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.