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Blogs changing journalism, Mattingly tells BP journalism faculty

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–As Hurricane Rita approached Houston in 2005, the Houston Chronicle set up a weblog in which its science writer gave up-to-the-minute updates about the storm’s status and in-depth information about the science associated with Rita.

For 72 hours, the Chronicle posted technical interviews and first-person accounts of people leaving the city that were too long and detailed to go in a newspaper.

Such weblog coverage of world events represents the future of journalism, and Christian colleges must teach their journalism students how to participate in this new frontier of news, Terry Mattingly told faculty Oct. 7 at the sixth annual national Baptist Press Collegiate Journalism Conference in Nashville, Tenn.

Weblogs, commonly called blogs, are among the digital platforms that are “the future of our industry. I have no doubts about it,” Mattingly, who writes a national column for the Scripps Howard News Service in Washington, D.C., said. “… This is where we’re going. Can you afford for your students not to learn how to use this technology responsibly?”

A blog is an Internet posting written from a first-person viewpoint and updated around the clock, he said, adding that blogs have appeared en masse only in the last three years. Blogs typically draw on news accounts from the mainstream media, offering commentary and interaction with current events — many times with a sarcastic tone, Mattingly noted.

Increasingly blogs present a challenge to all colleges -– secular and religious — because while they represent an important way for students to communicate information and opinions, their content is difficult to control and accessible worldwide, he said.

Christian colleges cannot avoid having their students use blogs, Mattingly said, explaining that if schools prohibit official blogs, students still will write private blogs. He recommended that Christian colleges allow blogs but teach their students how to write blogs responsibly.

“Help them understand that there is nowhere to hide this material in the world of Google,” Mattingly said of blogs. “If you write it and publish it now, it may affect you when you apply for a job 12 years from now. And it will affect your classmates. It will affect your best friend. You have a Christian responsibility not only to your own talents and career that God has given you, but to those of your colleagues.”

Colleges should encourage students to write blogs that focus on media criticism and relaying information, rather than blogs that give “obsessive” personal opinions, he said.

Ultimately the best approach for Christian colleges is to allow student journalists to contribute to a blog as part of their newspaper work but have the content monitored by a responsible student staff member or college faculty member, Mattingly said. He recommended that schools make blogging policies clear to all students and print the policies in student handbooks.

“I’m suggesting that it be a monitored blog. You’re going to have to have a student paid to do it fulltime or an auxiliary member of your staff is going to have to be the person to approve the stuff to go on. But that’s not as much work as you think it would be,” he said.

“I advise you to steer in the direction of niche news, in-depth coverage of subjects of student interest and that you use it as a way to teach your students how to do deadline writing.”