Weblog Journalism is Hard, and it Smells Funny
Related link: http://www.microcontentnews.com/interviews/p2pj.htm
Before a whole slew of 'blogging books hits the shelves, I've been thinking about the whole "phenomenon" from the perspective of an author who finished early. ("Early" being a relative term. Laura Lewin, our tireless editor, might have something different to say.)
The Slash book argues that the march of technology continues to lower the barriers for storytellers to reach wider audiences. Students of history know that these have always been considered disruptive technologies. I'm reminded of John Wycliffe and the Lollards and the attention they received for trying to *translate* a message.
Besides that, for the decade (plus some) I've been using the Internet and BBSs, there's always been an anarchistic, rugged individualistic streak. Maybe that's why I used to hear Wild West metaphors. It's hard for me to imagine any new not-quite-completely-commercial development not described somewhere, somehow, in revolutionary terms.
It shouldn't have surprised me to hear some people claim that Internet news sites would kill their stodgy real-world counterparts. After all, they have the advantages of speed, of no intrinsic editorial bias, and of rapid, uncontrolled distribution. Sometimes, it even works.
I do now believe, though, that there's nothing intrinsic to weblogging technology that suddenly makes journalism possible. It's still hard to research stories. It's still difficult to write well. It's not any easier to organize your thoughts into a coherent narrative. Let my little essay here be proof of that!
I still believe that weblogs are a good thing (however nebulous that moniker is). I'm convinced that making it easier for people to tell their stories is, on the whole, a wonderful accomplishment. I just doubt that there's anything endemic to blogging that can regularly lead people beyond journals (not that there's anything wrong with that), the occasional first-person primary source (there's a lot right about that), and blepharitic punditry (there's just a lot of that).
Maybe I'm backing away from my comments in the linked interview. Or maybe I'm becoming more convinced that with weblog popularity, it's time to tackle more important (and possible) things, like better filtering. Weblogs have already solved the distribution problem (perhaps even a little too incestuously), but the sooner I stop thinking of them as tools to tear down ivory skyscrapers in New York and Los Angeles, maybe the sooner I'll come up with something interesting to make the tools even more useful.
There's still a lot wrong with journalism, but the technology of weblogs won't fix it. Hopefully I'm the last one to have realized this. :)
So, where's the real revolution? Are weblogs really going to bring down established power structures? Or was I the only person who ever remotely thought that was true?
The limits of available spare time for amateur writers
There is no doubt that weblogs are a great source of personal views on current events. One of my own all time favorites is www.dibona.com, a great continuous source of reviews and thoughts. However, in my opnion, the really great thing about weblogs is the fact that it creates a sufficiently low ambition level for amateur writers to actually write down their thoughts for the rest of the world, within their spare time. A good example of over ambitious web writitings that demand more time of the writer than he can spare, is my very own www.warpedthoughts.org... a page that was started with the intent to make it a continuous source of my writings. Unfortunately the task of writing more than the first essay, seemed to always take just a little more time than what I have available... the solution? turn the page into a weblog and start writing small manageable posts.