Blogs are enabling journalists to meet the demand for independent, reliable web-based news, according to UK weblogging firm 20six.

Launching a new package of hosting services this week, freelance journalist and 20six editor Johanna Payton said that blogs are powerful tools that empower journalists - which is why they could be seen as a threat to the media establishment.

Blogging - or 'web logging' - is a publishing format that allows users to write and publish online in diary form, often focusing on a specialist subject.

Blogging is becoming an increasingly significant publishing tool, with several major sites adopting the format. The Guardian publishes a regular weblog, as well as blogs to cover specific events such as the US 2004 election and the Bali bombing.

The demand for independent comment has been key to the success of blogs, said Ms Payton. Blogs liberate journalists from the political and economic restraints of global media organisations.

"Microcontent publishing at marginal costs means that journalists are becoming entrepreneurs,” said Ms Payton.

"Blogs are keeping the internet's first promise: to give publishing power to whoever wants it."

Salam Pax is an Iraqi blogger who wrote about his experiences during the Iraq war.

"Salam Pax found a huge audience because a large section of the media-savvy public didn't trust traditional journalism anymore," she told dotJournalism.

But blogs can also be used as a research tool, allowing journalists to float ideas and get a feel for general interest and opinion. Ms Payton predicts that the format will become more accepted by the mainstream media as journalism schools explore the medium.

"The requirement to set up a weblog is creeping onto university curriculums across the UK," she said.

"Weblogs will become a fundamental tool for every journalist in the country."

Freelance journalist Anthony Loveless set up a blog on 20six last August, and continued to contribute while working on assignment in Iraq earlier this month.

"Surprisingly, there is widespread broadband internet in Iraq and I was able to blog every day," he told dotJournalism.

"Blogging is something that often circumvents traditional media. It's risky for editors to push blogs because they might be doing themselves out of readers," said Mr Loveless.

"Salam Pax was a good example - a lot of readers were reading his coverage instead of content from the newspaper."

Users don't require any technical knowledge to use hosted services such as 20six, and users can sign up quickly. The service is free and offers several additional tools such as a guestbook, photoblog and 'trackback', a system that automatically posts related content between different blogs.

20six hosts more than 15,000 weblogs and attracts around 250,000 unique users every month.

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