September 14, 2005

Who’s afraid of the big bad blog?

On September 11, somewhere in America, in an obscure local newspaper, an unknown journalist had nothing more important on his mind than the threat posed to his paltry skills by the exponentially exploding activity of blogging.

Perhaps his condescending, snide little opinion is a watershed of sorts, maybe even putting voice to the quivering fear of most, but not all, journalists, whose existence as arbiters and setters of the public agenda for news, entertainment, politics, trivia, science, medicine, and social matters is being challenged by anyone with access to a keyboard and the Internet.

Having an opinion, sharing a hobby, or detailing the mundane happenings of the day is no longer the sole province of journalists, who, lets face it, have too long had a monopoly on sharing their unoriginal and uninteresting thoughts, and a monopoly on regaling readers, for the umpteenth time, with an “endearing” story about what their cat / child / wife ate for breakfast on Wednesday last week.

No, the flood gates are open, and journalists don’t even have a monopoly on deciding what is newsworthy or entertaining anymore. The fact is, anyone could give up listening to, looking at, or reading mainstream media, in lieu of using blogs and online pseudo-blogs as their sole source of information and entertainment, and they would never be out of the loop with what’s going on in the big wide world. They would, in other words, be well served by blogs, with the key difference that they would be exposed to an extraordinarily vast number of opinions and an infinite number of subjects they barely knew existed. As for gossip and frivolity, well, plenty of that to go around as well.

But let’s get back to the non-entity who is so threatened by blogs that this was his burning choice of topic on September 11. [NO - I will not dignify this prat with a link to his article.]

How threatened is that particular journalist? Plently. Big Time. Let’s look at a few of the snarky things he had to say.

His headline and his first sentence:

“Bloggers live for response to their lives”

“There are millions of bloggers out there, typing away on their keyboards, living for that glorious day of recognition when someone finally comments on their blogs.”

Meow.

[Note: he should have had a semicolon after the word "keyboard"; alternatively, he could have made use of that handy little joining word “and” after the comma.]

Looking at the content of most blogs, it’s obvious that bloggers are, more often than not, deeply and passionately engaged in the world and have very full, if not always gleefully happy or trouble free lives, and they want to share those passions, interests, and thoughts, whether serious, or seriously trivial.

I think it’s safe to say that, by writing his derogatory piece about bloggers, the journalist was begging for “responses”, and equally safe to say that he will get more responses to this one brief piece than he has, or will get, to anything he writes in his entire life. The power of the bloggers, hey?

He goes on:

“…For the uninformed, a blog is any thought posted on a Web site that is not good enough to be printed in a newspaper.”

And there we have it - the “money shot”. There we have all his terror wrapped up in one neat, grammatically correct sentence. If it’s not in a good old fashioned newspaper, it has no legitimacy. If it’s not written by someone who gets paid by the word, it can’t possibly be a work of any quality. If it’s not written by a journalist, it can’t possibly have any authority. Oh, how wrong can one little journalist be?

Perhaps newspapers are rapidly heading toward a time when their non-advertising content will consist of writing that no self respecting person would let loose on the world, unless they are being generously paid to do so. With the quality and validity of mainstream media rapidly plummeting into a dark abyss, perhaps we are heading toward a time when the information and thoughts of most value to us will be those that are shared, for free and for the love of it.

But let us keep going, because it gets worse.

The journalist under examination takes a single sentence from a popular political blog (Bulldog Manifesto many of our American and O/S friends will be familiar with him), and then offers an example of how the identical point would have been made in The New York Times. Both sentences do make the same point, that is: Bush isn’t doing a great job, but the proffered “professional” and “legitimate” sentence is restrained, somewhat circumspect (albeit, elegantly written), rather than direct and unambiguous, which characterises the sentence taken from the blog.

In case you’re wondering why the journalist offered-up just one tiny contrasting example; just one sentence out of billions of sentences published on blogs: it was to make one devastatingly stupid point. The following is his educated conclusion, his analysis, his opinion; after showing us dumb readers how a sentence would appear in The New York Times, versus the less polished version on a blog:

“You need yourself one of those Ivy League educations to write like that.”
He says, triumphantly, and with, we can surmise, a big slimy smirk.

No you twit of a man. You need a job on The New York Times, and the help of a battalion of editors, to be able to learn to write like a New York Times journalist - not an "Ivy League" education. Besides, it turns out that Bulldog has degrees in both English and Business. Not too shabby qualifications for an inarticulate amateur with a blog and an opinion on everything.

