Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A Blog Mob(ster)

I have oft written about writing. Whether it has been the inability to find anything to write about, the insights or revelations that my writing facilitates, the importance of writing skills, my foray into the world of professional journalism, ad infinitum, writing is among my favorite topics to write about. I once wrote a column in which I spent the first three hundred words or so explaining how I couldn’t come up with anything to write about. My boss’ boss, the editor of the Auburn Journal, told me that all writers write about having nothing to write about. My inexperience was that transparent.

The truth is that I always have something to say about something, even if it’s nothing. Some of my favorite work has been the result of a lament about not being sufficiently inspired – but the words always come. Today, I am not so challenged. I am, however, somewhat torn between two loyalties. It is an inner conflict that I have not yet processed but intend to – right now.

The Wall Street Journal today ran an opinion piece entitled “The Blog Mob” by Joseph Rago, assistant editorial features editor. In it, Rago more or less demotes the relevance of blogs, saying, “The blogs are not as significant as their self-endeared curators would like to think.” Perhaps, but I think Rago might be missing the point. For the vast majority of bloggers, their blogs are not meant for mass consumption. True, many have become major media players in their own right, but for the most part it’s still a medium for ordinary, everyday people to have a voice with some staying power. The kind that until recently has been left only to the traditionally published.

On the other hand, Rago has a point, and one that resonates with me as a professional journalist. When viewed as creations of journalism, many if not most blogs fall well short of the accepted standards of the industry. As Rago rightly points out, “Journalism requires journalists… The bloggers, for their part, produce minimal reportage.” Also true. As a journalist who puts in the time to do the research, the interviews and the writing – who is a reporter - it irks me when disproportionate attention is paid to those who piece together the work of real journalists only to analyze, critique and otherwise reprocess our work.

So is Rago right or wrong? Do I side with my profession or my hobby? Do I even have to make a choice? I think not. Although Rago is correct in his assessment that “the larger problem with blogs… is quality,” it is not quality, journalistic or otherwise, that most bloggers aspire to. He continues, “Most of them are pretty awful. Many, even some with large followings, are downright a appalling.” Again, it all depends on what pretense they’re written under and for whom.

I have blasted what passes for writing these days and in large measure I haven’t changed that opinion, however, I have modified where I apply it. When it comes to “professionally” produced material – anything that finds its way to a press, it has to be grammatically, logically and stylistically correct – no exceptions. If it is offered for sale, caveat emptor yes, but professionalism still dictates an expected minimal level of quality – not a “lack thereof.” When it comes to the freely distributed opinions, musings, rants and ruminations offered in blogs and the Internet generally, it is futile to expect the same standards.

Therefore, although I always proof my work, take pride in the use of proper grammar and punctuation and generally endeavor to create smoothness and flow, I can’t expect the same from others. Indeed, I don’t. I also exercise my freedom to choose not to read a great deal of the rubbish that can be found without even looking for it. Having said all that, there are some bloggers that I read regularly who don’t seem to put much emphasis on things like capitalization, paragraphs or punctuation but have a uniquely appealing style that is engaging despite these significant deficits.

But that is the exception, not the rule. Good writing is good writing and it doesn’t matter where it’s published, be it “Joe’s Blog” or the Wall Street Journal. Some sources are more likely to deliver higher quality, but the occasional nugget is still worth searching for. Rago is spot on when it comes to the large, usually political blogs that masquerade as journalism. Many are poorly written and are nothing more than rhetorical rants. There are those too that are simply the humble unloading of frustration by the average person – not meant for mass consumption and often only read by a loyal few.

Rago’s straw man, “Blogs are very important these days,” has not been addressed. Although he effectively mitigates their quality and accuracy, he does not negate their impact. Although his opinion has a great deal of basis in fact and as a journalist it hits close to my heart, he is missing the point. He points to the large political/ideological/commercial blogs as the source of his criticism and then extrapolates it to all blogs. The vast majority of bloggers don’t pretend to be journalists and they aren’t deluded into thinking they will change the world; they just want to have a say. In at least this respect, blogs are very important these days.


Lee Ann said...

Yes, I agree...blogs are important these days!

awareness said...

It seems to me that every profession has an achilles heel. Blogs seem to be the rough heel for career journalists and writers. I have a friend who is a full time writer and academic. Writing is her life. She's very uncomfortable with the whole bloggie world and sees it as a place for amateurs. To her, it's like a rough draft of endbites. I hear it in her voice when we talk about them...

I have another friend who is an historian...teaches at the university. Publishes research. Nothing irks him more than a piece of published historical non-fiction written by a person who has descriptively expanded on the facts in order for the story to be more accessible.

