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Panel Discusses Blog Effects

Experts predict coexistence of blogs and traditional media possible

Blogs won’t sound the death knell for mainstream media, leaders of today’s news industry said Friday at a Kennedy School of Government panel that included blogger Arianna Huffington and Slate Magazine founder Michael Kinsley ’72.

Around 200 spectators flocked to the Joan Shorenstein Center for the Press, Politics and Public Policy last week in celebration of the Harvard research center’s 20th anniversary. There, six panelists agreed that traditional forms of news can co-exist with online alternatives.

“In the foreseeable future, while we and our children are alive, it’s going to be both, it’s going to be mainstream media and online,” said Huffington, co-founder of HuffingtonPost.com.

But Kinsley, of Slate.com and a former vice president of The Crimson, told the crowd that the quality of some blogs is not up to par.

“I think you would admit there’s a lot of crap that goes out on the Internet...from the proverbial guy in his underwear in the basement,” he said, eliciting laughter from the crowd.

A more optimistic view prevailed, however: News readers are able to separate good from bad reporting—and leaders in the field should help them do so.

“We all do care about the truth,” said Jeff Jarvis, BuzzMachine.com blogger. “It’s not us versus them.”

And poor news reporting did not originate in the blogosphere, according to Paul Sagan, president and chief executive officer of Cambridge-based media business Akamai.

“I see...a lot of good stuff and a lot of crap [on the Internet],” Sagan said. “But I see it in my neighborhood newspaper, too.”

Blogs, on the whole, act as checks on mainstream news sources and provide unlimited space for information, said panelist Rebecca MacKinnon, the co-founder of Global Voices Online, a non-profit media project sponsored by the Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

“In the past, if a journalist didn’t pick up on something...it didn’t go anywhere,” she said. “You don’t have to wait for professionals to have space in their newspapers or even on their Web sites.”

Martin Nisenholtz, senior vice president of digital operations for The New York Times Company, lauded the non-stop nature of modern news.

“We have the bones now and the infrastructure to report about and edit the news continuously,” he said.

A student at the Kennedy School who attended the event, Anjeanette T. Damon, said the future of journalism is an important topic.

“We need to be smart about how [journalism] evolves so that we keep its important values while not becoming obsolete,” she said. “It’s a very rarefied discussion, but hopefully it broadens.”
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