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Beware the blogs, for truth isn't a fact.

Byline: Matt Cooper The Register-Guard

It's one thing to stand on a street corner and shout opinions at the top of your lungs.

It's quite another to do it on the Internet.

The practice is "blogging" - using a Web page as a journal for views, statements and information - and its ability to rapidly steer public opinion has some people asking, what responsibility do these online announcers have to get it right?

"The danger in blogging is that there isn't that level of checking," said John Russial, an associate professor in the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. "Information can get out there and it can be spread like wildfire, when in fact it might not be true."

Russial's comments follow last week's announcement that the top news executive at CNN had resigned after bloggers seized on controversial comments he made about the U.S. military.

Bloggers - the word comes from "Web log" - also recently forced a White House reporter to quit his post, The New York Times reported, and they exposed reporting flaws by Dan Rather last year, after which he announced that he will step down as anchor of "CBS Evening News."

But sometimes it's the bloggers who get it wrong, as the university experienced last month.

After a university employee was told to remove a "Support the Troops" sticker from his truck - state policy prohibits personal stickers on state vehicles - bloggers accused the university of banning statements of support for the military. UO President Dave Frohnmayer said the accusations were untrue.

Some bloggers, in fact, defend the constitutional rights of their peers to say whatever they want - and to suffer the consequences if they're wrong.

"There are laws against libel," said Tom Layton, a part-time education consultant in Eugene. "Freedom of speech is freedom of speech is freedom of speech."

Layton advises on the use of blogs as educational tools, and, as with anything on the Internet, he said the mantra that teachers must drive home is, "consider the source."

Blogger information can be suspect, but the practice is on the rise, and traditional news organizations are watching the "blogosphere" more closely, looking for story ideas, Russial said.

Some journalists criticize bloggers as poor reporters, but others see bloggers as valuable watchdogs.

"Blogs have formed to monitor individual newsrooms and even certain journalists," wrote Kelly McBride, of The Poynter Institute. "In response, journalists will get better and tougher."

Bloggers can develop credibility the same way that traditional news organizations do, by building a reputation for accuracy, Russial said.

He doesn't object to someone speaking his or her mind on the Internet, but said bloggers who act as journalists by targeting individuals or businesses carry the burden of being right.

"You can do damage if your information isn't accurate," Russial said. "There is a responsibility to be accurate."
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Title Annotation:General News; With Internet Web logs, it's a given that you can't believe everything you read
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Feb 16, 2005
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