meta: April 2004 Archives


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Liz Lawley's got a nice post from a couple of days ago, in response to full-time academics asking her "how/why I started blogging."

Nice, because it details a number of the reasons why academics (particularly in rhetoric/writing studies) should be both paying more attention to weblogs and trying them out. Among them is the feedback looping that weblogs allow--we tend to portray our scholarly activity (publications) as participation in a conversation, but that's only true if it's the slooooooooowest conversation ever imagined. Even if I only occasionally participate in the conversations that animate the blogosphere, paying attention to them has gradually eaten away at the time that I spend on listservs, and reading journals, for that matter. There's a lot of energy to weblogs, and Liz captures that sense well, I think.

The invisible college that she talks about, too, strikes me as one of the ways that weblogs might transform the academy for the better. Reminds me some of what Alex Halavais had to say a few weeks back re accidental and intentional communities. I've been struck more and more in the past year by how accidental I feel in the context of my own discipline sometimes--does that mean that I've been seeking out weblogs to block out that accidental feeling, or has seeking them out led to that feeling when I turn my focus back to my more immediate colleagues?

Hmm. I think the answer's yes.

As is almost always the case

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there's far more eloquence out there on the subject of blogging as/and/or/not journalism than I'm able to muster. Dave Winer writes,

I don't see why we have to say what blogs aren't and why you need to say it so many times.

and the comments that accompany that post (from the BloggerConII site) are worth working through. I also came across Jay Rosen's introduction to the session he did at BC2, where he writes

When there are many debunking the claim ["blogging is journalism or it's nothing"], and it's hard to find any bunkers out there, something is up with that claim and you have to drill in. In fact, "blogging only counts if it's journalism" is not being stated by anyone. But a great many bloggers think it's implied in subtler ways, (perhaps the journalism track at BloggerCon is one) and they react to this. Why?

Rosen's answer(s) are worth reading in their entirety. His conclusion ends up being something like "Blogging is not journalism. But if each imagined itself as the other, some good might come of it." I think that this may ultimately prove to be true of a number of other genres and media as well.

The answer to the immediate question, though, is that mainstream journalism is where the attention's come from, and more often than not, weblogs are considered in light of journalists' own trained incapacities. And so the "bunkers" are almost always implied rather than explicit. When more academics pick up on blogging, I suspect that we'll be having similar discussions about its relationship to more traditional forms of scholarship. There'll be the same sorts of comments that imply that blogging is a deficient form of writing when compared to the reasoned, careful writing demanded by our various fields' journals, and then there'll be a slew of debunkers who compare trackbacks to footnotes, parenthetical cites to links, etc etc, and argue that blogging is the "new scholarship."

I hope that conversation is much shorter. I suspect it will be, given that there are far fewer of us with a stake in doing both blogging and scholarship. One can only hope.

The future, Conan?

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Nico Macdonald writes today in the Register of BloggerCon II and "The future of Weblogging," an article that's worth a glance. A couple of quick notes.

I think Macdonald does a nice job of contextualizing weblogging in a longer history of technological development than is typically associated with it. And unlike some who take a critical approach to the phenomenon, he seems to understand its development:

It is one of those developments – like easy Internet access – that one knows is possible but couldn’t quite imagine happening. And then it slowly dawns on you that although you were only aware of small steps being taken, a milestone has been reached, and something significant has been achieved.

The problem with significance, of course, is that, once it happens, the pundits step in and start pronouncing--I don't exempt myself from that, btw. In Macdonald's case, it's to argue that

Irrespective of its provenance, it is certainly a wonderful thing that many more people are able and have chosen to be self-publishers. However, we need to encourage more people to be journalists. Journalism involves actually interviewing people, doing thorough background research on a subject, presenting a rounded and dispassionate overview, and reasoning through substantive arguments.

I've got some ambivalence here, because I think that the definition of journalism he's working with, and the ideals that it reflects, have been abandoned for the most part, at least in this country. I know that there are good, careful writers blogging, who actively and vocally aspire to the "new journalism" that is often the rationalization for the importance of weblogs. More power to 'em. And more power to Macdonald's vision for how weblogs might change the way that the journalistic establishment works--check the last section of the article for more on this.

