A Mixed Bag in Williams' Blog

Commentator Judy Muller has been reading NBC anchorman Brian Williams' new Web blog, and she's not sure she likes where this new journalistic medium is going. The postings often detail newsroom discussions over what stories should lead the broadcast.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

So many blogs, so little time. Commentator Judy Muller has been spending some of her online time checking out an especially high-profile Internet column.

JUDY MULLER commenting:

As a working reporter and journalism professor, I do my best to keep up with the times, including The New York Times, which I consume the old-fashioned way: by actually holding it in my hands. It was while I was engaged in this ancient practice that I learned about Brian Williams' blog. The "NBC Nightly News" anchorman apparently has taken professional navel gazing to a new level. On his blog, called The Daily Nightly, he not only tells viewers what's likely to be in the broadcast that evening, something all the networks do on their Web sites, but he updates it during the day with newsroom disagreements about what should go in the broadcast. Not only that, he apologizes for stories from previous broadcasts that he decides, in retrospect, weren't up to snuff. The section of the blog is called The Morning Mea Culpa.

`Mea Gulpa,' as if we didn't have enough to do? Most reporters already have to file stories for a variety of platforms, as we call them: TV, radio, Internet, digital programming. Imagine if we had to keep running diaries of what we're doing as we're doing it. Imagine a surgeon trying that. Blog entry, 1 PM: starting initial incision on right frontal lobe when disagreement arises. Half the team insists it should be the left frontal lobe. 1:30 PM, operate on both lobes in the interest of balance. The mea culpa section, of course, would be a malpractice lawyer's dream.

But, hey, journalism isn't brain surgery, so why not show how the sausage is made? Especially since the younger audience, that highly desirable demographic, hasn't shown much interest in the sausage itself. According to The Times article, it might just work. A college student with a popular blog called tvnewser.com gives The Daily Nightly blog high marks. `It makes me want to watch the evening news,' he told The Times, `and I haven't watched in years.' Whatever gets them in the tent.

Certainly, I am sold on the potential for some form of interactive audience participation, especially when poll after poll tells us that Americans don't trust the media; that they don't see the press as representing their interests. And for the younger generation, that distrust is compounded by disinterest. That's why Jon Stewart's "Daily Show" is so popular. It delivers the news even as it comments on the news. Perhaps a traditional newscast could learn something from that, and a blog that runs concurrently with the news-gathering process and asks for audience feedback might restore some of that lost credibility. On the other hand, it could be seen as just another gimmick: news as reality TV, a sort of "Big Brother" news blog where reporters and anchors appear to spar openly and apologies flow freely.

Certainly, it's still a bit of a leap for those of us who always thought the news was reality enough and who worry about finding the time to report on the active reporting while we are, in fact, reporting. Couldn't that lead to some sloppy reporting? Which reminds me, I'd like to apologize for that mixed metaphor about brain surgery and sausage. I'd go back and change it, but it's so much easier to say `mea culpa.'

MONTAGNE: Commentator Judy Muller teaches journalism at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Communication.

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