Tuesday, August 09, 2005
What Blogs Do
What blogs do
is a hotly debated topic.
Many MSM (mainstream media) journalists look at what blogs are currently doing, then using that as the complete definition of blogs and blogging.
This is a very unbalanced and short-sighted approach.
To say, "Here's what blogs do now, thus this is all a blog can do" is not fair, not insightful, and not prophetic. We expect our news sources to at least attempt to predict what direction a technology may be heading toward, so we can be prepared for the future.
But the poor old blog keeps getting partial or biased coverage. If you know a few things about blogs, you can't help but be annoyed at all the gross distortions. The assumptions, proclamations, descriptions, and projections are very skewed, usually in a cynical and condescending manner.
This is typical. When an enemy or an alternative arises, the incumbent first dismisses it as "no real threat". It's hard to look straight at a new technology that could mean the end, or a massive disruption, of your familiar territory.
To illustrate this, let's take a look at a recent Christian Science Monitor article dealing with blogs and journalism.
I'll use a deconstructionist methodology of extremely close reading, paying attention to the margins or seemingly peripheral remarks, and radically questioning implications residing/hiding in the text.
Watch how definitions, prescriptions, and predictions are bandied about, and see if you agree with what is stated. See if it matches your own experience and understanding.
Christian Science Monitor
(from the August 09, 2005 edition)
Journalism's fear and loathing of blogs
By Dante Chinni
WASHINGTON – Mainstream journalism is running scared. It's watching its audience numbers decline and its public trust numbers drop. Newspapers, magazines, and network television news have been shaken by major scandals. The media have seen the future and it is blogging.
Or at least that's the story this year.
[STREIGHT: Already the sarcasm enters in. Can you see the smirk on the face?]
"Mainstream journalism," however you want to define it, has been under siege so long it's hard to keep track of all the people, things, and outlets that were or are still going to destroy it.
[STREIGHT: This "however you want to define it" is no definition.
By obscuring the definition, by implying that it's difficult to define your own industry, you remove it from decisive attack.
"That's not what we are, thus I deflect your assault by conveniently slinking around in the murky shadows of imprecision."]
Blogs, or weblogs - websites on which a person or a group of people opines about events, reports what's been heard, or simply links to other sites (many of which are also blogs) - are the latest concern among journalists who look at them with curiosity and fear.
[STREIGHT: Yet another sloppy definition of the "weblog". Don't you get tired of all these flimsy, uncertain, poorly researched "definitions"?
Blogs are not all containing just "opines", "reports of what's been heard" (implying "rumor" or "gossip", thus unreliable "hear-say"), or "simply links to other sites".
Blogs may contain carefully researched facts, insights from thought leaders, statistics, scientific data, plus photos, art, video, audio, etc. If you've explored the blogosphere to any extent, you've most likely seen a huge variety of material contained in blogs.]
Many believe blogs are a dangerous direct competitor to mainstream journalism - a way for individuals and interest groups to reach around the gatekeeper function that newspapers, magazines, TV, and radio have traditionally held.
Some even see them as the future of journalism; an army of citizen journalists bringing the unfiltered news to a public hungry for the inside dope.
[STREIGHT: By making a modest or murky claim about your own turf, then making an exaggerated or extreme claim for the Other, you bias readers against the Other.
"That's ridiculous" is what you want your reader to think.
No blog, or any other journalistic medium, is "unfiltered".
My blogs are all filtered by my own personal experience and contemplations, like all other communication vehicles. No medium is "pure" or completely objective.]
"The latest, and perhaps gravest, challenge to the journalistic establishment is the blog," Richard Posner wrote last week in The New York Times Book Review.
Actually Mr. Posner wrote about a lot of challenges the media faced, but gave blogs a lot of space as he spelled out their advantages. They bring expertise. They bring flair and opinion. They bring more checks and balances than the mainstream media.
"It's as if the Associated Press or Reuters had millions of reporters, many of them experts, all working with no salary for free newspapers that carried no advertising," he explained.
Ah, yes, in the future news will be bountiful and free with no advertising. Can't beat that. If they throw in complimentary ice cream we've really got something here.
[STREIGHT: Here we have an unprofessional sarcasm, betraying the journalist's hostility toward what is being described. A serious and grave error for any reporter. It's deliberately included to confuse the issue, to poke fun at something that's perceived as a threat.]
