September 15, 2010
Bloggers, Citizen-Journalists and the Global Marketplace of Ideas
Posted by Christine Hurt

Yesterday, I attended our David C. Baum Memorial Lecture on Civil Liberties and Civil Rights, given by Lee C. Bollinger, President of Columbia University and Professor of Law at Columbia Law School.  President Bollinger is also the author of Uninhibited, Robust, and Wide-Open:  A Free Press for a New Century.  (As a blogger, I can confess that I have not read the book, or even started it and finished mid-stream.)  Readers of this blog may already know that President Bollinger is the Deputy Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

President Bollinger's talk had many excellent insights that I had not focused on before.  As newspaper publishing becomes less profitable and newspaper budgets shrinks, foreign correspondence, presumably the most costly type of reporting, shrinks.  In our era of global interconnectedness, the diminishment of first-hand reporting of events in foreign countries would seem to come at exactly the wrong time.  President Bollinger made a cogent argument for state-supported newspapers, given the success of public universities in developing knowledge and objective commentary; the U.S.'s robus traditional of first amendment rights; the success of public-sponsored radio and television (NPR and PBS); and the success worldwide of public-sponsored news (BBC).  (He has also made this argument in the WSJ.)  But, what interested me was his consideration (and dismissal from consideration) of a substitute to traditional newspaper reporting in foreign countries:  bloggers.

Actually, President Bollinger never used the word "blogger."  He used the term "citizen-journalists."  He brought up the argument that citizen journalists could replace traditional institutions of a free press in the sphere of foreign correspondence, and he said "no."  I was not sure, however, that I caught his reasoning.  He had already mentioned the lack of a free press culture (censorship) in many of these countries (particularly China), so he may hae suspected that bloggers in those countries would never be able to replace professional U.S. reporters with more resources and legal protections.  Or, he may have just assumed that citizen-journalists did not have the expertise or wherewithal to be a good substitute for a professional press.

On the heels of this talk, the NYT today runs an op-ed from Thomas Friedman, Power to the (Blogging) People, which is very optimistic that the 70 million bloggers in China may begin to act as a "third party" in U.S.-China relations.

Interesting stuff!

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