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“Got kitesurfing on the mind, mixed with some search & classification tech, and a dab of political ranting”

To Blog or not to Blog, that is the question

Posted by direwolff on May 8, 2007

Scott Karp’s recent blog post on Publishing 2.0 titled, Users and Abusers of Online Publishing, makes some very good points about the issue of blogging and the challenges with trying to legislate it. Having been thinking about this issue for a while, I wanted to elaborate some additional thoughts here.

As Scott explained it, the act of blogging is simply taking advantage of an easy to use content management system. What people choose to write is far from standard, and their care for professional journalism relates more directly to their background and the opportunity they feel has been given to them by the new medium. Those who were previously journalists who find themselves free to write about topics they were previously prevented from exploring due to their publications, now have an outlet to practice their trade more freely. However, people like me who just wanted a place to put down some random thoughts for no particular reason at all, also now have a venue. When you explore the blogs in MySpace or some of the corporate blogs, you see yet some different uses for blogs in personal expression and corporate public relations.

With that said, why the rush to standardize how all bloggers should be treated as a group given that the only thing most have in common is their use of a software tool? It’s actually a bit ludicrous. Scott quoted a Sunday Times in article in which the writer was clearly out of touch with the fact that blogging has nothing to do with his points on the quality of the blogs he found in the blogosphere. As a brief aside, when I worked for Reuters over 12 yrs ago, and was brought in to look at the business opportunities for them on Internet, I was meeting with one of their board members (who is no longer there). As I surfed the Net with him using a 19.2Kb modem and showed him web sites, he’d scoff at how slow the connection was and that this would only be a fad, instead of focusing on the content that was being created and what was being enabled. When we ended, I had to point out that it wasn’t whether Reuters had the fastest and most reliable global network, but that all of a sudden independent writers could band together and begin to publish news from around the world without the need for the expensive infrastructure that Reuters had had to build.

Newspapers maintained an arrogance about their trade and took their sweet time moving their activities to the electronic medium. I couldn’t believe when I was seeing all of the new portals like Yahoo!, Excite, and Lycos dominating users’ attention in the mid-’90s, when in effect it was the newspapers that had it to loose. Well, today when I read journalists complaints about the blogosphere I have to laugh, as it’s clear that they’re still missing it. They’re missing the fact that they have just been freed from the bonds that bound them to the newspaper they work for and that if the quality of their work is indeed worthwhile they can prosper on their own, if it’s not then they will have been exposed for the shills that they have always been. It’s like the sham of their writing has been exposed and no one really cared what they had to say anyway. Turns out, some 15 year old kid writing a review about Spiderman 3 is more valuable then the esteemed opinion of the local newspaper’s senior movie reviewer, how funny is that?

With this said, I’m not trying to denigrade the journalistic profession, and we do indeed need to help readers understand what’s being written by whom and that the information gathered is well supported. Hence, issues around anonymity need to be addressed in a big way, but along with those privacy issues have to be taken much more seriously and people’s information needs to be better protected. I submit that more people would be willing to talk outside of the cone of anonymity if they could count on their privacy being maintained. Yes, you can have the cake and eat it too if this is something we want to be serious about. As well, it may be worthwhile creating a sort of certification for those blogs seeking to present themselves as maintaining journalistic integrity, which would require an independent review of the process they undergo to assert the accuracy and veracity of the facts contained in their stories (ie. having two sources to back-up a story). Transparency of their process would go a long way to asserting that there was a process that has been agreed upon for one to be anointed, journalist.

This certification would mean that people like me probably wouldn’t care and wouldn’t go through the trouble, but people like Joshua Micah Marshall would need to obtain this certification to maintain the necessary credibility of their work. Perhaps newsreaders could also highlight these certified blogs in a different color than other blogs, as a way to provide readers a quick way of determining what’s journalistic versus what’s something else. Where some people might still abuse the system by trying to obtain the certification for the hell of it, providing greater transparency into their processes might also help determine when they’ve not maintained the rigor of what’s required to be considered journalistic. While this may all be an artificial classification or certification, it could help to address the liability and rights issues that come from being in the business of journalism versus being a hobbyist writer. In other words, the ethos of “write anything you want, but if you call it journalism than it comes at a price” would be a good way to start separating the “wheat from the chaff”.

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