The journalist then proceeds to ramp up his sarcasm and belittling of the skills, opinions and thoughts of bloggers everywhere by instructing those “who attended SEC schools” to follow his instructions on how to set up a blog. And that's it. That's all he has to say.

Now let’s set the record straight by looking at what blogs have to offer - so that we can undertand exactly why the little journalist somewhere in America is so worried about his job that he feels the need to denigrate tens of millions of bloggers:

  • Coverage of breaking news – check.
  • Analysis – check.
  • Opinion – check.
  • Balanced amount of material from all political, religious and social sides – check.
  • Photograph of pecan pie baked last Sunday – check.
  • Women writing about life as a “singleton” – check.
  • Mental health matters – check.
  • Raising families – check.
  • Stories about / pictures of pets - check.
  • Teenage angst – check.
  • Lengthy ruminations about mundane everyday stuff – check.
  • Entertainment and gossip – check.
  • Book and film reviews – check.
  • Synopsis and critique of entire television series’ – check.
  • Information gathering - surveys / questionnaires – check.
  • Humour and frivolity – check.
  • Travel and holiday pictures – check.
  • Navel-gazing crap – check.
  • Cartoons – check.
  • Editorial comment – check.
  • Hobbies / special interests – check.
  • Reviews of new technology – check.
  • Memorial & remembrance – check.
  • Poetry – check.
  • Short stories – check.
  • Access to free novels – check.
  • Collection of vapid ramblings because could not come up with anything to write about – check.
  • Replicable pieces about not being able to think about anything to write about for “this weeks column”; therefore, writing about how hilarious it is to not be able to think about anything to write about, and to write about that, and to actually get paid for writing this shit…………oops, sorry, that’s newspapers; haven’t seen that topic covered in any blogs yet.

Yep. The amateurs are not only giving mainstream media a run for their money, those amateurs are also showing that everyone has an opinion and tens of millions of people are quite capable of writing with a compelling passion about whatever the hell they feel like writing about.

Do they care if their writing is grammatically perfect? No. Does it make any difference to the reader's understanding if the writing is sometimes inelegant? No. Do they "live for" getting “comments”? No, otherwise everyone would stop blogging after two weeks.

It’s mostly news forums, usually set up by journalists - the ones who do not feel threatened by the Internet, and who do not feel threatened by articulate and opinionated amateurs - that receive lots of “comments”; with their sites designed specifically for the purpose of active debate and interaction, an option not readily open to the overwhelming majority of bloggers. Some of those news-blog-forums work well; most don’t. Just like normal, off-the-shelf blogs; some are fabulous, some aren’t.

What have we learnt from the belligerent little journalist in America? I think his brief and nasty opinion piece shows that the formal battle lines have been drawn. Perhaps he will go down in infamy as having written the “jump the shark” episode of journalism, or even giving us the defining “jumping the couch” moment for mainstream media.

Blogs provide us with the full gamut of online news, views, entertainment, and fluff; largely run by independent writers. Professional journalistsno longer have dibs on the provision of public content; no longer have a monopoly; no longer have automatic credibility and authority; no longer have authenticity and immediacy; no longer have the only opinions worth reading; they no longer get to be the only wearers of the legitimacy tag.

So, a mainstream media journalist writes a scathing opinion piece about bloggers in his mainstream media newspaper in order to bolster his authority and legitimacy as a journalist and writer. I’d say his days of authority and legitimacy are numbered. There are tens of millions of people in blog-land with ample qualifications, talent and opinions to replace him. Easy peazy.

3 comments:

  1. Newspapers are dead men walking. It may be decades before they fall over, but then again, it may not

    ReplyDelete
  2. Lemme try that link again

    ReplyDelete
  3. It seems that journalism students are revolting (THEY SURE ARE!! :) at the structure of the courses at UQ in Brisbane. Why shouldn't they when you take in a wide-eyed and eager student; add a half-witted, left-wing cretinous wannabe-lecturer with marxist tendencies; and churn out clowns who think that their socialist opinion is the voice of the people while anyone with a view slightly right of centre is a "xenophobic moron"?

    They have their own blog to have their little whinge....

    http://www.whatswrongwiththejschool.blogspot.com/
    http://www.whatsrightwiththejschool.blogspot.com/

    ReplyDelete