Give a Big Hand to the Supporters of Blogland

Here's nice piece, finally offering a bit of balance to the recent major media assault on the credibility and usefulness of blogs. Kudos to the Vancouver Courier, in which the article first appeared, and to the open-minded Geoff Olson:

Ugliness of blogging in eye of beholden

By Geoff Olson

Blogs-text-based soapboxes by and for anyone with an Internet connection-have been taking a drubbing in the press lately. Globe and Mail columnist Russell Smith had at them a few weeks back, as did Ottawa Citizen scribe Dan Gardner. Even fellow Courier columnist Allen Garr joined in the fun in a recent blast against blogs.

Some of the criticism hinges on the charge that there's no proper gatekeeper to vet bloggers' information, leading to the online perpetuation of half-truths and rumours. Also, bloggers don't do any original investigative work themselves, critics say, they simply supply links to existing news stories. Yet if these pocket pundits are mostly linking to and commenting on information that has met a previous editorial bar, doesn't this deconstruct the idea of them being mere slats on a digital rumour mill?

Another criticism is that blogs Balkanize discussion. Anarchists go to their anarchist web sites and blogs, while fundamentalists, neoconservatives and limousine liberals go to theirs. The fanbase simply bookmarks the sites that confirm their prejudices. While there is some truth to this, it can be flipped around to a free speech argument involving the print press. Who wouldn't prefer the wider choice of newspapers in Europe, representing all points in the political spectrum, to the one-size-fits-all zeitgeist we're accustomed to here?

There's plenty of bloggers who are more Munchkin than Mencken, and their online Kansas likely has no more ethical or intellectual consistency than big media's Oz. To nail blogworld for failing to follow the standards of journalism is a bit rich, when those so-called standards are now so thin in the places it's supposed to count. If bloggers can be fobbed off as cranks with high-speed connections, then plenty of their counterparts in the “real world” can be dismissed as public relations shills, who rewrite press releases and uncritically parrot the official line.

Pot, meet kettle. In a celebrity universe where Paris Hilton's partying counts as news, it hard to take seriously the attacks on bloggers from within the media, especially after that iconic journo institution, The New York Times, had a reporter outed a few years back as a four-star fabricator. (Jayson Blair, like The New Republic's Stephen Glass, spun dozens of first-person fairy tales about mythical characters.)

Let's not forget how the NYT, joining virtually every major North American news outlet prior to the Iraq invasion, uncritically swallowed White House propaganda about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. NYT star reporter and Libby-leaker Judith Miller turned out to be a prime garbage chute for this brand of neocon disinformation. Conversely, most of the writers citing information contrary to the official narrative on WMDs were in the foreign press -and on the Internet.

Sensing the change in the weather, CNN, the NYT and other mainstream outlets have welcomed staffers venturing out into cyberspace with blogs of their own. The tune for a while was “blogs are great, we're doing them too.” Now with a massive migration of the cultural conversation to the web, and declining revenue to traditional outlets, we're starting to hear 'blogs offer a forum for extremists.'

If there are still some bright lights in the mainstream media (and I believe there are), as opposed to the vast marquee of dimbulbs in Blogland, I say let the people decide. That's how democracy is supposed to function, after all.

As for the fact that most online commentators do their thing for free, that can be as much a strength as a weakness. Obviously they can't afford to fly to Iraq or Afghanistan for some first-hand reporting. A blogger in Duluth or Don Mills is never going to be as fully embedded as The Globes' Christie Blatchford, but that lack of opportunity is probably a plus. Online readers might then be exposed to an alternative point of view through a link to a report from Al Jazeera, or perhaps from another blogger actually in the Sunni triangle, rather than some helmet-haired bobblehead doing dictation in Baghdad's green zone.

Bloggers I truly appreciate, such as Judy Andreas, Ran Prieur and Jeff Wells, write from the heart as much as the head-one of serious journalism's deadly sins. Being “sentimental” is tantamount to being “unobjective,” and bleeding on the page is considered bad form in the aeries of respectable commentary.

The late gonzo writer Hunter Thompson, who did some bleeding of his own, once mused that no one tells the truth before 2 a.m. Given a choice between a bar-closing conversation with a clever, if slightly manic, dilettante, and a condescending sermon from a suit, I know how I'd choose. Blogs aren't the be all and end all, but I'll take populist screeds over cold, calculated drivel any day.

published on 04/21/2006