12:30 PM

Are bloggers journalists? This is one of the most important cultural questions facing society today....

By Tom Foremski for SiliconValleyWatcher

confused spanky.jpgHere is a version of an entry I wrote for New Communications Forum, in which I postulated that one of the most important cultural questions facing society is: Are bloggers journalists?

It is an important question; because the media is part of the trusted channels of communication that society uses to think, distribute ideas, and exercise its right to free speech.

It's an important question; because the answer carries with it considerable responsibility. If bloggers are indeed journalists, then they deal in the same currency of ideas and influence as the established media.

But this fragmentation of the mediasphere, into millions of blogs, upsets society's trusted ways of distributing its ideas and free speech; and, in the process, journalism is being transformed in many ways. Print journalism, the most dominant form, is under economic threat from online media, with its lower cost business models. And the profession of journalism is under society's microscope, as millions of bloggers challenge the accepted notions of what journalism is, and who can, or should be allowed to, practice it.

The Internet is a disruptive media technology

This transformation of journalism is best understood if the Internet is understood as a disruptive force, not of the technology sector, but of the media sector. The Internet is a collection of disruptive media technologies; and blogging, RSS, wikis, podcasts, etc., are part of a second wave of powerful media technologies that are accelerating this disruptive process.

The first wave of Internet media technology was the flood of web browser technologies that enabled anyone to read a web page, regardless of the computer or operating system. Similarly, blogging allows anyone to easily publish a web page, regardless of the computer or operating system.

But blogging is more than a web browser; it is more like an "asynchronous" media technology, Geek speak for "can move both ways." And this is reflected in how the early pioneers understand this Internet 2.0 or Web 2.0 emerging phase of the Internet.

Richard MacManus, one of my new colleagues on SiliconValleyWatcher, (and ionRSS.com coming soon!), has a web site called ReadWriteWeb.com. Joe Kraus, co-founder of JotSpot, developer of a corporate wiki platform, said he'd considered using Escher's drawing of a hand drawing a hand for the logo of his company.

This two-way web concept is just emerging into the mainstream culture, having been closeted in the Geek community for the past few years. But the concept of a two-way media is more than just a handy way of describing the blogging phenomenon. It is leveling the "free speech" playing field of journalism between established and new media.

In a nutshell, bloggers can now publish their free speech, their ideas, their influence, and reach 4/5ths of the world's population for virtually nothing. I'm not saying that 4/5ths of the world's population would read the bloggers; but the reach is there, and essentially for free. It costs less than $10 per month to host a blog; and the online network of bloggers can carry the content far and wide for free.

Anyone can have a powerful web publishing platform that is near completely automated. And that upsets the channels of influence in our society, which were protected from competition because of the high cost of publishing high quality content.

In Part II: Apple's hunt for leaksters threatens to muzzle the press...