Journalism

Intrigued by this growing phenomena – and its potential for journalists – Grabowicz, along with Berkeley teaching fellow and Wired magazine co-founder John Battelle, has created a new fall course on weblogs.

"It’s a great way to get the latest information on an issue," said Grabowicz, himself a contributor to a weblog on electronic media. "Breaking news, court decisions, speeches and other updates are often posted in real time, which can be of real value to reporters."
The other advantage, 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 said. "But weblogs are more organic, continually changing shape as new details are added. And the information is not filtered through an editorial process."

This format is ideally suited for discussion of intellectual property and copyright issues, he said, so students will create a weblog on the topic for the fall course.

Members of the class 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.

"We’re interested in turning journalism into process, where we post a story and then engage our readership to expand on it," Grabowicz said. "But it raises some questions about our role as journalists: 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?"

Not everyone is happy about journalists-in-training entering the land of weblogs. When news of the class broke earlier this summer, it created an uproar among blogging purists, Grabowicz recalled.

Their concern is that the blogging phenomenon will be co-opted by media giants, who will remove the passion, spontaneity and accessibility that are the hallmarks of weblogs, morphing them instead into a traditional corporate news vehicle, Grabowicz explained.

"All hell broke loose," he said of the media flurry that surrounded the controversy. One weblogger, quoted in a recent news article, called the class the "the Altamont of blogging," likening it to the ill-fated 1969 Rolling Stones concert that symbolically ended the peace and love era.

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