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Dissident Media: The Blog?

November 30, 2007

Lara Aqel Dissident Media
29 November 2007 COMM-275-001

Dissident Media: The Blog?

Introduction

More than halfway through the first decade of the twenty-first century, no source of media is producing quite as much ‘buzz’ as the blog. The term ‘blog’ is a portmanteau of the words web log, while the oft-used ‘blogosphere’ refers to all blogs and their interconnections. The advancement of the blogosphere can be traced back to the onset of the Internet. The concept of blogging, that everyone can share opinions, facts, or fiction with a potentially receptive and interactive e-audience, puts power in the hands of every interested Internet user on Earth. These users are embracing this power with enthusiasm. Just how big a phenomenon is blogging? Today, the blogosphere is doubling in size every 6 or so months (Sifry). According to Technorati’s chief executive David Sifry, fifty million blogs had been tracked as of July 31st, 2006, and approximately 175,000 new blogs are being created each day. That translates into about two new blogs for every second of the day (Sifry). Logically, this all means a new face of media the likes of which has never been seen before. One question remains however: is blogging likewise the new face of dissident media?

“Dissident”

Streitmatter believes that for something to deserve the title of dissident, it has to both “offer a differing view of society” and “champion a particular cause” (xi). If this is to be the accepted definition of what and what does not constitute dissident media, then the answer to the aforementioned questions is merely maybe, or better yet, it depends. As previously noted, there are tens of million of blogs in existence, each of which offers a different (i.e. personal) “view of society.” Furthermore, some blogs even champion causes: there are leftist blogs and conservative ones, human rights blogs, and animal rights too. The list goes on. Thus, while blogs as a whole cannot be considered, with confidence, dissident, some certainly can.
Nevertheless, the Streitmatter definition is not the only one. Therefore, others must be considered to determine whether blogging is or is not dissident media in new stripes. More common definitions of “dissident” include differing from the mainstream, and departing from established and accepted belief or standards (Define.com). In this sense, blogs as a whole can be considered dissident media. This is so by virtue of the fact that blogging is a new medium, an unconventional and neoteric one. It often looks down on mainstream media and mainstream media returns the favor. It re-writes all the rules in terms of what can suitably constitute and editorial product. As Michael Skube aptly pointed out, bloggers today “have all the liberties of a traditional journalist but few of the obligations.” Blogging is dissident media here because it is an alternative media.

Journalism?

The problem with the above definition, some might argue, is that it proves that blogs are dissident, but not that they are dissident media. This indeed is a point of contention in the public discourse surrounding the blogosphere. To label something as dissident media, one affords it the presumption of journalistic undertaking. Blogging’s critics assert that it is not journalism. Consequently, if blogging is not journalism, then it makes no sense to consider it dissident journalism.
Matt Welch is not so quick to write bloggers off. He states that they contribute “personality, eyewitness testimony, editorial filtering, and uncounted gigabytes of new knowledge” (24). Steve Outing even goes so far as to proclaim that ‘real’ journalists can learn a few things from bloggers. Some of the most prominent of these are to allow news to be a two-way “conversation” with their readers, to account for mistakes more readily and graciously, and to let themselves get “personal” with their writing every now and then.

Dissident AND Mainstream?

Furthermore, Outing also imparts what bloggers can learn from journalists, and points out a phenomenon that has heretofore passed under the radar; journalists and bloggers are working together in more ways than one. For one, mainstream media has opened its doors to the blogging world; the New York Times’ blog numbers among the most read. In return, “citizen journalists” are placing new emphasis on factual reporting. Most notably, journalists and bloggers are sharing information and sources. He remarks that almost “all journalists traffic privately in gossip, anonymous sources, and thinly veiled juicy items — they just don’t usually get to throw those things into print, and so they IM these tidbits to us bloggers. Bloggers are really just the id of the journalism world.”
All this reciprocated interaction sheds light on one last point. With all the ruckus that blogging is causing in the public sphere, and the near-ubiquity of bloggers in the world today, can it be considered anything but mainstream? If it is mainstream, it cannot also be dissident- at least not according to established understandings of the term.

Conclusion

Is blogging a form of dissident media? That is demonstrably a question of definitions, and perhaps also a demonstration that established definitions are inadequate. Regardless, bloggers are a voice (correction: many) to be reckoned with in today’s world, and they do not plan on departing the blogosphere in any e-ra soon.

Outing, Steve. “What Bloggers Can Learn From Journalists.” Poynter Online. 23 Dec. 2004. 30 Nov. 2007 .
Sifry, David. “State of the Blogosphere.” Sifry’s Alerts. 7 Aug. 2006. 28 Nov. 2007 .
Skube, Michael. “Blogs: All the noise that fits.” LATimes.com. 19 August 2007. 29 November Streitmatter, Rodger. Voices of Revolution. New York City: Columbia UP, 2001.
2007.
“Dissident.” Define.com. 29 November 2007.
Welch, Matt. “Blogworld and It’s Gravity: The New Amateur Journalists Weigh In.” September/October 2003.
Vargas, Jose A. “Storming the News Gatekeepers.” Washington Post 27 Nov. 2007. 30 Nov. 2007 .

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