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Why, sometimes, bloggers need to shut up

November 30, 2007

Much has been said in recent years about the emergence of the blog. Supposedly, this new form of media can transform the structure of media power, bringing people and news sources close together. Anyone can write a blog and publish it for the world to see, from traditional reporters to politicians to soccer moms to their teenaged children. This accessibility has been said to expand the political and social discourse, closing the gap between the news makers and the news consumers and turning every citizen into a rogue journalist.

However, critics claim that bloggers are an insult to the craft of journalism. They see the “blogosphere” as rife with errors and unsupported opinions, a symptom of bloggings definitive lack of editors or gatekeepers. (Skube) Other bloggers and blog-readers fact-check the sites, which can lead to impressive results. (Welch) But the criticism of the blogosphere, or at least parts of it, as petty and argumentative cannot be denied. Skube asserts that “the blogosphere is the loudest corner of the Internet, noisy with disputation, manifesto-like postings and an unbecoming hatred of enemies real and imagined.” (Skube)

The problem with blogs is not that they are inaccurate; when a blogger makes an error, he or she typically corrects it as soon as a commenter points it out. The problem with blogs is not that they are devoid of investigative, hard journalism; Jay Rosen provides a list of important blogging accomplishments in “The journalism that bloggers actually do.” (Rosen) The problem with blogs is their pompous, egotistical nature that springs from a hatred of and unwillingness to work with and attempt to improve the mainstream media.

While the upper echelon of bloggers, the bloggers who uncover important stories that the MSM misses, offer an important contribution to the media landscape, it is often the lesser bloggers, the columnists, the political commentarians, who tout the possibly overestimated transformative power the blogosphere. “As a rule of thumb, the more disgruntled a blog is, the more vehemently it proclaims its status as the media of the future.” (Tossell)

Blogs such as these increase partisanship instead of seeking actual solutions. Tossell says that it is the partisan political blogs that are quickest to remind their readers that they are outside the filters of mainstream media. But what is it that these readers, made so aware of the alternative nature of the blogs they are reading, really want? Blogs are hurting themselves by building up their own importance. In the end, readers want the same thing from a blog that they want from a newspaper or the evening news: a story. (Tossell)

Bloggers, however, do not talk in terms of stories. Blogging has become not a way to tell a story, not a new medium, but a whole new structure in and of itself. It attempts to define itself as separate from the media, while trying to become the media. “Anyone who thinks that blogs merely enhance and compliment the media world, apparently, just doesn’t get it.” (Tossell)

So how can blogs grow and improve, as they certainly have the potential to do? While the blog is still young, only a decade old by some estimates, it is headed down a bad road. By defining themselves as oppositional to the mainstream media and as the new media, bloggers are creating a conflict of interest. If blogging eventually dominates more traditional forms of media, it will become the standard. While mainstream media has its flaws (it can be slow to fact-check, reluctant to correct mistakes prominently and unsure about questioning authority by going deeper; Outing), bloggers are doing themselves a disservice by focusing on their revolutionary position instead of shutting up and doing more of the work they claim they do.

Even the blogs that do work hard to report the news and provide expert commentary are given a bad name by the partisan, mud-slinging, self-important blogs. These blogs waste time fighting with other bloggers and engaging in immature fights, often to the exasperation of readers. Thanks to these bloggers, the very word “blog” has become a loaded word, evoking images of egoists whining away about the latest news item. “The sooner that blogging triumphalism is history, the sooner “blog” will stop being an unfairly loaded word.” (Tossell)

Of course, making such generalizations about the blogosphere is impossible; it is not one cohesive movements and there is no specific trait all bloggers have in common other than the belief that they are somehow contributing to the public body of knowledge.

Perhaps this argument could be refuted by pointing out a few humble, dedicated blogger-reporters; however, that is not the point. Bloggers need to realize that while they are working in a new medium, they are not working in a new world.

Works Cited

Skube, Michael. “Blogs: All the noise that fits.” The Los Angeles Times 19 August 2007.

Welch, Matt. “Blogworld and its gravity.” Columbia Journalism Review Sept/Oct 2003: 20-26.

Rosen, Jay. “The Journalism that Bloggers Actually Do.” The Los Angeles Times 22 August 2007.

Tossell, Ivor. “It’s not the blogs I hate, it’s their fans.” The Globe and Mail 20 July 2007.

Outing, Steve. “What Journalists Can Learn From Bloggers.” Poynter Online 20 December 2004.

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