Let me just say for the record, I have nothing against blogs. I actually like them.
[STREIGHT: Aha. Guilt sets in. Brilliant strategy (now I'm using some sarcasm): knock down your opponent, then offer your help in lifting the stricken enemy back up on his feet. I detect insincerity, a pitiful attempt to be disarming.]
Their formula of opinion, links, and reportage can be refreshing - though they are often short on the last part of that mix. And the voices they enter into the media dialogue sometimes offer perspectives that otherwise might never be heard.
But if you really look closely, all this "and in the future ..." talk seems a bit far-fetched for a number of reasons.
[STREIGHT: Call me stupid, but I have no idea what this journalist is talking about. The "formula of opinion, links, and reportage" is not a good definition of blog contents, and saying "often short on the last part" is another attack, removing "reportage" and leaving "opinion and links". This is attack, praise, attack, praise, attack. The old "say nice things about your enemy, not to create a favorable impression of the enemy, but to make yourself look good, diplomatic, fair.]
For all the bloggers' victories (like raising questions about memos in CBS's Bush/National Guard story) there are numerous failures (gossiping about John Kerry's affair that never happened or how the presidential election was rigged in Ohio).
And most bloggers simply don't have time or staff to, say, launch an investigation into the internal workings of the Department of State. Getting leaks and tips is one thing, digging for the fuller story is quite another.
[STREIGHT: Like the MSM is a trustworthy "digger" for "full stories." Ridiculous. The MSM is notorious for presenting the negative side of stories, for emphasizing failures, tragedies, and disasters, while ignoring progress, victories, and positive news. They consistently use fear, cynicism, and alarm to sell their journalistic products.]
But the main reason blogs can't really supplant the mainstream media is what they cover.
If you go looking for blogs about national politics, foreign affairs, celebrities or (yes) the media, you won't go wanting.
In fact, every one of the country's top 10 most visited blogs deals with one of these subjects, according to www.truthlaidbear.com itself a "portal to the blogosphere."
[STREIGHT: I don't see how such highly popular blogs as Boing Boing and Evhead fit this description. More sloppy journalism from your friends in the MSM.]
That's not really that surprising. To be a serious blogger - one who can devote his time and energy to the job - one needs to make a name for himself, sell ad space, and get paid.
And to make a name, sell ad space, and get paid, one needs a national audience.
[STREIGHT: Once again, an assumption without any support. This is a futile attempt to force blogs to fit the mold of MSM journalism.
"We have a national audience. We sell ad space. We get paid. Blogs must also conform to these parameters."
No true blogger will swallow such nonsense. Most of us bloggers are not selling ad space, are not getting paid to blog, and don't care if we have a "national audience", are content with a specialized online community of fans.]
In other words, if you live in, say, Grand Rapids, Mich. and are looking for the latest developments on the construction on the nearby highway, or the city council budget, or a millage dispute - things that impact people in very real ways - you're not going to have much luck in the blogosphere.
[STREIGHT: Another error. Blogs are springing up that address all sorts of local issues and concerns. How much research did this MSM journalist do on the blogosphere? Here is an attempt to make blogs seem friviolous, trivial, not dealing with "things that impact people in very real ways", as though the exalted and most worshipful MSM is the only source of such material.]
Even large cities and state capitals, except for those that are part of the media/government industrial complex, are relatively blog free. And it's hard to see how that will change.
[STREIGHT: Well, if it's "hard to see", why don't you open your eyes? Or do you see only what you want to, or are paid to, see?]
The number of people interested in devoting their life to things like local zoning rules is a bit more limited than those interested in national politics. Getting paid to do it would probably be all but impossible. And that's a problem.
For all the fretting, blogging ultimately is bound to be less a replacement for the traditional media than a complement.
The fact is, journalism's most critical responsibilities in a democratic society - seeking, reporting, and analyzing news and holding people accountable - aren't easy to fulfill.
[STREIGHT: ...and are not done well by the MSM, either. Look at the growing lack of confidence in the MSM, its continuing loss of credibility.]
People rightly point out that the media often fail at those tasks. It's just hard to see how making it a volunteer position or a part-time job could improve the situation.
• Dante Chinni writes a twice-monthly political opinion column for the Monitor.
Posted by steven edward streight at 8/09/2005 06:01:00 AM