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Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Blog Condescension from USA TODAY (Kevin Maney)

Senior technology writer and columnist for USA TODAY Kevin Maney takes a stab at the concept of blogging in his designated space today. While I don't think he intended to do a hit piece on the blogosphere, I do sense a healthy dose of condescension in his article. Perhaps I got that impression from the teaser of the piece:

"Hey, bloggers- you're not all that"

Maybe the feeling manifested itself in the title:

"Chill, blogophiles; you're not the first to do what you're doing."

Or maybe, this comment buried in the piece rubbed me the wrong way.

"Take a pill, all you blogomaniacs. Blogs are fun. Blogs add a fascinating new element to public discourse. But blogs are another turn of history's wheel, not a radical departure."

I disagree with the fact that "blogs are another turn of history's wheel, not a radical departure." I disagree with that premise because the basis used by Maney to set it up is all wrong.

Maney states, without equivocation, that bloggers have existed in one form or another since the beginning of history. He uses such examples as Thomas Paine, Martin Luther, George Orwell, and a more contemporary Brian Lamb, originator of C-Span. However, these examples, totally, miss the most beneficial concept of blogging not yet realized. Somehow, Maney, compares Thomas Paine with "George the Plumber" and Martin Luther with "Laura the seamstress."

Thomas Paine was not an individual "outside the mainstream media" as Maney implies. In fact, Thomas Paine received a letter of introduction from none other than Benjamin Franklin just before emigrating to the Colonies. At the time of his first published work in the new world (African Slavery in America-1775), Paine was, already, the co-editor of Pennsylvania Magazine. In fact, Thomas Paine was not "outside the mainstream media." He was the "mainstream media"; more so than Dan Rather, or Kevin Maney for that matter. Had there been bloggers back in the Revolutionary era, they would have been posting Mr. Paine's rather rambunctious piece and dissecting it as only "common folk" can. They would have been addressing how such a concept such as "no slavery" would effect their personal business. Or, perhaps, the bloggers of 1775 would be commenting on the reference to the Jews in that work. Trust me, African Slavery in America has lots in it to discuss, especially in the mindset of the 1700's. The point is that Thomas Paine was not a blogger. He was mainstream media without question.

Martin Luther, would not be classified in the same category as a blogger either. His legacy was more of a "disgruntled employee/ protestor." Martin Luther had, already, been ordained by 1507 and took on the role of teacher at a university soon followed by the position of Doctor of the Holy Scriptures. It was when, as an insider, he traveled to Rome and witnessed the extravagant lifestyles employed that he took on the role of "whistle blower" that his career into reform took place. In fact, Martin Luther had already had a number of audiences with Leo X or his representatives before publishing "Christian Nobles of Germany" one of his most famous addresses.

Essentially, Martin Luther was an insider. He was a disgruntled representative of that which he wished to reform. His countenance is more comparative to that of Coleen Rowley, Cynthia Cooper, and Sherron Watkins (Time Magazine's Person's of the Year--FBI, WorldCom, & Enron whistleblowers respectively), than Power Line, Little Green Footballs, or even myself. The nametag of blogger, just does not fit the magnitude of Martin Luther's efforts, and focus; nor his status.

The same can be said for George Orwell. His prominence evolved from the publishing of his satires into the mainstream. He became a published author in the 30's. That was the first anyone ever heard of him, mostly because he was raised in India. In fact, Orwell served in the Indian Imperial Police in Burma until he decided to pursue a career as a writer, and only a writer. Orwell was, indeed, mainstream in that regard.

Bloggers can be mainstream. In fact, some blogs gain more attention based solely on that fact. However, the real basis of a blog is that the "common man" has a forum to critique, pontificate, evaluate, accumulate, vent, teach, learn, and infer. What is overlooked by Maney is that the 6 million some blogs out there are a data bank of experts that did not have the ability to interact so completely before. For every issue presented by the mainstream press there are hundreds of experts in any individual specific field that know the idiosyncrasies 100 times better than that journalist. There are hundreds of bloggers out there closer to the story than a professional writer whether in proximity, knowledge, or relationships.

In Maney's favor is his acknowledgement that the mainstream media will be forced to change, and adapt to their new found suitors. This, in a sense, contradicts his opinion that blogs are "the latest revolution--e.g., it's not."

Maney needs to take a closer look and grasp that blogs are about opinion and evaluation more than they are about hard news. They are about keeping the originator honest, and addressing their credibility when they are not. Reputation is based on integrity and consistency. Perceived fact is contingent on the source. The bar is being raised for all journalists in that regard, based on the blogosphere. That sounds like a clear revolution to me. The fact that mainstream media will be forced to adjust to this new horizon implies a Renaissance of sorts. That Renaissance will not be confined to the focus of journalism and mainstream media. The audience of the blogosphere is intermingled with the contributors. That translates to application in business and sorting out demographics. The growth over the last five years has been so astronomical that the whole concept is stealing audience from other established forums (television, music stores, cinema, print etc.).

In short, a successful business will adapt with the trends. If they want to reach the most potential customers possible while applying the most efficient application of advertising funds, they are going to follow the general interest of their targets. That translates to the untapped market of blogs.

Blogs are, indeed, "all that" and more. Blogs are a radical departure in that while there have, certainly, been town criers in our past that would do all the things that blogs do today, there have never been 6 million (and growing) of them on the steps of the Hartford courthouse lawn. A voice of dissent in the wilderness is of little interest to a politician sitting in Washington. 6 million voices of dissent can place said politician in the wilderness…or a news anchor out to pasture so to speak.

(Linked to the Beltway Traffic Jam at OTB)

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