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(HOST) The news business is changing, says commentator Allen Gilbert. He wonders what’s ahead, particularly with blogs.

(GILBERT) What’s going on with the news business these days?

Morale at the state’s largest daily newspaper, the Burlington Free Press, is low, according to a rival weekly. There’s no doubt that the "news hole" at the Free Press has shrunk. But its Web site is livelier than ever – as is the Web site of its rival weekly, Seven Days.

The managing editor of the Brattleboro Reformer is leaving to become a publicist for state government. It’s not unusual for press people to leave their profession and to take PR jobs. But the Reformer and its sister paper, the Bennington Banner, have faced serious challenges in the last few years. One challenge has come from a Web site called "" It’s been identified as one of the liveliest "citizen journalism" Web sites in the country.

News reporting is changing. Vermont Public Radio has split into two channels – one of them an all-news channel.

I don’t know where the future of the news business may be. But talking with younger colleagues, it’s become clear to me that one of the most interesting developments in the news business is blogging.

Basically, a blog is an online diary. The term comes from "Web" plus "log." The author, or blogger, updates content regularly. Blogging "protocols" are pretty simple – anyone can comment on anything, and people do. The blogger posts some thoughts and observations, and readers are invited to comment back. Through this dialogue, online communities are created. The communities are made up of people who may never have met one another in the flesh, but they share a common interest in certain issues and ideas. They communicate by, literally, tapping on a keyboard.

Some people think blogs are like Revolutionary War pamphlets – short pieces that people can read and act on. "Tom Paine would be blogging if he were alive today," I’ve heard one blogger say. Paine’s book, "Common Sense" is a series of essays, written quickly to comment on topical issues, and urging American patriots to action. Today’s blogs aim for a similar effect.

With a blog, though, you don’t need a printing press, or carriers and delivery trucks, to share your ideas with hundreds, thousands, or even millions. And you don’t need to be a journalist, credentialed or otherwise, to blog. Anyone willing to put their views and opinions on the Web for the world to see can be a blogger. There are an estimated 71 million blogs currently up on the Web.

Some traditional news outlets, such as the Burlington Free Press, also offer blogs, by their own reporters. But they tend to be less interactive.

The "blogosphere" is still evolving. No one is quite sure how to use this new tool most effectively. A colleague notes, "We need smart people to bring the values of the First Amendment into this new medium." The First Amendment guarantees freedom of the press.

A requirement for democracy is that citizens ask questions and dig deep for answers. It seems quite possible that this responsibility could be shifting away from traditional news outlets to bloggers.

Allen Gilbert is a former journalist, teacher, and consultant currently serving as executive director of the ACLU of Vermont.

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