Sunday, March 23, 2008

New Power, Unknown Implications: comments about blogging

Blogging is a new force which is revolutionizing the exchange of information. Blogging taps into the human need to communicate, to express and share ideas (Burnstein xiv). Blogging software is so simple to use it encourages and empowers the user. But, blogging, though it is a simple activity, carries with it several more complex and evolving implications. Its accessibility and “newness” has given a voice to express views in a way that is not otherwise available.

Blogging also has implications for more established forms of media and communication. Perhaps its biggest impact can be seen in how it affects traditional journalism, found in magazines and newspapers. Its long-term effects on the media infrastructure are not yet completely known. Through this technology, a tremendous amount of power can be wielded, but it calls into question what it means for both the global society and for the individuals themselves. There is a strange dichotomy that presents itself. It creates community, while at the same time, glorifies the individual.

Blogging software is very democratic because it is remarkably easy to use. With Blogger, one of the major blog writing and hosting sites, a very inexperienced user with no knowledge of HTML can create an attractive website. Images, videos and links can be easily added to enhance the writer’s philosophies and observations. Blogger’s service is also free. It allows people to connect throughout the globe, which taps into the very human desire to communicate. “It’s the desire for love, belonging, participation, and fusion that frees individuals from their anxiety and fear of solitude” (Fischer 64). Blogging is such a prevalent trend that currently, the number of blogs doubles every 300 days (Eaves).

The Internet is still a new frontier, and it allows people to connect throughout the globe. The Internet’s “newness” allows it to operate on the outskirts of mainstream media and on the edges of government control. In Iran, young Iranians are defying governmental crackdowns on media by blogging about their lives, on subjects that are both profound and trivial. One blogger says: "I keep a web log so that I can breathe in this suffocating air.... In a society where one is taken to history's abattoir for the mere crime of thinking, I write so as not to be lost in my despair, so that I feel that I am somewhere where my calls for justice can be uttered.... I write a web log so that I can shout, cry and laugh, and do the things that they have taken away from me in Iran today" (Berkeley). It is estimated that there are 75,000 blogs coming out of Iran (Berkeley).

Personal voice is an integral part of blogging. “A web log’s quality is ultimately based on the authenticity of its voice”(Blood 59). One of the things that perhaps can make a blog stand apart from traditional reporting is that personal, individualized voice.

Perhaps the biggest impact blogging has had so far has been on traditional journalism. The media, meaning television and print news, often must cave to financial and governmental pressures. A sponsor might pull back support from a news report or a newspaper, which reports a story in a way the sponsor, deems inappropriate. Government will often deny access to journalists it deems overly critical. This been an issue in many countries, including recently in the United States.

Governments in countries such as China or Iran have such an iron grip on the media, they see blogs as a threat to their power because they do not yet control the Internet the way they control the newspapers and television. Many reporters will give in in order to maintain access to their sources. Even those who are willing to report often find their pieces rejected and unpublished. Objectivity has become a serious issue in traditional journalism. Geneva Overholser, of the Missouri School of Journalism says this about the American mainstream media: “The way it is currently construed, “objectivity” makes the media easily manipulable by an executive branch intent on and adept at controlling the message. It produces a rigid orthodoxy, excluding voices beyond the narrowly conventional” (Rosen). The community of Internet bloggers has taken it upon themselves to report stories in a way that traditional journalist can or will not do.

Jay Rosen, in his essay “Bloggers vs. Journalists is Over”, argues that the idea of “audience” is obsolete, that the term “communities” is more apt. The word “community” implies a dialogue. “If we look at news as conversation, which is such an important metaphor today, the people putting that into practice are bloggers” (Rosen).
Blogging has blurred boundaries between audience and producers, to the point that the audience has the capability to become the producer. “Journalism finds itself at a rare moment in history where … its hegemony as gatekeeper of the news is threatened by not just new technology and competitors but, potentially, by the audience it serves” (Rosen). Traditional media has lost exclusive control, and must share space that it used to dominate. Some individuals start blogging because they see a lack of the complete story in what is being told in traditional media.

A young man in Baghdad who called himself Salam Pax, maintained a blog during the US led invasion of Iraq and his musings are considered by many to be the compelling description of life during the war (McCarthy). "I helped my mother pack things today," he wrote in a posting on February 16, a month before the invasion. "We have not decided to leave Baghdad if 'it' happens, but just in case we absolutely have to. We are very efficient packers, me and my mom. The worst packers are the emotional ones. The 'Oh-let's-remember-when-I-bought-this-thing' packers, we just do it in cold blood. We have done this quite often; we are serial packers" (Pax 97). Bloggers have taken on the role of eyewitnesses. Pax saw his blog as an important chronicle of what was happening inside Iraq, a story that was not getting to the West through the Western media. He also saw his blog as more personal work than how a traditional journalist would see it : “One day, like in Afghanistan, those journalists will get bored and go write about Syria or Iran; Iraq will be off your media radar. Out of sight, out of mind. Lucky you, you have that option. I have to live it."

