Web logging, or blogging, is the new kid on the media block, complete with its own, unique lexicon. The verb is to blog and the participant in blogging is a blogger. If you are part of the blogging community, you are also part of the blogosphere - presumably with its own weather system.
A blog is simply a series of updated posts on a web page in the form of a diary or journal, often including commentary on, and hypertext links to, other web sites. Posts are in chronological order and can contain anything from simple text, to music, images and even streamed video.
Blogs tend to be highly personalised - an online stream of consciousness. Nothing particularly unusual about that when you consider the rise of the personal home page, for example. But the phenomenon is that so many people are interested in what bloggers have to say.
Perhaps one attraction of blogging lies in its unmediated and dynamic quality. Without an agenda, editorial stance or pedantic sub-editor standing between the writer and reader, blogging can provide reportage in a raw and exciting form.
"Readers are flocking to online news sites by the millions for the latest news about the war in Iraq," JD Lasica, senior editor of the Online Journalism Review, told dotJournalism. "But the story doesn't end there.
"They are also streaming to weblogs for sceptical analysis, critical commentary, alternative perspectives rarely seen in mainstream media, [such as] the views of foreigners, and the occasional first-person account. A handful of reporters in the Gulf region are maintaining weblogs to provide fuller, more personal and colourful reporting of what they are witnessing first-hand."
The 9/11 terrorist attacks fuelled the public's appetite for information, analysis and news, if only to make sense of the tragedy. Bloggers rose to prominence by feeding this desire.
Unlike the large media organisations, bloggers were unhindered by the normal journalistic standards of objectivity, balance and accuracy. This amateur output was raw, subjective and honest as people sought emotions, not detachment - finding solace and expression in the words of the thousands of blogs that sprang up.
Blogger.com took advantage by providing the basic tools needed for anyone to record their thoughts, feelings and views online. Easier than building a web site, these simple web publishing tools promised to democratise the web, allowing anyone with internet access to have a voice online.
Then blogging went mainstream. Established print journalists from outlets such as MSNBC and Guardian Unlimited started to create their own weblogs to sit alongside news and features, blurring the distinction between journalism and blogging still further. And the tools to build blogs became more widespread with internet service providers such as AOL offering blogging tools to their users and Blogger.com receiving a financial boost from its acquisition by the search engine company Google.
But while some bloggers believe that a new brand of journalism is emerging, some new media pundits remain sceptical.
"It's like all stuff on the web," Mike Smartt, editor of BBC News Online, told dotJournalism. "Dissemination of information is great, but how much of it is trustworthy? They are an interesting phenomenon, but I don't think they will be as talked about in a year's time.
"Web logs provide a very good service at pointing people at other trusted web sites by filtering the news in a way - you might be interested in this, because you are interested in that. Some of the personal ones are quite good."
Lloyd Shepherd, chief producer for Guardian Unlimited, feels weblogs have a role alongside the usual news output, but are not journalism: "Blogging is not structured in the way journalism is. People are putting their views out in a relatively unprocessed manner.
"The two main things that separate blogging from journalism are the personalisation of the voice of the blogger and the lack of the subbing workflow you would expect to see for any print or online publication.
"For instance, is the Drudge Report journalism? I would contend it is not journalism. It is unprocessed."
The question is why so many readers of online content have chosen to eschew traditional sources of news in favour of weblogs. Looking at the content blogs provide, such as alternative perspective, first-person experiences and interactivity, one might conclude that readers want either a balanced or more personal angle to their news.
At the heart of this may also be a growing dissatisfaction or distrust of news provided by large media conglomerates.
Robert L Belichick, a health care organisation worker from Chicago, is a regular reader of blogs. "The main reason for going to the blogs is for information that will never see the light of day in the print or TV media realm," he told dotJournalism.
"I am not sure if blogging is journalism, but I do believe it is more responsible than the media. Remember the bloggers are not sponsored or beholden to the six major companies that own the media in the US.
"For one example, not one major media outlet in the US reported that the US excised over 8,000 pages from the Iraq declaration since it contained information about the US companies that supplied all of the biological and chemical 'weapons' to [Saddam]."
If journalism is by definition the reporting of news in a fair, balanced and accurate way, then blogging is not journalism. But if the truth is that not all journalists and media outlets adhere to these principles, the distinction is less clear.