I know part of their issues are their own insecurities, but the other component is that they wish to maintain a sense of "purity" with respect to their profession.

I feel the same way about counselling. People who don't have the credentials can mess up big time.

I agree with you, Mike. There are many blogs which seem to regurgitate a news story, and then just add their own twist and rant to the end. However, there is a whole world of endless creativity out in blogland....... if one filters through the poor grammar goop....

Personally, I began mine as a means to structure my day to include writing as a big part of it, and as a place to archive my thoughts. Unlike the rest of my life, it is a place where I can go to allow the writing to lead explore various topics, to try different writing techniques, to allow whatever themes in my writing emerge if any, and to store my work in progress....... it can always be fine tuned. To have readers visit has been wonderfully fulfilling but by no means is it intended for a wide ranging audience.

Gee.....I'm a bit of a motor mouth today? :)

Great post.

mckay said...

hmm, are professional actors threatened by those who perform in community theatre? nah,

it's just that the internet is drawing readers toward whatever is interesting, profound and available. one used to have to pay to read something interesting. that's just not the case nowadays. that could put some psychological pressure on journalists who make their living off of needing people to pay the big bucks for the publications that encase their words.

again, your eloquence boggles this blogger's mind.

Biker Betty said...

When I started my blog I had only one goal in mind, to share ideas and motorcycle trips with others who also like to motorcycle. I don't have any dreams of being a journalist or pretend to be. I try to write the best I can, but I had awful English teachers and didn't learn as much as I would have liked. My English teacher for the 4th & 5th grade gave us Word Find puzzles and told us to be quiet, do the puzzles and we will get a decent grade.

Blogging, for me, is fun and I love the sharing of thoughts and ideas with others. Joseph Rago comes off a bit snobbish in his opinion. You stated it was his opinion piece and everyone is entitled to their opinions. I've read some journalist opinions who write stuff just to get the goats of others just to sell their paper or magazine. He's probably going to get a lot of heated mail and that is most likely his goal.

Twanna A. Hines | said...

Hi, Michele sent me! :)

What an interesting post. And, I'd have to agree with you ... Although some bloggers are out there for fame and influence, most are just everyday citizens with a voice heard by only a small few. And, that's okay. :)

Saur♥Kraut said...

I think it's deliciously easy for a journalist to sneer at push-button publishing. Bloggers are giving the old-fashioned print media a run for their money!

Of course there are the idiots out there that either recycle other's comics, jokes, memes and ideas, but there is also a lot of original and interesting thinkers out there.

The truth is that blogging has united many people, and influences and disseminates information quicker than print media could ever hope for.

It's a newsie revolution, and the commoners have won.

Merry Christmas!

Michael K. Althouse said...

lee ann ~ Very much so. It is a point that Rago fails to accept - it appears he is just tolerating their proliferation. All writing is not journalism and all blogs are not journalism. That some might pass themselves off as such does not mean that all do. This is my hobby - I am not reading my friends blogs for news, although I do enjoy some fresh opinion. I read them in a framework that does not require or even desire the adoption of a professionalistic standards.

Dana ~ thank you, see above^!

mck ~ Thank you 2. See also above, above^^

BB ~ I agree that Rago comes off as an elitist, but look who he works for. My problem with his very eloquently written analysis is that his argument does not work. He premise is correct when applied to certain large ideoblogs (I think I just coined a new word!), but not when applied to the many thousands of blogs like yours. And, if I may say so, you don't write like someone who struggled with English!

fbc ~ welcome to my blog. I just recently stumbled upon Michele's blog as well. It's a fun place to hang out.

saur ~ hey stranger! I agree that blogging has opened up numerous doors and has been a sounding board for many new ideas. I even think that it will be (has been) just what the world needs to get it thinking again. Rago's presumption that all that is blog is journalism is seriously myopic. See above^^^^^

BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

I love coming to your blog, and reading your words, which come directly from your heart. I see you as an awesome, honest and good soul.

Happy holidays, Mike!

kenju said...

Your last two sentences say what is true for me: "The vast majority of bloggers don’t pretend to be journalists and they aren’t deluded into thinking they will change the world; they just want to have a say. In at least this respect, blogs are very important these days."

Michele sent me

Busy Mom said...

I'm important to me, I don't carewhat they say!

Hello, Michele sent me!

srp said...

Here from Michele.

I would never presume to be a journalist. I started mine to post memories for my child; memories of her grandparents, her mom and stories of her own life.

Nice to meet you.

Snaggle Tooth said...

Many good points here-
Stereo-typing the nature of blog writing styles or blog quality is ludicrous. Grammer edicate is un-enforceable, sometimes even undesired, n totally unrequired.
The internet blog medium is unique, interesting, n has a wide appeal, even the ability to entertain millions from a simple, everyday life is possible.

