Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Critical Review of Robinson, S. (2006). The mission of the j-blog: Recapturing journalistic authority online. Journalism, 7(1), 65-83

the article link (username and pass required or universities' library access)

            In the article "The mission of the j-blog: Recapturing journalistic authority online" (2006), Susan Robinson contends that journalist's weblog (or j-blog), a short-form of reporting, analysing and writing in mainstream online press (Dube, 2004), has  influenced, even altered  journalism’s traditional standards. The article attempts to conclude the role of the j-blogs, or the mainstream bloggers, in regaining the journalistic authority in online medium. The author demonstrate her thesis by approaching the j-blog from the perspective of the traditional values of journalism, namely truth, independence, credibility, ethical obligation to answer the question on whether the j-blog has presented a new form of journalism. In a deeper discussion, she analyses the performance of journalists in making use of  traditional news frames in weblog. By examining j-blog in the relation with the inherent interaction between subjects and objects of traditional journalism, Robinson makes strong arguments on how j-blog has influenced and adjusted this interaction.  Many points in the article have been persuasively made. The exception is that the article results in a matter of argument  over the subject of journalism in a new frame.
According to Robinson, the online medium in general and the weblog in particular create a new form of  journalism , in which journalists connect to other independent blogs, journalist or non-journalist blogs and even reader comments as well as other various sources in order to build up their stories. This means that a journalist using a blog is not as independent as those in traditional frame, but in the interaction  with the readers who are playing  the role of both consumers and contributors to share the view and fix the truth. As a result,  j-blogs provide countless news forms and subsequently, pave the way for public debates in many levels that are beyond the principle of providing people ‘information they need to understand the world' (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2001, p. 149). By engaging to weblog, the mainstream journalists, according to Robinson, accept to carefully play a game that the norms of objective reporting could be challenged and the  concepts of the traditional values could be controversial. 
            On the other hand, Robinson affirms that journalists in the mainstream publications have kept in mind the dominant journalistic system even though j-blog make it possible for them to move beyond the traditional practices. The author supports Singer's findings (2005) by noting that in spite of the open forum to build up the news, J-bloggers often divert their stories to other opinions or the readers' statement instead of giving their own opposite comments. They even criticize non-journalist blogs in order to protect the truth and other mainstream practices. While many independent blogs are established to break through the boundary of traditional values, j-bloggers try to direct readers to the 'formerly closed interpretative journalistic community'. Robinson claims that these behaviours not only reaffirm the mainstream norms but also make it possible for j-bloggers to recapture journalism authority online. Taking 'an independent citizen watchdog[1]' as a supporting point, the author concludes that although journalists have been no longer 'independent' to be objective and free  in acting their traditional 'watch-dog' function (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2001), they have still made use of their j-blogs by giving readers  opportunities selectively to support the underlying purposes.
            In the latter part of the article, Robinson  proposes the possibility to re-examine the nine elements of traditional journalism according to Kovach and Rosenstiel's (2001) under the online frame given the challenge of blogging to the traditional practices and the involvement of the readers in the news process. However, the author concludes that while there has remained a long argument over a comprehensive awareness of weblog, traditional frames is attached importance in the mainstream j-blog.
            Robinson raised the important point that the impacts of the j-blog on traditional journalism could lead to new approaches to online journalism. She also clarified the standpoint of j-bloggers on upholding journalistic traditions in a new frame. Singer also (2005) shares this view by arguing that journalists continue to be aware of their professional role as information providers with their traditional gatekeeper function. Unfortunately, Robinson does not explain why she stresses the role of j-blog in particular in strengthening the traditional tenets and practice given the undeniable benefits of weblog in general to traditional journalism, among which is to enhance the trust of the readers (Lasica, 2003). It could be explained that such benefits are obtained thanks to the engagement of the mainstream journalists to weblog; however, this could lead to a misunderstanding about the subject of the inevitable trend in online environment. The point is that Robinson considers j-blog out of its entire movement and subsequently, regards other independent blogs, especially non-journalist ones as the threat to counter. This is probably the reason why the author bypassed, or to some extent, is unable to explain the contradiction of j-bloggers criticizing non-journalist blogs while using them as an important source in news process.  With a different approach to non-journalist blogs, Melissa Wall (2004) examines a case study of Slam Pax's blog – a blog of an anonymous Iraqi architect which captures the stories he  witnessed in Baghdad during the war  in order to emphasise that this 'black-market' journalist  can  do what is long considered  to be done by the mainstream publications only. This paradigm could be considered as a counterbalance to understand the contributions of non-journalistic or other independent weblogs to the evolvement of journalism in comparison with those exampled by Robinson.
            It can be argued that Robinson aims to  prove the enduring journalistic authority in the online medium through the involvement of the mainstream journalists in weblogs. The author probably protects the traditional norms of journalism despite referring to re-examine the objective notion of Kovach and Rosenstiel's (2001), highlighted by the journalist's role as "truth messenger" which is mentioned above. However, yet again the author tied the subject of journalism into the mainstream frame and that very point puts herself into the above-mentioned contradiction of j-bloggers in order to cling to the power of the mainstream institutions instead of journalism in general. It can be concluded that the new elements of blogs have borne  new interpretations to the objects of journalism. Additionally, in the interactive relationship between object and subject, a new concept of subject should be re-examined as a dialectical result of that of object. All examples illustrated in the article and above claim that apart from j-bloggers, others have presented new journalistic entities who are establishing, or reaffirming the journalistic authority in a new scale, or at least in the online medium. Singer suggests that it would be valuable to study the journalistic practices used by those who have never set foot in a newsroom (2005). Likewise, Lasica puts forward the idea to stop the 'increasingly stale debate of whether blogging is or isn't journalism' (2003), so the argument of the mission of the j-blog in recapturing journalistic authority online may move beyond the frame of j-bloggers accordingly. Given such a new standpoint on the subject of journalism in the weblog, the author's thesis on "the mission of j-blog in recapturing journalistic authority online" should be re-examined.
            In conclusion, Robinson successfully clarified the role of j-bloggers in a new frame of journalism. She also reaffirmed the enduring existence of the traditional values in journalism, regardless of the challenges of the new forms. However, her approaching method in this article resulted in contradictions and argument over the new subjects of journalism online. There should be more research on non-mainstream weblogs in order to reach a comprehensive understanding about the journalistic authority in a new frame.


[1] A function of the news media in democratic societies to expose and criticize perceived abused of political power (Chandler & Munday, 2011)

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