Yahoo News, the world's most popular internet media destination, is set to begin testing on Tuesday an expanded news search system that includes not only news stories and blogs but also user-contributed photos and related web links.

The move will further stoke the debate between media traditionalists who want to maintain strict walls between news and commentary and those who argue such boundaries are elitist and undervalue the work of "citizen journalists".

Blogs, short for web logs, are easy-to-publish websites where millions of individuals post commentary from political analysis to personal musings, creating a grassroots publishing medium that challenges the authority of established media.

Enriching information

Yahoo said its move to combine professionally edited news alongside the work of grassroots commentators promised to enrich the sources of information on breaking news events.

"Traditional media doesn't have the time and resources to cover all the stories," Joff Redfern, product director for Yahoo Search, said. "It (blogs) really does add substantially to what you are looking at when you are looking for news."

"Traditional media doesn't have the time and resources to cover all the stories"

Joff Redfern,
Yahoo Search Product Director

Yahoo has, in effect, created a three-tier system for finding news that starts with the links to the top 10 stories and related photographs produced by mainstream news organisations on the main Yahoo News site.

Readers searching for further details will be taken to a second-level news site, which splits the page between news from 6500 professional sources and links to the hundreds of thousands of blogs available from its syndication service.

Some demarcation

Thus the expanded search stops short of blurring all lines between edited news and self-publishing.

"We do try to demarcate what is mainstream media and what is user-generated content so that there is no confusion there," Redfern said.

Those choosing to dig still deeper can click on "More Blog results..." to be taken to purely user-generated news from blogs, photos and links. This allows the user to search 10 million blogs listed on Yahoo's blog tracking service.

The search includes links to many of the 42 million photos on the popular Flickr photo-sharing site, which Yahoo acquired last spring, as well as to My Web, Yahoo's mechanism for allowing its users to learn from the web searches of others.

Important distinctions

Robert Thompson, a media studies professor at Syracuse University, said it was important to preserve the distinctions between professional journalism and personal commentary.

Blogs are websites where people
can post personal commentaries

He defined professional journalism as reporting which adheres to standards of accuracy and writing subjected to an editorial process, and all done with an eye to journalistic ethics, although he said journalism often falls short of these goals.

"There is a distinction between something that has gone through an editorial process as opposed to something put up by someone that has been through none of those processes," Thompson said.

Bloggers patronised

But media critic Jeff Jarvis, author of the blog Buzzmachine, said major internet sites such as Yahoo and Google continue to patronise bloggers by treating them as secondary sources of news.

"What made the voice of the people somehow less important than the paid professional journalist?... If you inform the public, you are committing an act of journalism"

Jeff Jarvis,
Buzzmachine blogger

Jarvis, who is a former TV critic for TV Guide and People magazines, mocked the notion that journalists live by a shared set of professional standards, that they are better trained or more trustworthy than the anyone-can-join blog movement.

"What made the voice of the people somehow less important than the paid professional journalist?" he asked. "You don't need to have a degree, you don't need to have a paycheque, you don't need to have a byline," Jarvis said.

"If you inform the public, you are committing an act of journalism," he declared.