[29 August 2007]
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)
(Kirk Lyttle/St. Paul Pioneer Press/MCT)
Bloggers, we’ve heard it said, never have an unwritten thought. Blogorrhea, it’s been snidely called.
So why is it that, except for a few mentions here or there in the blogosphere and a story in that stodgy mainstream media dinosaur, the Wall Street Journal, no one is opining on the deep significance of blogs turning 10 years old in 2007?
This is, after all, extraordinary news.
Why, it seems like only yesterday we were bouncing baby bloggers on our knee, cooing about the cuteness of Gawker, marveling at the precociousness of the Daily Kos, lamenting that colicky Drudge Report, and enthusing on the crayon skills of Perez Hilton.
My, how big you’ve grown, blogosphere.
So big, in fact, that it might astonish you. Blogpulse, a Web site about Web sites, reports that around the end of July, there were more than 53.1 million individual blogs on the Internet. Technorati, another blogging authority, says 175,000 new blogs are created each day—two per second.
Considering that 10 years ago only a handful of blogs existed—a few floated around the Internet a few years before Jorn Barger actually coined the term “weblog”—it’s an amazing growth curve.
Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising, though. Blogs seemingly have been around in various low-tech forms since the dawn of man. What is cave-wall writing other than early man’s attempts to share his thoughts with the guy in the next cave down? And people have been penning thoughts since back when papyrus was considered high tech.
The difference now, of course, is the ease with which one can convey a message, as well as the technological potential for interaction on a large scale. Ten years ago, a fax machine was still considered cutting edge by many.
Of course, anyone who has spent much time around 10-year-olds knows how mercurial and unpredictable they can be. Blogs are no different. They can be sweet one minute, sarcastic the next. They go off on tangents and say things they later regret. They are alternately insightful and insensitive.
Most of all, they demand attention.
And, you know what? They deserve it.
No longer can you dismiss bloggers by tritely depicting them as pasty-faced social misfits in pajamas, holed up in their parents’ basements, waiting for the apocalypse—or the latest version of the iMac.
These days, the most popular bloggers are challenging the appeal of the most popular newspapers. Then again, some of the most popular bloggers work at mainstream newspapers. (The San Francisco Chronicle even recently named a blogger, Eve Batey of SFist.com, as its new deputy managing editor.)
Indeed, blogging has changed the way mainstream media—TV news and radio included—deliver their content. For one thing, since readers often return to blogs throughout the day for the latest info, news outlets now are constantly updating, as well.
Often, too, blogs drive coverage on issues that were ignored or downplayed.
Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) was forced to resign his position as Senate majority leader in 2002 when bloggers at Talking Points Memo and others picked up on his pro-segregation comments about a colleague, the late Strom Thurmond. ABC News had aired the story, but it got little immediate reaction. Fanned by bloggers, however, the story turned into a political firestorm.
The same fate awaited Dan Rather on CBS’ “60 Minutes II” in 2004. When he delivered a story questioning President Bush’s National Guard service, using memos from 1970 as evidence, conservative bloggers at sites such as Little Green Footballs exposed the memos as inauthentic. CBS eventually retracted the story, and some say it contributed to Rather’s retirement in 2005.
Some bloggers have become so influential that Democratic and Republican operatives invite them to meetings to try to curry favor in much the same way they woo newspaper editorial boards. And bloggers have become so ubiquitous that even political conventions and the Oscars have issued them credentials.
But blogging has affected pop culture much more than just in news gathering, political maneuvering and gossip sharing.
Anyone with a laptop and an Internet connection can be a blogger—for free. (It took 80 seconds for this reporter to start his own personal blog, simply by clicking on one of several sites and filling out two painless forms.)
Surfing the Web, you can find blogs about almost every conceivable subject. Underwater hockey? Sure. Mongolian throat singing? Yup. Ferrets? Oh, scads.
In the blogosphere, celebrities rub shoulders with ordinary folk, too. Rosie O’Donnell has a blog. So do Lily Allen, Barbra Streisand, Alec Baldwin, Avril Lavigne and Pamela Anderson.
CBS News anchor Katie Couric has one, though she suffered no small amount of embarrassment when it was revealed that her producer actually does the writing and posting—and that the producer was guilty of plagiarism.
That’s another thing about blogs. They can cause a heap of trouble for those doing the posting.
One of the most popular current blogs is Dooce.com, which is about how to navigate the dangers of writing about work on your personal blog. It’s hosted by Salt Lake City resident Heather Armstrong, who was canned from her software job after writing some flaming posts about her colleagues.
Meanwhile, a blogger employed by Google recently was reprimanded for a posting she wrote on a company blog in which she criticized Michael Moore’s new documentary, “Sicko,” and urged health-care companies to take out ads on Google to fight Moore.
The same holds true for those who respond with comments on blogs or message boards. Last month, the CEO of Whole Foods, John Mackey, drew heat from critics, as well as his own investors and board members, for pseudonymous postings denigrating a competitor (Wild Oats). Mackey also puffed up himself, writing once on a message board, “While I’m not a ‘Mackey groupie,’ I do admire what the man has accomplished.”
Such “sock puppetry”—the term coined for creating a false Internet identity—has felled others in hubris-heavy self-promotion, most notably New Republic magazine blogger Lee Siegel.
So the cloak of anonymity for bloggers—and those who respond to blogs—is not always protective. Last spring, for instance, Bay Area technology blogger Kathy Sierra was “flamed” viciously by anonymous people in their comments, which included some death threats.
As a result, some have proposed a “blogger code of conduct,” although the idea has gone nowhere. Apparently, not only does “information want to be free,” as the Internet cliche goes, but bloggers want free rein to spout opinions regardless of their factual basis, as well.
The thinking is, readers should have access to all points of view and figure out on their own what’s credible. This summer, a poll by the market firm Nucleus Research and the Web site KnowledgeStorm showed that 72 percent of people continue to look to the mainstream media for vetted political information.
But that might be changing. One of the more popular political blogs, the Huffington Post, employs professional journalists along with “amateurs” and friends of founder Arianna Huffington. Huffington’s blog also is one of the first non-mainstream media blogs funded by corporate money.
So who knows? In another 10 years, blogging may have matured enough to gain the respect to go with its popularity.
At 20, after all, it’ll be nearing adulthood.