Monday, August 20, 2007

Bloggers' Greatest Hits

Just a few years ago, blogs were looked down upon by many media professionals and even bloggers themselves. However, it's not unheard of for a blogger to be the one breaking the news on a big story. Here are half of the top 10 biggest stories ever broken, leaked or developed not by the traditional news community, but by what appears to be a new and emerging breed of journalist.

Since they hit the Web in the mid-1990s, Web logs, more commonly known as "blogs," have matured from simple journal entries cataloging the day-to-day goings-on in the lives of Net dwellers to, in some cases, serious enterprises. Today, corporations, political parties and their partisans, the media and everyday citizens use blogs as means to send out the word on their favorite causes.

Blogging will peak in 2007, according to a Gartner (NYSE: IT) Latest News about Gartner report. The company estimates that there are already more than 200 million ex-bloggers. Given the life span of a blogger and the current growth rate of blogs, the company expects the number of bloggers to top off at around 100 million. There are currently so many blogs that Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) Latest News about Google gave the format its own search engine. Another blog search engine, Technorati, tracks and ranks more than 71 million blogs.

So what are all these people blogging about? Well, bloggers write about anything and everything, from their favorite film character to their jobs or politics. In the realm of real news, bloggers over the last 10 years have proven their chops and on occasion even scooped the mainstream media.

Just a few years ago, blogs were looked down upon by many media professionals and even bloggers themselves. However, it's not unheard of for a blogger to be the one breaking the news on a big story. Blogs such as Perez Hilton, the Wonkette, the Daily Kos and others have changed the way people get their news and the way the media covers news.

"There is an endless debate about whether bloggers are journalist," B.L. Ochman, a blogger and president of, told TechNewsWorld. "Yes, we are and we have in fact uncovered stories. Bloggers covered the [I. Lewis 'Scooter'] Libby trial, and that was the first time anything like that had happened."

This two-part series presents our picks of the top 10 biggest stories from bloggers -- the most important news events to come out of the blogosphere. As one might expect, the stories center around politics, the media and technology. They've derailed a senate campaign and brought down a prominent news anchor, but have also led to improvements in the way companies interact with consumers.

No. 10: The iPhone, Origami and Zune

While no single blogger can take credit for breaking much news on these new products, their dogged pursuit of rumors to glean the smallest detail affects the way companies, in particular technology companies, market their products.

Both Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) Make the Mac a 1st Class Citizen in a Windows Shop Latest News about Apple and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) Latest News about Microsoft have begun building hype for new products through both their own product-specific blogs as well as bloggers in the wild. Company blogs, such as Microsoft's Zune blog, keep consumers up-to-date on the product as it moves through the development process, and tips to independent bloggers help generate buzz for the iPhone and Origami.

No. 9: Jeff Gannon and the White House Press Corps

On January 26, 2005, amidst the fight over privatizing Social Security, credentialed White House reporter Jeff Gannon asked President Bush the following question: "Senate Democratic leaders have painted a very bleak picture of the U.S. economy. Harry Reid was talking about soup lines. And Hillary Clinton was talking about the economy being on the verge of collapse. Yet in the same breath they say that Social Security is rock solid and there's no crisis there. How are you going to work -- you've said you are going to reach out to these people -- how are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?"

Was Gannon was a plant put there to lob friendly questions at the President? A group of liberal-leaning bloggers who pursued the story and discovered that Gannon's real name was in fact James Guckert. Far from being a honed White House reporter, he was a graduate of the Leadership Institute Broadcast School of Journalism's two-day seminar created for "conservatives who want a career in journalism."

In addition, Gannon's paper, the Talon News, was a virtual organization owned by ultraconservative site GOPUSA. Also revealed was Gannon's Web history, which included naked pictures of him on a slew of gay escort sites.

The scandal brought the White House's press credential policy under sharp scrutiny and marked one of the first times bloggers drove a national news story.

"It showed that bloggers are indeed journalists, capable of digging up stories 'real journalists' miss," Ochman explained.

No. 8: The Firing of U.S. Prosecutors

The allegedly unjustified firings of eight U.S. prosecutors in December 2006 has rattled the White House and the Department of Justice, and the story continues to develop. The affair has kicked off a battle between the Democratic-controlled Congress and the White House and has led some to call for the dismissal of U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

In terms of the story's importance and the "blogginess" of the news-breaking, JupiterResearch analyst Barry Parr ranked the story as the biggest story out of all the events on this list. "No contest," he said. "A major story still playing itself out in congress and the national press. Developed, though not originated, by bloggers, if I remember correctly."