To be fair to him, Macdonald sees blogging changing journalism at least as much as the other way around. But I'm still struck by the degree to which his argument seems to rest on top-down assumptions. Here are all these crazy people, spilling their innermost secrets, exposing themselves on-line, and enough of them do it that everyone's now taking notice. It's hard not to feel like he's suggesting that it's time for the experts to take over and make something useful out of weblogging.

There is much to celebrate in the development of Weblogging – but the discussion of it is often uncritical and un-ambitious. If Weblogging is the answer, as so many claim it is, what was the question? [...] I am not arguing that all technological developments must answer a known question. Rather that we shouldn’t invent questions where they were never posed. We should avoid the habit of the man with a hammer who “always sees nails”.

"The man with a hammer" is rapidly becoming an unbearable cliché to me, but I agree with what he says here. So why has it become so important to suggest that weblogs are the answer to the question of informing the populace, civic engagement, or indecent self-exposure? The problem that any claim about the "future of blogging" is going to have is that it will inevitably isolate a small portion of the phenomenon, treat it as the whole, and discount a huge number of people who have little interest in practicing journalism (or publishing their most private thoughts, or whatever), be it new or old. That's the nail that articles like this can't seem to stop hammering, the one whereby a distributed, diffuse phenomenon is reduced in scope, packaged up, and translated through a medium that (as Macdonald admits) operates according to an "out-dated model of knowledge development and discussion."


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Via Kairosnews comes an article from Tech Central Station The Blogosphere: All Grown Up Now. It's a remarkably un-selfconscious discussion of the capital-B Blogosphere. Leaving aside the mock-snotty title ("My, don't you look all grown up!"), which may not have come from the author, there are a number of things worth objecting to.

Chief among them are the notions that (a) there is such a thing as "the Blogosphere," (b) the Blogosphere is an institution, (c) this thing aspires to the status of Big Media and as such, should be treated as a child of said media, and/or (d) the test of the maturity of media is its participants' ability to critique themselves. I could go on, I suppose, but I'd rather let the article speak for itself:

Ask most bloggers why they decided to put thought to pixels in the first place, and they will tell you that they were -- and are -- quite disillusioned with the inability of certain Big Media outlets to correct and criticize other outlets for at times putting out patently false information, making fallacious arguments, or allowing ideological or institutional bias to color their reporting. Because Big Media has so often fallen asleep on the job when it comes to self-criticism, an outside institution like the Blogosphere is better suited to serve as a sort of ombudsman for Big Media. The overwhelming majority of blogs are not connected to any Big Media institutions, so it is easier for blogs to take on Big Media when it makes an error.

Where do we even start with this? "Most bloggers"? The fact that, in a description of blogs, the phrase "Big Media" appears more often than the thing being described? I'm not sure why "it is easier for blogs" (and why not "bloggers"?) because they're not connected to BM, etc. etc. Perhaps the worst problem going on here, though, is simply the assumption that blogs (or bloggers or the Blogosphere) represents some kind of univocal phenomenon with clear motivations, relationships, values, etc. To be fair, the article speaks of decentralization, but even then, it's in terms of the "inherent decentralization of the institution," which may be a rare 3-term oxymoron.

Treating "the Blogosphere" as a "grown-up" because it's "self-correcting" seems to me to miss out on a lot. It's not that there's any lack of self-correction, self-obsession, or narcissism on the part of Big Media; indeed, that's one of the biggest reasons that I for one am turned off by a lot of it. The predictable cycle of news, coverage, overcoverage, then self-critique of overcoverage is tiresome, tiresome, tiresome. Big Media directs our attention, and often in ways that we ourselves resist (and this despite their frequent, self-interested, and ultimately false claims that they're simply giving us what we want). If there is a Blogospherical institution, it's not because we all hope to become part of the Next Big Media--it's because blogs offer some of us a chance to tap into conversations, networks, issues at a level where we get to choose our own cycles, to direct our own attention.


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I must confess to having been more than a little depressed for the past couple of days. Whether that's the cause for my absence from cgbvb or a result of it, I don't know. I suspect a little of both. Work piled up, and I simply wasn't prepared (landing in Syracuse Monday night) to take on a heavy week of classes and meetings. At the end of the semester, it seems like every couple of hours adds yet another thing to the old to-do list, far faster than I can get things crossed off.

But at least I'm not not-blogging anymore. Got a few things to finish off, and then I'll post my dreadfully overdue thoughts on the CCCC.



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