Thursday, October 19, 2006

Trusting the Blogosphere?

I’ve got mixed feelings about the underground media phenomenon.

I couldn’t be more pumped by the democratic explosion of creativity and opinion going on right now. I love it that anybody can start up a blog or make their own video or record their own podcast or create their own game and find an audience. No question in my mind we’re at the front end of a communications revolution that’s going to change everything including politics and religion in a big way.

I mean, look back at the thread from my post Coming Out of the Closet from last week. Where else would that discussion be possible? You’d have to work very hard to get a group of folks with that variety of opinions on homosexuality together in one place and speak in a painfully honest way with each other. But on a blog what would be nearly impossible becomes possible. And everybody benefits from hearing what people really think and feel rather than listening to spin. How great is that?

But on the other hand it seems like the underground media--at least at this point—is so subjective and derivative that I wonder why people trust it as much as many folks do as a source of information.

Most underground media stuff makes Fox News look like a paragon of Solomonic and Socratic balance and evenhandedness. It’s so biased and imbalanced that it’s funny. A couple of months back I thought about doing a satirical piece on how whacky a lot of it is, but I realized that the underground media is pretty much beyond satire. It’s its own satire. No need for a satirist to point out how goofily extreme most of it is. That’s obvious to anyone who spends much time surfing the blogosphere or listening to podcasts or checking out YouTube.

And I think that’s part of the design and the attraction. The underground media is post-modernism. Even if you can’t describe post-modernism easily you can see it and experience it online. It’s all about subjectivity. The person who experiences the whole bewildering thing is left to sort it out and to create their own biased take for the sake of ‘authenticity.’

The underground media is derivative because it still depends on serious mainstream media journalists for the ‘facts’ and the ‘news.’ The blogosphere is like a gigantic and somewhat manic editorial page. Great at getting people’s creative opinions out there but very poor at doing the basic bread and butter work of real journalism or uncovering ‘the facts.’

And at this point much of the blogosphere has become commentary on the rest of the blogosphere. When things get that self-referential the connection to ‘actual events in the real world’ becomes pretty tenuous. You end up with ideological feeding frenzies where members of sub-groups reinforce their own realities regardless of how little that reality corresponds to what's actually going on outside the blogosphere.

Again, I love the underground media. But its no substitute—at least at this point—for real journalism.


Anonymous Jon said...

I honestly know little about the blogsphere - I only keep up on the blogs of people that I've developed some personal connection too. But what about the blogs of people who are actually "on the ground"? Doesn't the opportunity to read the blogs of soldiers in Iraq and citizens of Iraq inform the world about the Iraq war in a manner that wasn't possible before?

10:07 PM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

Yeah, that stuff is great. I'm excited about the potential for honest feedback from places few of us can go personally. That's a kind of witness that's really valuable.

Journalism is supposed to be about a type of witness, and when its done well it serves everybody.

And there's nothing wrong with opinions or editorial takes. I'm interested in them as much or more than most people.

But I get worried that many younger folks seem to get most of their 'news' from the blogosphere or shows like 'The Daily Show.' The numbers indicate that younger folks rely on editorial or entertainment outlets for their 'news.' Scary.

You may not be the typical twenty something.

10:37 PM  
Anonymous Jon said...

True. I've only seen a couple clips of Colbert and Stewart, but apparently a fair number of twenty-somethings get their news from there. And I wouldn't be surprised if a large number on the other end of the spectrum are picking it up from right-wing talk radio and similarly focused blogs.

9:18 AM  
Blogger ruth said...

very true...

more on the postmodernism- I get frustrated sometimes when people seem to believe that objectivity is impossible. This leads to a defeatist, cynical, apathy- why even try to be objective, or believe that someone else can be objective.

I know, it's naive to think anyone can be completely objective... but I would trust someone who was really trying to be honest, objective, and transparent WAY more than I would trust even someone with my own biases.

one thing that amazes me is the different interpretations of estimates of casualties in Iraq. Someone who believes in objective reality might assume 1) a finite number of people have died, and 2) the job of journalists is to estimate this number as accurately as possible through reliable techniques.

why is this so hard? too much at stake, I guess...

3:50 PM  

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