Is blogging journalism?

You might think that question has been resolved, but it keeps coming up. I ran across it again this week in a study of the BBC’s use of blogs by network veteran Alfred Hermida, who now teaches at the University of British Columbia. His research paper (available as a .pdf file) quotes a longtime BBC correspondent as saying just last year that blogs are “egotistical nonsense,” and “journalists shouldn’t have any time to blog – there are too many stories waiting to be told.”

Despite the internal disagreements, the BBC has made a conscious effort in the past two years to use blogs as a way of being more transparent and accountable to its audience, Hermida says. But there are still some interesting gaps in the network’s policies:

The BBC has blogging guidelines for the personal blogs of staff but these do not refer to BBC editors and correspondents who contribute to official journalism blogs. Instead there appears to be an implicit assumption that journalists will apply existing BBC editorial values across all output, including blogs.

That said, the BBC still allows only a handful of staff to blog on its site and despite the less formal tone, impartiality remains the watchword, according to technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones who writes for the BBC blog

Which means bloggers have to tread a careful line – they can be engaging and judgmental, but must not take sides. So I can say Vista appears to be a bit of a turkey, or Leopard does not deliver, but can’t say that it means you should switch from Microsoft to Mac or vice versa.

One of the biggest gaps in the BBC’s use of blogs is the lack of engagement with the audience, Hermida says. BBC blogs get tons of comments, but the writers don’t often respond. That’s an opportunity missed, not just by the BBC but by many mainstream media blogs.