Is blogging “punk”?

[11 January 2006]

By Rob Horning

With its DIY ethic and it’s occasionally anti-authoritarian bent, is blogging journalism’s version of punk? This post from firedoglake suggests that it might be, and I sort of thought the same thing after I saw the Minutemen documentary. Here’s what I said then: “What struck me most watching the film, though, was a comment one of the interviewees made about their songs: He noted how diaristic they were, how they would take a scrap of inspiration and transform it immediately into a finished scrap of song to share with the world, committing to it with total intensity for the moment that it’s fresh, and then moving on just as quickly to the next scrap of an idea, the next moment of inspiration. No song is meant to stand in isolation, but all are part of the ‘river’ of songs bassist Mike Watt mentions, the ever expanding and multi-dimensional totality that made up their music’s message. This sounds to me like the Minutemen were proto-bloggers. Blogging, of course, is DIY journalism and opinion making, a refusal to be passive in the face of current events. You want to participate in the conversation about ideas and you take your positions in public, serially, explaining them while they have a hold of you in as concise a form as you can, and then you move on, start somewhere else when the next idea takes hold of you.”

Says firedoglake: “It’s not that the movie business or the book business or the magazine business is dead, or that the blog world is any challenge to any of them, but creativity is a very fluid thing and when it becomes difficult to achieve any kind of satisfaction in a particular medium the quality talent will siphon off into an arena that allows it expression. I could stand at a magazine stand for 24 hours straight, reading every issue on the racks and not come across the clever, relevant, insightful things I know I can find in a half hour on the blogs.” And she adds a cautionary note: “We thought punk rock and the energetic counterculture it produced would last for ever, but it didn’t. It was over quite quickly. Enjoy the blogs while you can. These are the salad days.”

It seems all too likely that like punk, blogging will be neutralized by being adopted by the established-media giants it seeks to subvert; already blog syndicates like Gawker and Pajamas Media have formed to consolidate and standardize a freewheeling medium, and eventually the unaffiliated voices will be impossible to hear in the sea of like-minded self-publishers all shouting into the cyber vacuum. Most people prefer filtered media; and when the novelty of unfiltered media is domesticated into something more coherent and pre-packaged, that is what will garner the most attention, and all the serious bloggers will conform to those standards, hoping to professionalize themselves and secure the respect they might expect and believe they deserve. But perhaps the crucial difference that the Internet makes in distribution and search capacities will forestall homogenization and co-optation. Maybe Battelle’s book about the cultural impact of search engines will help me clarify my ideas.

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