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The Good, The Bad, The Blog

November 30, 2007

Blogging is media that is both enriching and detrimental.  The blogosphere provides a public forum for the discussion and dissemination of ideas and experience across the broad range of human experience.  It is a media that permeates everyday life and a crutch with which we rely on to supplement our increasingly large information appetites.  Michael Skube quotes Christopher Lasch in his article “Blogs: All the noise that fits,” that “ ‘What democracy requires…is vigorous public debate, not information.”[1]  Blogs are able to provide that public forum for debate, and also create the information that Lasch believes is needed.  However, blogs also present a danger: they are unregulated without editors or fact-checkers.  Steve Outing describes this in terms of ethics, “Part of the problem is lack of any community blogging standards that might discourage unseemly behavior.”[2]  This is a sticking point with many blogs; how can we know if they are published in good faith?  We cannot.  This is a huge problem in the nascent blogosphere.   As well, blogs may narrow our focus and allow us to pick and choose blogs that share our point of views.  As blogs become increasingly prominent, they cause a slant in unbiased information, nearly eliminating it from the public domain.  Though blogs allow for the sharing of ideas, they also represent a very real danger of disinformation.

            The blogosphere has several huge advantages, especially concerned with dissident media.  It is unregulated, allowing for the completely free expression of and access to all sorts of different ideas.  Anyone with access to the computer can blog and extensive networks of people from across the globe can coalesce easily around a common cause and blog.  In another Los Angeles Times article, Jay Rosen describes several blogs that do have investigative reporting, travel, and citizen involvement, “2005 to present.  Citizens construct Katrina timeline…. [They] created a detailed timeline…with over 500 evens, fact-checked and sourced.”[3]  Finally, it is incredibly cheap to blog.  The only fee is Internet access, and the potential public is huge without publishing costs.  “All you need to get started is a name, a password, and an email address,” describes Mallory Jensen in The New Age of Alternative Media[4].  This ease of access, and sometimes the anonymity, creates huge draws towards dissident blogs and brining those with opinions and facts that are often overlooked into the public forum. These advantages allow blogs to create a great deal of noise among the greater public, and provide greater access to the disenfranchised.

            However, blogs also pose several problems not often associated with traditional forms of media, mainstream or dissident.  One is the lack of editors and fact checkers.  Without these vital personnel, other media outlets would fall to pieces around sloppy productions.  People do not want to read, or see, productions riddled with mistakes or that are fabrications; editors provide the tools to make sure mistakes are kept to a minimum and that fabrications are rare.  Blogs, unencumbered by editors, are able to publish more controversial items, but are also often mired in the realm of bad grammar, inappropriate words, and blatant propaganda, though this is not always the case, as explained above.  As well, many blogs lack the resources and credibility of traditional media outlets (though this is slowly changing), which does not allow for very many in-depth articles or “serious” investigative journalist.  In the article “Blogs: All the noise that fits” from the Los Angeles Times bloggers themselves reject this authoritative stance, “[They]—are insistent partisans in political debate.  Some reject the label ‘journalist,’ associating it with what they contemptuously call MSM (mainstream media)…”[5] Finally, the ease of access allows anyone to blog, including propagandists, the un-informed, and those who simply do not care about facts.  This leads to a flooding of the blogosphere with useless information, again detracting from credibility.

            Our blog, concerning changing the format of political debate, is a great case study for both the pros and cons of blogs and the blogosphere.  The elements for a successful blog were all present: a current, controversial, and important topic, a clearly stated goal, and a diverse, intelligent, and vocal contributor base.  Yet, the execution of the blog was not exactly spectacular.  It was a slow upstart; often had too many posts that lack any sense of coherence, and did not often present a new take on the subject.  Oftentimes, posts were treated as simple assignments, made to earn a grade, instead of as a post that could affect the greater debate.  This casual treatment of the blog was its biggest downfall.  Blogs that make noise, such as James Kotecki’s video postings, almost always began as low-budget, amateur projects.  However, his blog especially, had an excitement about it, and took its subject matter in stride, and not as a school assignment.  As well, our posts, though centered on a central question, often had a sense of incoherence.  Topics varied greatly: from finance reform to the history of presidential debates to the role of music in campaigns.  Though the topics made for an interesting read week to week, they did not allow for a huge furthering of the political de*-bate discussion.  They presented various points of view and facts concerning the debate, but rarely engaged in any distillation or new ideas about the topic.

            Despite these shortcomings, the class blog did have many positive aspects.  The sheer amount of information gathered there allows readers to become informed about the various issues regarding the upcoming elections and the broken debate system.  Additionally, the blog has the air and feel of student activism, always preferable in fermenting change than mainstream media.  This falls in line with Matt Welch’s thinking about alternative press, “The papers once embraced amateur writers; now they are firmly establish in the journalist pecking order…[blogs] represent a crucial alternative to monolithic journalism establishment….”[6] We acted as new, amateur, young journalists, pulling facts together and posting our own ideas, creating excitement that was the hallmark of papers in the 1960s and 1970s (one only need read All The President’s Men).  As well, as our tracking showed, we had an audience that did not consist entirely of class members.  Though perhaps not as large as we would like, the impact our blog had on those readers cannot be underestimated.  Like other dissident media, if it inspires just one other person to actively seek change, a snowball can occur and change can happen.

            Blogging, though a new technology with many downsides, is the format of choice for new dissident media.  It allows easy, widespread publication, the possibility of huge networks, and a lack of oversight that appeals to the marginalized and disenfranchised.  Though it lacks some of the resources of earlier forms of media, professional editors and such, blogging offers a great deal of advantage for getting messages out, as Welch points out that bloggers have contributed, “Four things: personality, eyewitness testimony, editorial filtering, and uncounted gigabytes of new knowledge,” to journalism[7].

All sources are in-class, handouts provided by Professor Dana Walker.

 [1] Paragraph 8, “Blogs: All the noise that fits,” by Michael Skube

[2] Paragraph 20, “What Bloggers Can Learn From Journalists,” by Steve Outing

[3] Paragraph 22, “The journalism that bloggers actually do,” by Jay Rosen

[4] Page 22, The New Age of Alternative Media, “A Brief History of Weblogs,” by Mallory Jensen

[5] Paragraph 3, “Blogs: All the noise that fits,” by Michael Skube

[6] Page 21, The New Age of Alternative Media, “Blogworld and its Gravity: The New Amateur Journalist Weigh In,” by Matt Welch.

[7] Page 24 The New Age of Alternative Media, “Blogworld and its Gravity: The New Amateur Journalist Weigh In,” by Matt Welch.

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