**For teachers:Class discussion – Can blogs replace newspapers?

Posted on September 22, 2011


(LEVEL: Advanced – senior pupils, college students)

We regularly hear claims about the newspaper industry going downhill. Falling circulation figures, declining ad revenues, redundancies, and some titles even closing down.

“Fast forward a few years” some of the experts say “and there’ll be no papers left, we’ll get our news for free on the internet”.

And you can see where they’re coming from.

There are some excellent blogs on the internet and some of the people behind them even make money out of them.

There’s a list of 100 good Scottish blogs here. Check them yourself before showing a few to the class as some may contain strong language. One of the best known and most successful news and current affairs blog is this one.

Why should we go out and PAY for something that’s freely available at our fingertips via smart phones? And with the rise in “citizen journalism” where anyone who’s interested can publish what they like, when they like, do we even need journalists and newspapers at all?

Well I think that depends what you think you’re paying FOR when you buy a newspaper and this could be a lively discussion topic for a class looking at the media.

What do you think journalism is?

Ask the class and discuss this. Some pupils will say it’s “reporting what’s going on”. Or “telling stories”. Push them for some examples and I hope in amongst the answers some people say things like “finding out secrets”, “discovering people breaking rules”, “going places other people don’t go”.

I’d argue what sets journalism apart is “asking questions”.

Here’s an example. I attended the opening of a new Apple store at Braehead last weekend. I stood in line with everyone else in the
morning and when I got home I told my story and put it on the internet via my blog which you can read here. It was attracting readers and comments a full 12 hours before it could have appeared in a newspaper.

Does this make the blog BETTER than the newspaper?

In some ways, maybe it does.

But is this JOURNALISM? Does the fact I was able to do all this myself and publish it so quickly mean newspaper coverage of the event isn’t needed?

Read my blog post and you’ll see it contains no questions.

It might be an interesting story, it’s got some good anecdotes and opinions, it might in time attract a lively exchange of views in the “comments” section..but the important questions aren’t asked.

It might be useful for someone who couldn’t make it along but it’s just my take on the experience.

A journalist would have attended the opening of that Apple store and held the company to account with some awkward questions. “Were they disappointed with the turnout?”. “How do they respond to criticisms their products are over priced?” “Won’t the Braehead store struggle being so close to the bigger Buchanan Street store – is there room for them both?” “What kind of hours are they expecting their staff to work?” “The staff were extremely noisy and boisterous at the opening..might that put off some shoppers, perhaps older people – is an Apple store a welcoming environment for people who don’t know much about computers?”

A journalist would ask all those questions and the clout of a newspaper would make it difficult for the company not to answer.

They’d have got much better pictures too.

Blogs report what goes on and give opinions.

Journalism holds people to account.

And that’s what makes journalism more valuable.

Here are some scenarios you might want to discuss with the class.

“How do football clubs treat journalists differently from ordinary supporters?”(free ticket/better seat/access to press conference/right to ask the manager and players questions)

“What if a football club decided not to give journalists access to press conferences but put their own reports on their official website. What difference would this make?” (no awkward questions/shows the team in a better light after a bad result/able to control their message)

This same scenario could apply to music festivals, factory openings, and government events. They might even apply within the school. How would the Head Teacher treat a question from a journalist with The Herald differently to a question from a pupil who had their own blog?


“What was the most important thing that happened in Scotland on the day you were born? Find out and report back this time next week.”

Give them one week to complete this and don’t give any pointers in advance as to how they might find out. Simply set the task, give them the deadline and let them get on with it.

Then hold a big discussion as they report back a week later.

(Where did you go? How did you get there? Where did you look? What did you find out? How do you know the information you found was accurate? Who did you speak to? Was getting this information easy? Was it expensive?) You might also discuss what exactly is meant by the word “important” and who decides what news is “important” and what isn’t.

It’s likely they’ll start with a search on Google. And they’ll probably struggle to find out any answers. Discuss what sites they
looked at and what problems they encountered.

They might eventually find a site like this.

Which don’t really answer the original question!

Was anyone able to find a TV or radio news bulletin from the day they were born? If not, why not? What do you think has happened to all this material?

The pupils able to answer the question best will likely have gone to a library, found the archive of newspaper and located the relevant edition. But beware the pupil who goes to the library and finds the newspaper published on the day they were born. This will contain important events that happened THE DAY BEFORE they were born!

The thing to highlight is that newspapers, for more than a hundred years, have been considered important enough that they are kept safe and preserved as a record of what went on. No-one is doing this with the internet. Where is the internet from 2001? Yes, some of it is still around, some of it still exists but looks a little different, but a huge tonne of information is gone.

What happens if the blogging platforms like “Blogger” or “WordPress” go bust and disappear? How would we get the blogs back? How would we know what they had said? What if someone was able to hack in and change them?

“Now imagine a world without newspapers. What about people born today? In 16 years time, how will they find out what happened on the day they were born?

How will it be easier than it was for you? In what ways would it be more difficult? Is it easier to trust a newspaper than a blog? Why? What is it about the newspaper that makes you treat it differently? If blogs weren’t free to read but charged a small fee, would that affect your opinion? If someone wrote something unture in a newspaper and you wanted to correct it what would you do? What about a blog? How would you find the author and get in touch with them?

This lesson could be part of a project which culminates in the creation of a class blog which you operate for a set period of time. It’s a good way to raise many of the issues around blogging and lead into a discussion about what you want to achieve with the blog and how to blog responsibly.

If you do use this material in class or have any suggestions as to how it can be improved, please share your thoughts in the “comments” section.

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