Thursday, July 23, 2009

On Blogging

Stu Bykofsky, a columnist over at the Philadelphia Daily News, is having fun with bloggers today and makes himself look as intelligent as the small blogger subset he lampoons.

In a column purposely riddled with spelling and factual errors, Bykofsky succeeds in poking good fun at that blogging subset to which spelling and facts are accidents and where substance is as fleeting as a hummingbird's flight. But I seriously hope he doesn't regard all bloggers as this vapid and uneducated. Because we're not.

"I DON'T have a blog," Bykofsky writes as a snappy opener. "If I did blog, this is what it would be like. (To make it seem like a real blog, I'll include typos and factual errors.)"

Sure. I don't deny there are plenty of blogs out there with plenty of misspellings and plenty of factual errors. I have to include myself in this camp, because I fat-finger a few things and occasionally screw up a fact. But for a newspaperman to be casting such stones is, at best, chillingly ironic. I spent ten years in the industry and never met a journalist who either on purpose or on accident misspelled a word or played loosely with the facts. Bloggers and newspaper people are human. We make mistakes.

But I can hear Bykofsky saying, "Newspapers have accountability for the mistakes they make, while blogs do not, zitbrain!!!" Well, accountability is in the eye of the beholder. How many times do we see newspapers gloss over errors of fact, errors of omission, errors of commission, and errors of any other sort. Is that accountability? Do we see subsets of the professional journalism class who thrive -- at least for a while -- on plagiarism, sloppy reporting, soft editors and a general lack of professional standards? Yes we do. So there are subsets among bloggers and subsets among professional journalists who do not live up to professional standards. He who is in the industry without sin ought to cast the first stone, right?

I hold myself accountable for my own errors. So do many bloggers out there. We may not like to admit we make mistakes, but we do.

It's a pity that Bykofsky's experience with blogging is so limited. I read plenty of blogs, and find, despite the misspellings, despite the occasional incorrect fact, a lot of valuable information. I follow a literary agent who blogs all sorts of valuable information for budding authors. I follow a cultural critic who makes my sides split with some of his observations. Yeah, there's a lot of sludge out on the Internet -- the stuff Bykofsky seems to think represents blogging as a whole -- but there's good stuff out there, too.

It's a shame that folks like Bykofsky can't see the merits of what Clay Shirky, author, Internet guru and teacher, describes as the "mass amateurization" of the publishing industry. Blogging is a part of that mass amateurization. "Want to publish globally anything you think today," he asked while speaking at Oxford University in 2005, in a speech titled "Institutions vs. Collaboration." "It is a one-button operation that you can do for free. That has sent the professional class of publishing down into the ranks of mass amateurization."

He goes on to say: "There are people in the states right now tying themsleves into knots, trying to figure out whether or not bloggers are journalists. And the answer to that question is, it doesn't matter, because that's not the right question. Journalism was an answer to an even more important question, which is, how will society be informed? How will they share ideas and opinions? And if there is an answer to that that happens outside the professional framework of journalism, it makes no sense to take a professional metaphor and apply it to this distributed class."

So Bykofsky can make fun of the blogging subset he wants to make fun of all he wants. Meanwhile, he runs the risk of becoming irrelevant in a world where intelligent bloggers, not loose with spelling or facts, are able to communicate with the world without the baggage that comes with newspapers. He may be blogging himself in a few years when his paper -- along with the other one in Philadelphia -- go under, which is not outside the realm of possibility.

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