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Saturday, February 11, 2006

An Army of Irregulars

The bloggers

Bloggers: an army of irregulars
By Paul Reynolds
World Affairs correspondent, BBC News website

For many in the "mainstream media", as bloggers call us, weblogs are at best a nuisance and at worst dangerous.

They are seen as the rantings and ravings either of the unbalanced or the tedious.

My experience over the past few months has led me to an opposite conclusion.

I regard the blogosphere as a source of criticism that must be listened to and as a source of information that can be used.

The mainstream media (MSM in the jargon) has to sit up and take notice and develop some policies to meet this challenge.

Most big organisations, whether in news or in business, have no policy towards blogs.

They might, as the BBC has, develop a policy towards their own employees setting up such sites (no political opinions etc), but they have nobody monitoring the main blogs and have little idea how to respond to any criticism on them.

Alternative sources

First, here are a few examples of how the bloggers have, for me, become a useful source.

Only this week, they tracked down the origin of a fake cartoon which has been fuelling the furore over the characterisation of Muhammad in a Danish paper.

One of the pictures being circulated, a very fuzzy, grey photocopy, apparently showed the prophet Muhammad with the face of a pig.

It was quickly pointed out, by bloggers and others, that this was not one of the 12 Danish cartoons.

Nobody however knew the origin of this portrayal.

Then I received an e-mail from a reader passing on a link to a blog called neandernews.

And there it was.

The picture had nothing to do with the prophet. It was a photo of the winner of a "pig-squealing" competition held last summer in the French Pyrenees. It had first been published on the MSNBC website in August.

Another example came after Hurricane Katrina wrecked New Orleans.

Children survey the damage done to their New Orleans home by Hurricane Katrina
Survivors of Hurricane Katrina used blogs to tell theirs stories
There was a lot of discussion about who was to blame for the failure of the relief effort.

Then someone sent me a photo that had been circulating on blogs of yellow New Orleans school buses inundated in their parking lot.

They had clearly not been used for evacuation as they should have been according to the city and state plan.

This showed that the mayor, praised without much stint until then, had something to answer for.

It was part of the evidence upon which I concluded that blame should be shared at all levels of government.

I also benefited from the Daily Kos site when the issue of the use of white phosphorus by the US military in Iraq was under discussion.

The Pentagon initially denied its use as a weapon but the bloggers were able to link to an article from an embedded reporter who had watched marines using it as such and to a report in an army magazine about its use in Falluja.

The examples show the collective strength of blogs.

They have an army of what Sherlock Holmes called his "Baker Street Irregulars," that is an almost unlimited number of people around the world, many of them expert on the subject under discussion, scouring sources and sending information in to an easily accessible central site which can disseminate it instantly.

posted by Steve @ 2:03:00 AM

2:03:00 AM

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