Soldiers stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan have also begun maintaining blogs and have become a new type of war correspondent. They do it for a variety of reasons, some blog to stave off boredom when they are not fighting and some blog because they see inaccuracies in what they read in the mainstream media (Dale). One blogging soldier says "I saw that a lot of times they would just cut and paste what the Army press releases would say and sometimes the Army press releases aren't accurate —and from what I saw, the media wasn't too interested in finding out whether they were true or not" (Dale).

Blogs have become so prevalent that many journalists maintain blogs to supplement their work. Online journalism is an interesting phenomenon because of how it can more easily transcend long-established barriers to reach audiences. “News audiences are no longer necessarily determined by the geographic, political, or cultural (e.g., language) boundaries predominant in the world of analog media “(Pavlik 131). Everyday people, trained journalists, and everyone in between are using new technologies to tell stories, swap images, share information, and interrogate powerbrokers and debate issues. “Progressive media —too often stuck between the rock of the prog blogs' partisanship and the hard place of print journalism's financial woes-has benefited greatly from the amplification and sharing of stories that search tools and Web 2.O enable”(Clark).

Blogging, like most activities associated with the Internet, is so new; its long-term effects are not yet known. While many see blogging as a positive force of change and an exciting element of new media, some have reservations. Andrew Keen, in his book “The Cult of the Amateur”, fears that the democratization provided by blogs will lead to decrease the quality of ideas and the quality of writing; that it diminishes worthy creativity because it glorifies everything. The Internet, for Keen, creates “an endless digital forest of mediocrity”( 79). “Some fear the culture of blogging and Web cams is creating a generation of narcissists, who think their every thought is worth communicating” (Gordon).

It also calls into question what happens to communication when it exists completely disconnected from human to human contact. The shield of anonymity can sometimes encourage a person to write things in a way that he or she would never do in their real life, unleashing hate and bigotry. The Internet gives one the opportunity for instant, close communication with the option of anonymity in a way that has not really been seen before. “This feverish communication, this communication intoxication, creates the illusion of restoring a lost social well-being”(Fischer 65). Online communication, including blogging, creates a strange dichotomy in the way that it creates community, while at the same time, glorifies the individual. If everyone’s opinion is worthy, does that mean no one’s is?
Blogging, because it is such a simple activity, is tremendously popular. Because of its popularity, it carries with it implications for traditional media and journalism, for individuals and for communities, both real and digital. Blogging has democratized, in many ways, the distribution of news and information. But how long before it becomes completely absorbed corporations and government, whose influence some believe has compromised traditional media’s ability to report objectively. Blogging also may have repercussions on an individual and community well being. Because it still so new, how blogging will impact all of these things in the long term remains to be seen.

Works Cited

Berkeley, Bill. “Bloggers vs. Mullahs: How the Internet Roils Iran”.
World Policy Journal. Spring 2006. Vol. 23, Iss. 1; p. 71

Blood, Rebecca. The web log handbook: practical advice on creating and maintaining your blog. Cambridge, Mass.: Peruses Pub.2002.

Burnstein, Dan. Introduction. Blog! : How the newest media revolution is changing politics, business, and culture. By David Kline and Dan Bernstein. New York: CDS Books, 2005.

Clark, Jessica. “Blogs Up, Hacks Down”. In These Times:
Sep 2007. Vol. 31, Iss. 9; pg. 4

Dale, Daniel. “Soldier-reporters rewrite the rules”. Toronto Star:
Aug 11, 2007. pg. ID.1

Eaves, Dave. “Blogosphere at Age 10 is Improving Journalism”. Toronto Star:
Jul 30, 2007. pg. AA.8

Fischer, Hervé. Digital shock: confronting the new reality.
Translated by Rhonda Mullins. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2006.

Gordon, Andrea. “Wired, like Totally”. Toronto Star: Apr 1, 2005. pg. E.01

Keen, Andrew. The Cult of the Amateur: how Today's Internet is Killing our Culture. New York: Doubleday/Currency, 2007.

McCarthy, Rory. “Salam's Story” The Guardian. 30 May,2003.
4 March, 2008

Pavlik, John V., Steven S. Ross. “Journalism Online: Exploring the Impact of New Media on News and Society”. Understanding the Web: Social, Political, and Economic dimensions of the Internet. Alan B. Albarran, David H. Goff. Eds. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 2000.

Rosen, Jay. “Bloggers vs. Journalists is Over.” Press Think. 21 January, 2005.
4 March 2008.

Salam Pax. The Baghdad Blog. London: Atlantic on behalf of Guardian Newspapers, 2003.

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