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The Blogosphere: A Modern Source of Dissidence

November 30, 2007

Christopher Cottrell

November 30, 2007


The Blogosphere: A Modern Source of Dissidence

Dissident news sources have always coexisted with the mainstream media, if not always peacefully. The most significant advancement came recently, with the onset of the Internet. Today, available technology makes advocating social or political dissidence easier than ever. With the emergence of “web logs,” citizens have gained more control than ever over their institutions. Internet blogging provides the means to communicate thoughts and opinions, analyses and reactions, across enormous distances. The thousands of people who are online at any given moment can monitor anything from presidential debates, to the media coverage they receive, and do so instantly. This paper will examine the role bloggers play in affecting news coverage, and will determine to what degree web logs are a form of dissident media. It will also describe one student’s personal experience with sharing his ideas on a worldwide scale.

There is no single way to define a blogger. However, compared to a formal journalist, there are specific characteristics the journalist is expected to fulfill, i.e. attaining credible sources, doing sufficient research, and presenting unbiased facts to the general public. These traits set reporters apart from many online writers. A lack of these characteristics is often one of the main criticisms of bloggers. Without strict regulations, it’s true that anyone can be a blogger. In an article titled Few Turn to Blogs for News, Thomas Hargrove quoted a blogger as saying, “The best part of blogging is that anybody can say anything. The worst part, of course, is that anybody can say anything” (Hargrove). This has proven to be both advantageous and a burden to readers, who can find everything from solid news to meaningless gossip on the Web.

It is the John Does who place every bit of gossip on their Web sites (because they can) that give the blogosphere a bad name. In his article, What Journalists Can Learn from Bloggers, Steve Outing clearly identifies a negative aspect of such freedom, “Some bloggers are too quick to publish anything that falls into their laps—without bothering to vet the material to determine if it’s accurate, or to consider the consequences of publishing it” (Outing). In the gossipers’ defense, while inaccuracies in blogs are certainly not ideal, they have created an online atmosphere where critical thinking skills are more important than ever to possess. Citizens are learning that information must be subject to heavy scrutiny before taken as fact.

Scrutiny is the most fundamental component of critical thinking. If it is true that “Ninety percent of news-related blogs [are] crap” (Welch, Jensen and Reeves), then it is essential that readers take all information they encounter with a grain of salt—including material from blogs as well as the mainstream media. Recognizing that the “mass media are obviously central to the smooth functioning of hegemony” (Brookfield), is an important step in a critical approach to news gathering. A reader must remember that all major news outlets are themselves large corporations, subject to the pull of capitalism like any other business. It is the duty of bloggers to keep such hegemony in check. This is not always accomplished, thus readers must also read blogs through a critical lens.

Although bloggers do not always counter the mainstream media, they do enough to label this particular form of communication dissident. Sometimes bloggers are in agreement with the ideals of mainstream society; however, bloggers offer enough of a balance to the hegemonic media system, and clearly do so in a nontraditional way that they have earned themselves this classification.

While most critics do not ignore bloggers like those in our Dissident Media class, who do sufficient research, confirm sources, and offer intelligible yet alternative viewpoints in order to further the topic at hand, they tend to focus on the majority of blogosphere contributors who soil their credibility as writers with careless syntax errors. The people who cover newsworthy events, like our class did with the current political debates are for the most part a well-educated crowd.

We fulfilled our obligations of rejuvenating political debate by analyzing and critiquing its present forms, as well as the media’s coverage thereof. By doing so, we illustrated a key function of web logging: supervision of the mainstream media. In his Los Angeles Times article, Blogs: All the Noise that Fits, Michael Skube stressed the importance of bloggers keeping an eye on major news corporations, and predicted “bloggers becoming the watchdogs that watch the watchdog” (Skube). Finally the big dailies have someone to answer to who isn’t Big Business.

This is exactly why bloggers are not journalists, but merely part of the journalistic process. Blogging is an exercise in free speech, available to anyone with an internet connection—making it the most democratic form of media to date. Being a part of the current “information revolution” was an interesting experience. The task our class completed was targeted at a larger audience than most students are accustomed to, and for this reason alone it was significant. It taught us how to prepare our articles for a mass audience while simultaneously teaching us how interaction on an individual level can improve an argument by providing an opposing viewpoint.

By encouraging involvement, blogging forced us to stay informed and become active participants in the discussion. According to an article in last Tuesday’s Washington Post, “Independent of the candidates, voters…are interacting with the 2008 presidential election at an unprecedented level because of the Internet, YouTubing, Facebooking, Wikipedia-ing, et al” (Vargas). The article, Storming the News Gatekeepers, also went on to explain that the blogging wave has ushered in a new understanding of news; namely, that once something is published it is only the beginning, rather than the end of its media coverage. This allows for more complete and efficient news reporting. “Freedom of the press belongs to nearly 3 million people,” stated Matt Welch, author of Blogworld and its Gravity, reflecting on the ability of anyone with an Internet connection to publish their opinions (Welch, Jensen and Reeves). Blogging represents a whole new scale of communication; whereas print media typically has a limited number of authors, online blogging sites can potentially have thousands of different contributors.

With such a large number of potential contributors, a communication medium will inherently have more informal writers than a formal group of news gatherers, such as journalists. As stated above, the difference in writing styles is accounted for in the expected characteristics of professional reporters. Thus, thousands of online writers can contribute to the journalistic process, but only an elite fraction of them can be true journalists.

However, the flaws and inaccuracies associated with amateur bloggers have taught our society an important lesson. Namely, that all information, whether obtained from a formal news source or an informal blog, should be critically examined. It is the duty of the news media to make sure public institutions remain faithful to their citizens; as it is the duty of bloggers to make sure the news media is doing its job sufficiently. While these missions may seem righteous, the news media and some bloggers may have other agendas. Therefore, it is no one’s responsibility but our own to watch out for rouges in the system.

Participating in a form of dissident media directed at a mass audience was a rewarding experience. Regardless of whether our Talkmonkey project had an effect on the contemporary political debate scheme or not, in this student’s opinion—it was worth the trouble.

Works Cited

Brookfield, Stephen D. The Power of Critical Theory. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2005.

Hargrove, Thomas. 1 9 2006. 1 9 2006 .

Outing, Steve. Poynter Online. 20 12 2004. 29 11 2007 .

Skube, Michael. Los Angeles Times Online. 19 8 2007. 23 8 2007 .

Vargas, Jose A. 27 11 2007. 29 11 2007 .

Welch, Matt, Mallory Jensen and Jacqueline Reeves. Blogworld and its Gravity. New York, 9/10 2003.

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