Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Blogs, As Viewed By The Wall Street Journal

On December 20th, 2006, Joseph Rago, an assistant editorial features editor at The Wall Street Journal, wrote a commentary in that fine newspaper entitled "The Blog Mob". In his piece the writer addresses the evolution of blogs (like this one, perhaps) in very critical terms. No surprise there, since the blogosphere has been nibbling off pieces of the print media's turf for some time now.

Rago begins by acknowledging the potential of internet-based communications, saying "The ascendancy of Internet technology did bring with it innovations. Information is more conveniently disseminated, and there's more of it, because anybody can chip in." He goes on to compare it to the MSM (mainstream media).

When addressing blogs as journalism he makes the following indictment: "
The blogs are not as significant as their self-endeared curators would like to think. Journalism requires journalists, who are at least fitfully confronting the digital age. The bloggers, for their part, produce minimal reportage. Instead, they ride along with the MSM like remora fish on the bellies of sharks, picking at the scraps." He then suggests that blogs have more success as purveyors of opinion and commentary. However, he says the larger problem with blogs is quality. To quote him once again, "Most of them are pretty awful. Many, even some with large followings, are downright appalling."

Because the technology on which they ride provides an opportunity for immediacy, Rago says, "The reason for a blog's being is: Here's my opinion, right now." Rather than providing a tool for resolution of divisive issues, he says it appears to encourage mobs and mob behavior. He goes on to equate a quotation attributed to Joseph Conrad on his judgment of newspapering - "written by fools to be read by imbeciles" - to the world of blogmania, too.

Rago closes his long argument with the following paragraph: "Of course, once a technosocial force like the blog is loosed on the world, it does not go away because some find it undesirable. So grieving over the lost establishment is pointless, and kind of sad. But democracy does not work well, so to speak, without checks and balances. And in acceding so easily to the imperatives of the Internet, we've allowed decay to pass for progress."

If all this rings a bell, it should. I think Mr. Rago has hit the nail squarely on the head with this one. One of the reasons, for example, that I created this blog was to bypass the editorial process I encountered in the local newspapers. I've readily acknowledge that the editors almost always made my contributions better, but it was very frustrating to have one's work disemboweled as was the case with one recent submission to the Daily Pilot. As those of you who have read both my commentaries published in the local newspapers and these blog entries certainly know, I'm less patient with the blog. I readily admit it. There's a certain feeling of liberation - and apprehension, quite honestly - to know that once you "publish" the blog it's out there for all to read, typos and marginal grammar included.

Since creating A Bubbling Cauldron eighteen months ago I've become a frequent reader of many other blogs, most of which have an Orange County orientation. Some, published by local newspapers, tend to be slightly boring. Others are provocative and, many times, frustrating as I try to follow the train of thought of those "commenting" anonymously on a particular posting. Some degenerate into virtual school yard squabbles in hyperspace, with name calling and invective used much too frequently. Personally, I like the opportunity to entertain rebuttals and publish them or not, depending on my mood or the language used by the commentator.

I suspect many of us who author blogs get swept up into the process and think that our opinions are actually important to many people. The fact is, one item published in the local newspapers reaches many more readers and is, therefore, potentially much more influential in the arena of ideas than this feeble effort, for example.

I think blogging has a place in our society today. I don't think it has matured enough to be viewed as much more than a hyperlink megaphone, allowing the authors to crank up the volume and bellow into the wind. Some authors have it figured out, though, and produce thoughtful, well-researched snippets of information and opinion. Most, however, seem much less disciplined and appear willing to bellow, bore and berate instead of insightfully, intelligently inform.

So, if you're into cyber-shouting matches, blogging is the thing for you. As far as I'm concerned, I'm just glad you're here., reading what I write and responding to it.


Anonymous Witty/2 said...

Interesting. The retrospective overview of your blog, your publication of the WSJ review, and recent events presents an interesting confluence of your blog’s recent comments and blog articles.

You have Humberto Caspa, DVS, Kent Morrow, Flo Martin and Westside offering you encouragement and support for your ideas. Linda Dixon wrote a “Beware of Mansoor” letter that appeared in the Daily Pilot prior to the election. Dave Snowden seems to have lost interest after the election and retreated to Beverly Hills and Newport Beach politics. Byron DeArakal seems to now insist that the current council majority take their mandate from the voters and go all the way to do what is necessary to fix the problems in Costa Mesa.

When I recently responded to your request for my reaction to one of your blog articles you refused to publish my two submissions. You chose to simply say that you believed my comments were too contrary to your ideas and you wouldn't use your blog space to air my views. I was sorry that I wasted my time writing it and your time reading it, since you decided it was too caustic to publish.

My only consolation was that you were personally able to know and consider my opinions including the third, follow up comment that responded to your apparent sensitivity to my honest reaction to your articles. Since then, you continue to warn your readers of the impending problems we will have in our city and ignore the problems that have given credibility and power to the current council majority.

Happy New Year to you and all your readers!

12/28/2006 03:24:00 AM  
Anonymous DVS said...

I am pleased that it is noticed by witty/2 that I am encouraging your viewpoints. I am sure I would encourage some of the viewpoints of the CMPress if they allowed commentary, but alas, they do not. I would probably chastise more than encourage anyway, but I am sure something printed over there should be worthy of encouragement eventually.

Now, having patted myself on the back for participating, what I am really curious about is why more people don't use blogs as more of a town square. Do I really want to believe that we are hiding here in this little cyber-corner with nary a notice from our elected leaders and local press?

Sure, blogs are by nature narcissistic. After all, why would someone go through all the trouble of creating one if not to read their own opinions in print? But don't they also provide insight into the collective psyche of the community?

I certainly hope there is more than a handful of us reading and commenting on your observations, rants, etc. Even if only a handful of us are also vain enough to send in comments just to see them appear on your blog!

More seriously, I hope that all of the blogs collectively provide a barometer of the community’s sensibilities at any specific point in time on any given topic.

Happy New Year!

12/28/2006 11:14:00 AM  

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