What they said...
In Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer, Jonathan Last wrote "Blogs, humbug," and pointed out something I've been saying for months...
"Whether the person blogging is a pajama-clad lawyer or a Pulitzer-winning journalist," Last writes, "The medium is the message, and the message of blogging is: More! FASTER!"
Blogs ultimately want attention from the mainstream media, and the only way to rise above the noise of 36.4 million bloggers pecking away (that's the last number I saw on Technorati.com) is to be shrill, outrageous, and controversial.
"Bloggers are forever telling us how easy journalism is, yet very few of them have ever really practiced it," Last complains. I agree. As a former journalist, I appreciate the fact that so much of what passes for commentary in the blogosphere is often unsupported by any facts. Even some of my esteemed colleagues in the "podcasting space" tend to engage in idle speculation about the motives or agendas of other people, without ever picking up the phone or writing an email to that person to ask first-hand what they were thinking.
Case in point: I've blogged about my continuing correction battles with a major New York newspaper. In my most recent encounter with the publication, I reported on its use of a widely circulated Internet joke in a column that purports to tell humorous, real, first-person stories. What I DIDN'T do -- and what it took a professional daily journalist blogger, Dan Rubin at the Inquirer to do -- was track down the woman whose name was attached to the item and actually INTERVIEW her. Only Rubin discovered that she never told the newspaper the incident had happened to her. She just thought it was a funny joke and sent it to them.
The "pernicious effects of blogs," according to Last: "They elevate analysis over news-gathering; they value speed over judiciousness; and they encourage the practice of journalism to turn in on itself, to tend ever more toward navel-gazing."
There is no substitute for news-gathering and reporting. Don't assume that what you read in the blogs is accurate or even wants to be accurate. You don't respond to the requests for help smuggling money out of Liberia, Nigeria, Iraq, and (hopefully) you don't click on that link to the major bank that wants you to update the password on the account you don't have with them. Why in the world are we giving the blogosphere so much credibility and respect when only a few thousand reputable things (maybe) are going on there?
Why do we elevate certain bloggers -- even corporate ones -- to rock stardom when they act just like the companies they represent when the wagons need to be circled in a corporate crisis? Use a little common sense, folks.
Then, as I was cleaning out my library of unread newspapers from the past week (I'm a dinosaur, I read five dead-tree news delivery devices every day), I came across this Daniel Henninger "Wonder Land" column in the Wall Street Journal, "When Blogs Rule We Will All Talk Like ----" (Registration and/or subscription may be required.)
Henninger spells out the dark side of the blogosphere: "...[T]here is one more personality trait common to the blogosphere that, like crabgrass, may be spreading to touch and cover everything. It's called disinhibition. Briefly, disinhibition is what the world would look like if everyone behaved like Jerry Lewis or Paris Hilton or we all lived in South Park."
He compares the blogosphere to some scary indoor roller coasters, or "dark rides," and concludes that "This dark ride could be a very long one."