Over the past few years, we’ve been hearing more and more about “blogging”. It’s been hailed by some as giving a voice to the masses, and by others as… well… giving a voice to masses who really should never have had one to begin with.
Andrew Keen, in his book The Cult of the Amateur, compares bloggers to monkeys, who type out whatever they think with no consideration of what is readable, or should be read.
“Blogs have become so dizzingly infinite that they’ve undermined our sense of what is true and what is false, what is real and what is imaginary. These days, kids can’t tell the difference between credible news by objective, professional journalists and what they read on joeshmoe.blogspot.com,” he claims.
He argues that in our information society, anyone can create anything and there are no checks and balances as to what is true, useful and reliable. Therefore, blogs are not only useless, but a threat to the credible, the academic, the journalistic. They are the product of the amateur – “a hobbyist, knowledgeable or otherwise, someone who does not make a living from his or her field of interest, a layperson, lacking credentials, a dabbler.”
But does one really need credentials in order to produce something useful and informative?
Blogging started to become popular, as far as the experts can tell, after September 11 2001. The new medium enabled ordinary people to play a role in creating news and reporting on events. It was the beginning of what has been dubbed the Third Great Media Revolution where, in the words of writer Dan Gillmor, “the first draft of history was being written, in part, by the former audience”. This `former audience’ provided information the American media either couldn’t (such as personal accounts) or wouldn’t (the media at the time were rallied around the American cause).
In many countries where the traditional press is under government control or corrupt, it is the blogger who stands up and tells the world what is really happening. And in times of great disaster, with media houses lying in shambles, it is bloggers who reach out of the rubble with critical information.
Take for example the recent Haitian earthquake. The news that reached us long before the media teams landed was from people like Carel Pedre who used micro-blogging site Twitter to post things like, “There are still a lot of students and teachers still alive under the debris of GOC University in Nazon. @RedCross.”
Disaster or political blogs are not the only ones that serve a purpose. There are also blogs that post reviews, commentary and even expert advice. Technorati’s top ten blogs include technology blog TechCrunch, political blog The Corner and entertainment blog The Gawker. All of these have thousands of readers daily, who rely on them for information.
Useful, but is it journalism?
Blogs may provide information but does this mean they are the same as journalism? After all, isn’t the aim of journalism to inform?
The key difference between a blogger and a journalist is that there is no editor, which can be a good thing. True, there is no one to control what a blogger can and cannot say, no one to choose what thoughts get priority. On the other hand, this means there is also no one to check for accuracy and impartiality.
If a popular blogger makes a statement that is incorrect, thousands could be mislead. An example is The Freedom Blog by “Shelly the Republican” who proudly tells her followers: “Ubuntu is only kept ‘free’ by the judicious use of cheap, South African labour, often using intimidation, threats, and even outright violence to keep workers in line, slavishly marching towards the Ubuntu Management team’s brutal deadlines.” Is she joking? Probably. Is there anyone telling her readers that? No.
Blogging also has no other kinds of editors, like subs, who will check facts to make sure a story is accurate before being sent to press. Blogging relies solely on self-moderation and reader comments to ensure the truth leaks through, and since these are controlled by the blogger… well, you can see where this could be a problem.
Both, not either
This is why it is unlikely that blogging is, or should be, a threat to journalism. However, that does not mean there is no place for it. Another difference between journalism and blogging is that journalists rely on the reputation of their media houses and people automatically trust them because of that good name. Bloggers, on the other hand, have to work hard to build a good reputation from scratch. So, chances are, popular blogs are popular for a reason.
In response to Andrew Keen’s Cult of the Amateur, writer, lawyer and academic Laurence Lessig says: “What Keen misses is the value to a culture that comes from developing the capacity to create – independent of the quality created. That doesn’t mean we should not criticize works created badly. But it does mean you’re missing the point if you simply compare the average blog to the NY Times.”
Originally posted here.