Every dude (-ette) is entitled to their opinion... Their take on how news affects them, n to share or report via blog, whenever they want to.
I believe the point may be grand-scale mass critique, -not brain-washing...
Believing the dude (-ette) rant is completely optional!
(I believe yours!)

Anonymous said...

Hi! Here via Michele's today. Great post. I believe the people blog for all sorts of reasons. Some blog for the sense of community. Others because they need to write, and blogging provides an outlet for their writing.

I never considered myself a professional journalist, but as a songwriter, blogging has changed the way I look at writing.

Anyway, have a great holiday. I'll be back!

utenzi said...

Michele sent me over to say hi. Hi!

Your ending paragraph had the crux of the situation. Straw man. Rago made a statement that wasn't true then went about attacking it. He won. Big surprise. Blogging for most of us is fun--important? Not to the larger world but that's not the point.

Anonymous said...

Excellent entry. I believe blogging has opened a door for many wannabe it on a professional level or just as a hobby.
I have to agree there's a lot of junk out there, but I've also been amazed at the level of ability I've run across. Be it humorous, poignant or just plain interesting. I think it's a great opportunity for anyone who has a desire to write to do so....and most of the time, to be heard by others. from Michele's....(and again, great post)

Catherine said...

I recently read an anti-blog rant from a New Zealand writer who is paid for a column which is essentially the same as many blogs ( a diary of her life in a European city) - but less interesting. I think she missed the point. You can make large amounts of money if you are a good professional tennis player, but nobody therefore queries the masses who play tennis for recreation. To me, that's what a blog is about. Writing as recreation. I'm sure that exercising mental muscles is just as valuable as exercising physical muscles, whether what is produced is of any value to anyone else, or not.
Here from Michele's.

Linda said...

I can not bring myself to allow misspellings and typos in my blog. I read my blog, re-read it, then post it, and view it. I then read it again, and if I find mistakes (or if I don't like how it looks), I will go back and correct it. I have a hard time reading blogs that are filled with errors. Like you, I have a few that I will read because I genuinely like them, but I stay away from those that give me headaches.

I am not a journalist - I use my blog to keep friends and family in touch with my busy life. We are far from most of our relatives, and blogging is the new form of "family newsletter" that gets read on a weekly (or even daily) basis.

Oh, and by the way, Michele sent me!

David Edward said...

blogs are LIFE, ma man! Blogs are the new water cooler, they are the place where you and I get our " equal time"

Yah - blogs are hip!

OldLady Of The Hills said...

Michele sent me today, and this post is very interesting..!
I feel that I often see fantasically articulate and moving writing on you said, 'good writing is good writing' least I think that's what you said. The elitist crtigue from this guy seems ridiculous to if one kind of writing is more important than another...I don't believe that. Yes, some things get published and some things don't. The beauty of blogs is, one can discover some incrediblely talented writers who may never get "published" by the so called powers that be in the standard way we have come to understand publishing, and Thank God for the advent of blogs, where people can have their say, and sometimes in a most fantastically eloquent manner. Is that important? YES!

Anonymous said...

um'..I think that these famous writers have forgotten that everyone has a story to tell...

and..if they'd set aside the drunken glitter bit of their byline...they'd read heart enough to see through words...

and I love that you're a real writer.....who can read just as terrific'ly...well...:>>

Have a lovely christmas Mike and a great great New Year!

Luxie dee' doo here...

craziequeen said...

I am a frustrated writer and a blogger - but I don't tend to mix the two.

My blog is a journal of thoughts and ideas, my writing is less personal and more carefully crafted.

Michele sent me today, Mike.

Anonymous said...

Blogs are means of expression and I don't really think anyone can say which ones are valuable and which ones aren't.

That said, I can't stand that people call MySpace pages blogs. Few people actually use them to write, post art, or photography.

Anonymous said...

Visiting here from Michele's this time....Enjoy the holiday weekend.

David Edward said...

congrats on One year
here from michele

Anonymous said...

Yes, most bloggers aren't trying to be journalists. Although as a blogger I often feel like one, in that everything is a possible story I want to report back to my readers. I have one guy in town who calls me when something interesting is happening so I can get the scoop.

Blogging has been a crash self study course that has increased my writing and writing skills and has led to me selling some freelance pieces, some of which started as blog entries. I like the power to the people "citizen publishing" part of blogging.

Prego said...

there are some bloggers out there that take themselves a little too seriously. for me, it's just sh*ts and giggles and an excuse to write... an activity i've enjoyed for over thirty years.

here via michele again, bro.

sorry for the grammatical faux pas of 'no capitalization'. just feeling a little lazy