No. 7: Dell Hell

With his Dell (Nasdaq: DELL) Latest News about Dell Hell blog, Jeff Jarvis, a long-time blogger and journalist, exposed what appeared to be Dell's appalling level of customer service Get Automated Customer Contact Solutions Powered by West Interactive after he purchased a Dell laptop in 2005. His BuzzMachine blog attracted the attention of other dissatisfied Dell customers and bloggers. It was covered by the national media, including Newsweek and The New York Times; and eventually led to major changes in the way Dell dealt with its customers, as well as the blogosphere.

The Dell Hell debacle is largely credited for Dell's decision to create its Ideastorm Web site, through which it communicates with its customers.

"That really changed things for Dell," Todd Watson, e-relationship manager at IBM Software Group, told TechNewsWorld. "Dell was listening to us or respecting our service contract. When they held their annual meeting last year, [Dell] said we have a problem with our customer service and now they have IdeaStorm and made a team of people who respond to bloggers."

No. 6: George Allen and "Macaca"

At a re-election campaign stop in Breaks, Va., Senator George Allen used the word "macaca" twice when referring to S.R. Sidarth, a volunteer for Democrat Jim Webb and a Virginia native of Indian heritage. Sidarth was taping the event for the Webb campaign. Pointing at Sidarth, Allen said at one point, "So welcome, let's give a welcome to Macaca here! Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia."

Video footage of the incident made it onto YouTube Latest News about YouTube, and Democrat bloggers pounced on the senator. The use of the word, a commonly used French term for dark-skinned people, dealt a blow to Allen's campaign from which it never recovered. Allen contended that the remark was not intended as a racial slur and that he had learned the word from his mother, who was raised in a French-colonial Tunisia. He said he was not aware of its meaning.

As a result of the attention, though, national media and online news organizations began probing Allen's background and found several incidents that could indicate the Senator was a racist, while others claimed he was simply misunderstood. In the wake of the scandal, Virginia's voters opted not to re-elect Allen, instead voting to send Jim Webb to Washington.

No. 5: Wal-Mart and Truth in Blogging

On September 27, 2006, retail behemoth Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) Latest News about Wal-Mart launched "Wal-Marting Across America," a blog chronicling the travels of Wal-Mart customers Laura and Jim as they embarked on a cross-country trip in their RV. The trip would take them from Las Vegas to Georgia, and along the way the couple would be able to park for free in the parking lots of local Wal-Mart stores. In the first post, Laura described herself and Jim: "We are not bloggers, but since our lives have always been more journey than destination, we are explorers at heart. ... We figured we'd give it a go."

The only problem? Well, no, they weren't bloggers. They were a Washington, D.C.-based photographer (Jim) and freelance writer (Laura) who had an idea to write a blog as they traveled across the country parking for free at Wal-Mart stores. When the couple approached Working Families for Wal-Mart to gain their permission, the company did them one better: It sponsored the entire trip in an attempt to generate some positive press for the discounter.

Jim and Laura were flown out to Las Vegas, where they found an RV (sporting the Working Families for Wal-Mart logo) gassed up and ready to go. Edelman, the PR firm behind the pro-Wal-Mart organization, paid for the couple's gas, established a blog site and paid Laura a fee for each blog entry which cataloged a seemingly unending procession of Wal-Mart workers just pleased to be at Wal-Mart.

No. 4: The Monica Lewinsky Scandal

Without a doubt the most controversial entry on the list, the revelation that President William Jefferson Clinton was secretly having an affair with a 21-year-old White House intern by Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report scooped serious journalists at both Newsweek and Time. President Clinton's assertion that he had "not had sexual relations with that woman" -- sworn to in an affidavit and before the American public in an January 1998 network address -- became the basis for impeachment hearings against the sitting president. Clinton was eventually acquitted of the perjury and obstruction of justice charges by the Senate.

However, does the Drudge Report even count? Not everyone thinks so. Drudge is "not a blogger," B.L. Ochman, a blogger and president of, told TechNewsWorld. "At that point, he was a fishmonger. It was very, very early in blogdom, and so I don't think this one really counts."

Drudge "pre-dates blogging by several years," concurred Todd Watson, E-Relationship Manager at IBM (NYSE: IBM) Latest News about IBM Software Group. "You can put him in that camp, but I wouldn't put him the traditional blogosphere camp because he was more of a headline enabler than he was someone actually commenting on this stuff."

