Blogging is the hottest thing on the Internet since, well, the Web browser. This is not news, as just about everybody who spends time online is maintaining a blog, regularly reading and contributing to a blog, or knows someone who is maintaining or regularly reading and contributing to a blog. And blogs are everywhere. The National Institute for Technology & Liberal Education Blog Census has logged about 1.9 million Weblog sites, 1.2 million of which are in English.
What is news is that bloggers and blogging are killing journalism as we know it. This is scary but not necessarily bad. Ill try to sort it out.
The paradoxical thing about blogs is they are simultaneously mainstream and subversive. Most "legitimate" news sites feature blogs hosted by their own writers. These sites include The New York Times, MSNBC and our own These blogs are more or less an extension of the old discussion forum or message board. Most blogs, however, feature content that lives on the political or social extremes. Go through the list of bloggers at www.instapundit.com, and youll see what I mean.
The war in Iraq (for and against, but mostly against) certainly has garnered most of the attention among bloggers, followed closely by sites promoting President Bush or Sen. Kerry. There is still an active grass-roots movement that gave rise to Howard Dean, on sites such as Blog for America. In our world of enterprise IT, nothing compares to the power of Slashdot, whose popularity can cripple the sites not prepared to handle the traffic directed their way from user posts.
If theres a topic to be written about, theres a blog for it. For instance, a staffer in the Washington office of Sen. Mike DeWine, known as "Washingtonienne," was detailing her own sex-for-hire exploits in her blog, until it was shut down a couple of weeks ago. The reductio ad absurdum blog of all time is "The Dullest Blog in the World," found at www.wibsite.com/wiblog/dull, in which the blogger describes his daily activities, such as staring at a wall, in mundane detail.
The common thread among most blogs, however serious or silly, is their radical spirit. Although it is a point debated even among bloggers, a common rallying cry is, "The revolution will be blogged." Social critic James Wolcott praises blogs in the April issue of Vanity Fair as "the best thing to hit journalism since the rise of the political pamphlet," a la American founding fathers Benjamin Franklin and James Madison. People have been putting up static Web sites on any subject for years, but the interactive nature of blogs gives bloggers and bloggees the sense that they are participating in something important and that they are making a difference. Blogs have enabled the true democratization of the information age.
But amid the din of blogging voices, whose is heard? And whos paying attention? According to blogger Darren Rowse of www.livingroom.org.au/blog: The average reader spends less than 2 minutes reading the average blog. And most bloggers are blogging only to the converted. You dont find a lot of pro-war readers visiting www.iraqwarreader.com. Those of opposite political views may visit these sites but only to post an attack. So the question is, what kind of constructive dialogue is being produced?
Still more bloggers see themselves as the new journalists. Many readers turn to blog news sites because they disdain "mainstream" journalism, which is viewed almost as an anachronism full of lazy co-conspirators in the national decline. Who can blame them after The New York Times fiasco of Jayson Blair, who was caught last year making up his stories? Meanwhile, as the blog sites proliferate, they become sources of their own news, a lot of it rumor, which then takes on a life of its own.
So blog on. If left to market forces, most blogs will live or die on their own. But get used to an era in which information becomes so ubiquitous it becomes almost useless. With a national election coming up, the stakes are high, so its blogger—and bloggee—beware.
News Editor Scot Petersen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.