Saturday, May 5, 2007

Let the Reader Decide

If you dismiss blogging as the blatherings of the Internet elite, you will miss the most significant transformation in communications since the arrival of the Web. ~ Chris Shipley

Well, there are more writers of blogs right now than there are readers, so that's clearly a vanity phenomenon.~John Doerr

I admit it. I find the whole blog phenomenon to be grist for the mental mill. I've written a veritable plethora (like this piece that also has links to others) of pieces about blogging. Why? Maybe maybe I just don't have enough imagination (a distinct possibility), but it's also because the blogosphere is always talking about itself. It's a veritable perpetual-motion machine; when everyone runs out of things to write, they'll just write about each other's blogs.

The other thing that I find fascinating is the love-hate relationship that mainstream journalism has with bloggers. They seem to have no problem lifting material from blogs, and most news reporters have blogs of their own. On the other hand, they seem to frequently complain about the blogs as though the bloggers are somehow usurping their territory. This was brought into sharp focus in this article in which Andrew Thomas, using World Press Freedom Day as a hook, rants about how bloggers aren't journalists.

Frankly, I don't think many bloggers who don't already have full time jobs as reporters, editors, and/or publishers, actually think of themselves as "journalists." They're just offering their comments about this and that, sometimes with vivid vituperation. But, that is the essence of free speech; as long as one doesn't resort to slander or libel, one can say pretty much anything one wants. There may be consequences (like getting fired) to doing that, but that's the risk of freely expressing opinions.

But, Mr. Thomas goes a little overboard. He says:
Proper journalism has to involve more than one person. There's the editor who sets the news agenda and the publication's general stance on various topics; the news editor, whose job is to shout at the journalists; and the hacks themselves, who generally have to do as they're told. With a blog, all the editorial controls, the objective reasoning and, above all criticism that goes to make a national newspaper readable, goes out of the window leaving just a stream of drivel. It's vanity publishing at its worst.
A bit later:
One of the keynote speakers at today's World Press Freedom debate in London is described as a 'political blogger'. What right does someone who can't even get a job on a local newspaper have to pontificate about international journalism?
And his kicker:
Press freedom is a laudable aim – let's try to make sure it includes the freedom to be spared the spittle-flecked rantings of a million blogs.
Now just wait a minute. First of all, a political blogger has the "right" to "pontificate" as much as he wants to about anything, including "journalism". We have the right not to read it or agree with it, but he has every right to say it.

As far as "freedom to be spared the spittle-flecked rantings" of bloggers, I've read the work of a lot of so-called journalists that were pretty spittle-flecked, if one comes right down to it. Anyone who lived through the persecution of Sam Sheppard by the Cleveland Press has seen some serious journalistic rantings.

I sent the link to Mr. Thomas' article off to Paul McNamara, one of my favorite journalist-bloggers and he sent me a note back. After chiding me for calling him a journalist, he distilled the issue down to its simplest terms. The are good blogs and bad ones (he used a stronger term than "bad", but this is a family blog; I don't know whose family it is). Unfortunately ,he also points out quite correctly, that there a lot more bad ones than good ones. But, ultimately, he says, "Readers ought to be able to sort this out."

Now, if Mr. Thomas was making a case that people don't know the difference between good blogs and bad ones, he'd still be wrong, because they have the same problem with journalists. The fact is, it's the reader's choice to make, and saying that bloggers don't deserve the same rights as newspaper hacks is taking that choice away.

Evidently Mr. Thomas is afraid of the choices the readers might make.

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