However, liking the messenger or his methods does not negate the fact that Drudge beat the mainstream media to break a story that has had a fundamental impact on the American presidency and both the Democratic and Republican parties.

No. 3: Engadget's Apple iPhone and Leopard OS Flub

Just last May, the business world learned once again how influential blogging sites and their reports can be when technology blog Engadget posted a story claiming that Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) Make the Mac a 1st Class Citizen in a Windows Shop Latest News about Apple would announce another delay of its anticipated Leopard operating system Manage remotely with one interface -- the HP ProLiant DL360 G5 server. as well as a delay for the iPhone, easily the most hyped gadget to come out this year.

"This one doesn't bode well for Mac fans and the iPhone-hopeful: we have it on authority that as of today, the iPhone launch is being pushed back from June to ... October(!), and Leopoard is again seeing a delay, this time being pushed all the way back to January," the site reported.

Apple refused to confirm its report, but the damage was already done: Apple's stock almost immediately dropped some 5 percent from US$108.83 to $103.43, costing the company and investors about $4 billion.

The team over at Engadget quickly updated the story. Within 20 minutes of the initial post the site said Apple's public relations had indicated there would be no delay. In the hours that followed, it was revealed that the e-mail Email Marketing Software - Free Demo forwarded to the blog and several Apple employees was a fake. Apple then sent out a real e-mail explaining that it was not delaying either the OS or the iPhone. Engadget promptly updated its site with the headline "False alarm: iPhone delayed until October, Leopard delayed again until January."

The story was an example of "blogging at its worst" JupiterResearch analyst Barry Parr, told TechNewsWorld, calling it "lame and pathetic."

The story should rank highly on the list, said Ochman. It proved -- if anyone still needed proof -- that blogs can move markets.

No. 2: Trent Lott at Strom Thurmond's Birthday Celebration

While at a 100th birthday party for Republican Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina on December 5, 2002, then Senate Republican Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi said, "When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over the years, either."

What could have been an innocuous and supportive statement designed to recall Thurmond's glory days instead became a major scandal for Lott when his comments became public. Thurmond ran for president in 1948 on the Dixiecrat ticket built on a platform supporting racial segregation.

Lott originally dismissed the remarks as intended to support Thurmond's platform on national defense. However, his assertions that he was not attempting to support racial segregation were for naught. Calls came from both sides of the aisle for Lott's resignation, and on December 20, 2002, he stepped down from his post as Senate Republican Leader.

While this is not a case where the blogosphere broke the story, bloggers kept alive long enough for the mainstream press to pick it up, Joe Laszlo, an analyst at JupiterResearch told TechNewsWorld.

It was lots of "seething outrage" in the blogosphere that kept the story going and eventually led to Lott's downfall, according to Parr.

No. 1: Dan Rather and Memogate

Clutching a folio of papers in his hands on September 8, 2004, some two months before the 2004 presidential election, veteran CBS journalist Dan Rather aired a report on the venerable news magazine "60 Minutes Wednesday" he claimed exposed valuable information on President George W. Bush's stint in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War. The service records were discovered among personal paper of the president's then commanding officer, Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian, according to Rather.

The documents alleged, among other things, that Bush had been found unfit for flight status after failing to take a mandatory physical exam and subsequently grounded, and that he asked to be excused from drill because he did not have time to fulfill his National Guard duties while working on the Senate campaign of Winton M. Blount of Alabama. Another note that claimed Blount was being pressured from military leaders to bump up his grades on Bush's yearly evaluations.

Following the report, a firestorm of withering criticism and questions of the documents' authenticity flooded the blogosphere from bloggers on the left and right of the political spectrum. Rather himself launched a concerted defense of the documents. However, on September 20, CBS retracted the story after it was revealed that the news organization had not been able to authenticate the documents and that their source, former Texas Army National Guard officer, Bill Burkett and not been truthful about how he had obtained the supposed personnel files.

The incident led to what appeared to be an earlier-than-intended retirement for Rather, who conducted his last broadcast on March 9, 2005.

This is another example of bloggers' dogged pursuit of a story. They drilled down until CBS was forced to admit it could not authenticate the documents.

It was, according top Parr, "a marginal story in the grander scheme of things. An embarrassing failure by CBS News, but [bloggers] didn't break a story, so much as kill one. However, [it was] a very nice job of research by bloggers."

However, the story ranked at the top of the list for Ochman "because it took down a mainstream media leader," however unfairly it may have been. "It raised the credibility of bloggers in the eyes of the mainstream media," she added.