"While people from journalism backgrounds tend to say they aspire to the high ideals of truth, fairness, and accuracy, I don't think the output of most newspapers comes close to that," Matt Haughey, creator of Metafilter.com, told dotJournalism. "When I'm reading a blog that features reportage or fact-checking, I can determine myself if the author is being factual because they'll reveal their sources in links, and I can read up on them to determine how impartial they are being.
"If they're not sticking to standards, it'll be noticed by readers and other webloggers, who will take the author to task for the impropriety. The community acts as the editors."
A corollary of the debate over blogging has highlighted the feeling that many big news and media organisations have lost sight of the fact that no publication or source can automatically command the trust of the reader.
But journalists are not the only ones who know how to speak the truth, according to JD Lasica: "Bloggers are increasingly engaging in random acts of journalism whenever they report on events they witness first-hand or when they offer analysis, background or commentary on a newsworthy topic. Those who publish rumour and present it as fact will be burned fairly quickly."
The weblogs that have gained huge followings have done so on the basis of becoming an authority on a particular subject, or breaking news that has subsequently proved true. Authors of blogs are given authoritative status by the very readers who have trusted them over time or share the same perspective.
"Individuals build up brands and track records just as media organisations do," said Mr Lasica. "Not all bloggers go the extra mile, but many are now taking the extra step of trying to verify a report by sending an email, picking up the phone or checking with a hoax site before publishing a report that may or may not be true.
"For those who don't bother to check their facts, reputation filters and circles of trust in the blogosphere help weed out the nonsense. We all need to do a better job of fine-tuning our bull[shit] meters."
As journalist-blogger Ken Layne once said of the blogging masses: "We can fact-check your ass."
The reaction towards blogging as a medium recalls that to the New Journalism movement, pioneered by writers such as Hunter S Thompson, Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote and Norman Mailer. The New Journalism movement transformed the conventional wisdom of news writing by presenting stories as features with greater colour, vibrancy and permeated with the personal experiences of the writer. The sense of detachment between the writer and reader disappeared.
At the time of the movement the sound of guffaws and sneers from news writers and real journalists resonated just as loudly as they do today towards blogging.
Like them or not, they are here to stay and are now an integral part of an online news gatherer's tool box.
Mike Smartt believes weblogs can usefully supplement news features: "During the election we had some of our journalists writing their thoughts each day in a sort of sideways glance at things rather than the primary information, which people consider as news.
"It's not primary news but it gives a reader a greater insight into what's happening on the ground. We don't do it as a matter of course, but during special events it gives an extra layer of information."
Matt Haughey (Metafilter.com) is more sceptical of the ability of conventional media outlets to effectively use weblogs: "There are lots of print outlets attempting to do weblogs, but few of them are interesting enough to get any sort of following. The only ones that will succeed will be the ones that maintain their personality."
Lloyd Shepherd says the Guardian Unlimited's weblog is also struggling to find an identity: "At the moment it is a collection of links of stories breaking around the world, more like a dynamic bookmarks file. But this is only half of what blogging is about.
"The other half of what blogging is about is the personal voice and now we are trying to decide, how can we bring personality into what we've done already?"
Of course, personality can get you into trouble as a journalist. US journalist, Steve Olafson, lost his job for criticising local politicians (see /news/story492.html). The trick may be to balance informed opinion with fact, and to keep the two obviously distinct.
If this balance can be achieved, there is great potential for publishers, claimed Mr Lasica: "The vast majority of media companies have missed the boat so far, and readers are turning to expert amateurs, people with a deep knowledge about a niche subject, and others with a flair for writing or interesting stories to tell - hundreds of thousands of bloggers who have become part of the media ecosystem.
"If the news media chooses to ignore it, it'll continue to lose a chance to connect with readers on an intimate daily basis. And they'll become a bit less relevant with each passing day."
Free daily newsletter
- The Guardian is 'putting the interactive back into interactive journalism' with RioRun
- BBC unveils a collection of its first virtual reality experiments
- Trust and credibility: What digital trends and values will shape tomorrow's news?
- 'Women on air' discuss the importance of confidence and mentoring to succeed in the media industry
- 'Ignore people who tell you radio is dead' – Podcasting advice from BBC Click