I find myself in constant debates over whether blogging is journalism. I usually try to punt the question since I think it’s the wrong frame. There are lazy reporters working for prominent newspapers doing little work of social worth and shoestring bloggers diligently holding those in power accountable. (And the reverse is true, of course, as well.)

The real question, to me, is whether a given media producer is making those in power uncomfortable. That’s the true, indispensable role of the press and really the only thing that matters.

And, playing that role as if she were born to it, blogger Marcy Wheeler‘s Empty Wheel on FireDogLake, has, along with Josh Marshall’s Talking Points Memo, been making as big an impact in breaking news as any blog out there.

Last week Wheeler made the front page of the New York Times with her scoop about Khalid Sheik Mohammed being waterboarded 183 times in one month. As the paper of record noted, “The new information on the number of waterboarding episodes came out over the weekend when a number of bloggers, including Marcy Wheeler of the blog emptywheel, discovered it in the May 30, 2005, memo.”

No less an authority than Jay Rosen considers Wheeler’s liveblogging of the Scooter Libby trial in 2007 one of the seminal moments in online journalism, and, in Jane Hamsher’s inimitable words, Wheeler has “consistently demonstrated the investigative skills that show what bloggers and those using online tools are uniquely capable of doing.” Skills that are now more important than ever as the country’s traditional investigative reporters are being increasingly laid off and/or starved of resources.

In a recent post, the well-connected Hamsher recounts her frustration in trying for months to find funding to allow Wheeler to devote herself full-time to her reporting: “I’ve been turned down by every major donor and donor representative I’ve asked. They’d rather create their own ‘astroturf’ blogs…..It’s ‘fake blogging,’ it’s not real. But it happens over and over again.”

So Hamsher has launched a grassroots campaign to help fund Wheeler’s investigative work. She’s hoping to raise $150,000 to support Wheeler, another investigative blogger to work with her, and a researcher to help them. All money raised will go directly to those efforts. As of this writing, 1,038 people have so far contributed $61,191. You can donate here.

PS: If you have extra time on your hands and want to follow me on Twitter — a micro-blog — click here. You’ll find (slightly) more personal posts, breaking news and lots of links.