Sunday, January 07, 2007

A little follow up on blogbashing

Sorry to get meta for a second, but this has been on my mind for a bit.

During the second half of the Rose Bowl last Monday, Brent Musberger started going off on a rant about how the "blogs" would be all over Lloyd Carr for the relatively weak performance of the Wolverines against the Trojans. Bob Davie responded that Carr should be more interested in preparing his team for next year than what people are writing on the internet (reasonable), but Musberger kept pushing the evil of the blogs, and Herbstreit something about how there are always going to be detractors and such.

It is too often that mainstream media voices use their platform to degrade blogs, without any nuance or clear understanding of what "blogs" are. It comes off as insecure.

So here's a short primer on new media, for anyone is the old media who wants to gain a better understanding of "blogs":

  • "Blog" is not a collective term for everything on the internet. For that, you should use a term like "website" or "on the internet". A "blog" is a specific type of site - a "web log" where thoughts, impressions, factual assertions, and other opinions are posted in a chronological order. A "blog" is akin to a diary.
  • Many blogs have a function that allows readers to provide instant feedback, in the form of comments. Believe it or not, when a reader posts a comment to a blog, it does not immediately become the voice of the writer of the blog. Often readers post comments directly opposing the point of view of the writer of the blog. When a commenter posts something outrageous, such as a more caustic or irrational thought, that comment is the reader's, not the writer of the blog's. If I write a post saying "Coach X used bad clock-management on the last drive", and some commenter responds by saying "Coach X should be fired immediately, drawn and quartered and raped in front of his kids", that is not a function of the "blog" but rather a function of the way anyone can freely comment upon a blog, even morons.
  • To follow up on that last point, some have claimed that there is no accountability in the world of the "blogs". This is patently untrue. There is arguably more accountability in blogs than there is in real media. The reason is that blogs have no built in audience, such as corporate-owned, billion dollar companies that can broadcast events. If a blog wants to have readers, it must have credibility, and in order to get credibility, it must remain intellectually honest, present things in a factual manner, and continually make interesting and salient points. If a blog's only point is to say "Lloyd Carr sux, should be fired!!!!1!1!1", nobody will want to read it for very long. And at that point, there is no point. If a blog can't be relied to to provide interesting information, people will stop reading it, and at that point it has no influence whatsoever. On the other hand, a talking head on ESPN can make elementary errors, be wrong about countless predictions, dumb any analysis down to second grade level, and nothing will happen - because people are watching regardless. Additionally, commenters on blogs are subject to the same kind of accountability - if they continually make no sense, nobody's going to pay attention.
  • Some complain about anonymity on blogs. Bill Simmons wrote about how terrible it is that someone can anonymously slander people on blogs. I post anonymously, sort of. I'm sure some, if not most of the readers here know something about me. But just because I'm anonymous doesn't give me any right to slander someone. If I do publish false and malicious statements about individuals, readers won't trust me enough to read me. If a slandering tree falls in the forest and nobody's there to read about it, what is the difference? That's the great thing about the internet - it's a true meritocracy. If you continue to publish false statements, nobody will read you. That's true whether you're anonymous or not. Unfortunately, it's not true in the paid-media world. You can be wrong about countless things and continue to get a platform to spout inaccuracies.
  • Here's something else people need to understand: NOT ALL BLOGS SERVE THE SAME PURPOSE. Some blogs track an individual's lovelife. Others follow politics. Not all college football blogs are the same. Some cover a particular team. Others follow the sport generally. Some focus on individuals. Some have a focus on particular conferences. I try to follow the media. Some blogs are clear on intent, and you can read it in the name of the blog, while others you have to read a few posts to figure out what they're writing about. The point is that every blog is kind of different, just like the people who write them are all different. So by saying "the blogs are going to be all over this", you make no sense. Some blogs might take a particular point of view, but there's never a complete consensus on any point.
  • Here's a point that I think some bloggers might take issue with: Members of the media need not feel insecure about the growth of blogs and internet media. Seriously. I'm sure there are some bloggers who write online with hopes of turning that into a mainstream media job, and I also know that there are tons of online writers whose voices would be an important and excellent addition to a mainstream media outlet. But blogs are never going to eradicate old media. Never. TV pundits are still going to exist, newspaper columnists will still have their inches. Pavement-pounding journalists will always get stories because of their access. In fact, I (and I'd argue that most bloggers) want those people to keep doing their jobs. The only thing old media voices need to worry about is this: Bloggers will continue to pressure them TO DO A GOOD JOB. I don't want Stewart Mandel's job. I want him to do his better. I don't want Kirk Herbstreit to be off the air entirely, I want him to take his job seriously and provide better analysis and insight - and to be held accountable when he's wrong. We don't want your jobs, we want YOU to do them better. This is an absolutely fundamental thing about blogs that mainstream media members have to get if they ever want to understand what the point is.
  • There are things on the internet that aren't blogs, and it may be incumbent upon you to understand them some in order to not sound like a total idiot. There are things called message boards. These allow fans to write and post opinions in a forum more akin to a conversation than a blog. Think of a blog as a mini-newspaper column with instant feedback. Think of a message board as a group of people hanging out around the water cooler. Sometimes comments pages on blogs turn into ad hoc message boards at more-highly-trafficked blogs. One shouldn't paint with a broad brush though. Many message board posts are extremely well thought out and well-written. Some are not. Some message board communities have a very high-level discourse. Others may not. They're not all the same, just like the people who post on message boards. But message boards are also fundamentally different from blogs - in that they are usually faster moving, but susceptible to inaccuracies due to the speed. It's like how a 24-hour newschannel is more likely to roll with a story that might lead the wrong way than a newspaper that has all day to let the story play out before rolling to print. There are also other things, such as podcasts, youtube posts, and plenty of other technological advancements that may be incorporated into blogs, but aren't necessarily "blogs". You might want to look into these things and understand how they all aren't the same.
Much of this lesson may be already known. But the same stuff keeps coming up in mainstream media outlets. The main thing is that folks don't need to make overarching pronouncements about "blogs" that fundamentally don't understand the medium.