I just finished my first semester teaching Introduction to Mass Communication at Northwest Vista College. As part of an exploration on new media, students were asked to pick one blog in the Technorati 100 and follow it for three weeks.
While several of the students regularly read blogs, most had little experience reading them. As part of their final grade, they presented their findings to the class, comparing the spirit of the blog to the spirit of the Cluetrain Manifesto and to our examination of media literacy.
Here’s what they found:
Some blogs are a complete waste of time. This was true for blogs which just re-posted content and links from other sites. It was also true for many of the celebrity-driven blogs and one blog about national security.
Blogs can be reputable sources. Some of the students examined the phenomenon of sites like TMZ.com which are now reputable sources of “breaking news.” This was also true for tech blogs they examined.
Blogs are no more than one person’s opinion. This was the conclusion from several students who followed blogs authored by a singular individual; it is also evidence of the increasing difficulty of separating fact and opinion in the blog medium.
News can spread like wildfire because of blogs. Each student was monitoring a different blog, but during the course of the project, they easily compared crossover stories like the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the military, the TSA “pat-down” phenomenon and, particularly distressing for San Antonians, the impending divorce of Eva Longoria and Tony Parker.
It’s interesting to note that while one of the main theses of Cluetrain Manifesto was transparency in organizations, many students could not find “ownership” information for many of the blogs studied. Even in new media, there is a long way to go for outlets to be transparent.