Saturday, January 22, 2005

The Blog Identity - The Pause Button

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I have spent this week examining the different arenas of Blog influence and importance, but in reality I have barely scratched the surface. Blogs have grown quickly, in number, style, and purpose, but Blogging may reasonably be described as still in its infancy; just as you can’t look at a 2-year-old and know everything he will be as an adult, much of what Blogging will become remains to be discovered and built. Also, the Old Media and Old Order of Business and Government remains baffled by what Blogging is, and how it works. The full implementation of Blogging into the world is waiting for the world to catch up.

As an example, I read an article from the Associated Press (byline Anick Jesdanun), on the subject of Blog Ethics and responsibility. The article starts with the case of Jerome Armstrong, and quickly suggests that the voluntary ethics he imposed on his blog should be made into “formal ethical guidelines or codes of conduct”. I thought it was especially cute, how the Associated Press only identified those who wanted to impose outside control on blogs, as “media experts”. These experts are not identified by any sort of credentials or name, which speaks to the need, in my opinion, for the Associated Press to find a mirror when they want to speak about ethical responsibilities.

The pretense to reasonable discussion ends when the AP article claims “many bloggers resist any notion of ethical standards, saying individuals ought to decide what's right for them. After all, they say, blog topics range from trying to sway your presidential vote to simply talking about the day's lunch.” Considering the demonstrated arrogance of OM anchors like Dan Rather in the face of clear evidence of their complicity in fraud and political conspiracies, that sort of statement reeks of the “do as I say, not as I do” hypocrisy which spurred the blogs into action from the start. The Associated Press, to speak bluntly, is reacting in desperation to a force and authority they cannot defeat with evidence, so they are attempting to find a way to gain control of the medium, as they did with print and television.

In the article, Jesdanun promotes the would-be thought czar Jonathan Dube, who is the managing producer at MSNBC.com, and as such clearly is involved in a conflict of interest. It’s also amusing to note that his suggested “code of ethics” - “Be honest and fair. Minimize harm. Be accountable” - is absolutely the opposite of MSNBC’s own conduct in the past decade.

But to address the question of blog ethics, it really comes down to what works in practice. Network news regularly lies or exaggerates, hides stories which do not support their agenda, and rewards/punishes employees according to whether the company line is advanced or embarrassed, because the other networks do the same thing. Fox News broke the conspiracy, because it realized that the falling ratings indicated viewer disgust; the impressive gains in market share by Fox, simply resulted from not talking down to their audience. Blogs simply follow that same condition of feasibility.

In my experience, I have learned that if you speak with a person long enough, you will find out quite a bit about them. While bloggers can put up a false persona and play at their work with a carefully crafted image, falsehoods and behavior generally considered unethical always gets found out eventually. Readers not only comment and discuss at the blog itself, but they visit other blogs; if a blog steals work form somewhere else, someone will notice and point out the original source. If a blog makes statements as facts which are not true, the evidence is there to be proven, and again readers will inevitably point out the truth. Blogs are communities, and bloggers form networks and associations and links to the blogs they respect and applaud. Old Media tries to exist and operate independently, even in opposition to, other sources, while New Media operates in cooperation and alliances. The AP article shows they do not understand that basic fact.

I also have a bone to pick about the lies still being spread about how the Old Media operates. In the AP article, Jesdanun states “journalism schools and professional societies try to teach good practices.” Looking at Rathergate, or the trick ABC played, asking for military funerals to show on Inaugeration Day and the like, it’s hard to believe the Old Media types expect anyone to believe them. Of course, the way they treat their own is no better. I had a friend who went and got his Journalism degree, trying to play the game as the OM demands, only to find out that most newspapers and television studios hire on two criteria only: If you are in the union, you can get a low-level spot, maybe work the cameras and build the set, and if you have a celebrity profile or look pretty enough, you can get air time. The average Joe doesn’t get in, period. The OM apparently just assumed that people would just take that forever, so it never occurred to them that they were building up the first generation of bloggers and their audience. The same treatment happens when someone inside the networks points out their conduct.

But all of this misses the simple basic fact about blogs. Blogs are the creation and work of individuals or loose-knit groups, and operate under their own rules. Outside rules and control are the exact opposite of how blogs are created and work; self-restraint and accomplishment on its own merit set the foundation for any blog. While it’s true that not every desreving blog gets the attention it should, and it remains true that some personalities are able to put up a blog on the basis of their on-air name recognition, in time and with attention by the blogosphere, a much better environment for proper recognition and growth exists in the world of Blogging, than in any other Information Management arrangement. We’re in a period of rapid growth and change, but we’re moving in the right direction.

Where do we go from here? It’s up to you and me, and everyone else who wants to be part of the NM. Video-blogging has started up, and there are all sorts of different categories, as easy to find as a simple Google or Technorati search. This series was just hitting the ‘pause’ button to look around for a little bit. Now we go back to play.

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