Friday, March 17, 2006


Comment and opinion from the Times and The Sunday Times - Times Online The invited opinion in the Times has a go at Arianna Huffington (who I still mentally call Stassinopolous as I first heard of her when I was working as a student in Blackwell's bookshop and helped to sell her dubut book), and blogs in general. Thunderer is one of those "printed blogs": like many articles in the Spectator, Thunderer pieces are opinionated, and the opinions expressed excite responses in the reader. Oliver Kamm, today's author, disagrees with Ms Huffington's view that blogging is the new black: "Mrs Huffington has traced a long political journey from obscurantist Right to populist Left, but at no time has she deviated from enthusing for the fad du jour. Her latest is the notion that the internet — and specifically the type of online diary known as a weblog, or blog — has changed the way that news is gathered and reported. Whereas newspapers address readers impersonally, the blog “draws people in and includes them in the dialogue”. " This is nonsense, says Kamm. I'll extract the thrust of his argument here, as the link will be behind a subscription wall ere long: "What blogs do effectively is provide a vehicle for instant comment and opinion. Some newspapers have established blogs for their journalists or other commentators. But the overwhelming majority of blogs — no one knows how many there are — are set up by amateurs using software that is easily available and almost free. These are not a new form of journalism, but new packaging for a venerable part of a newspaper. Even the best blogs are parasitic on what their practitioners contemptuously call the “mainstream media”. Without a story to comment on or an editorial to rubbish, they would have nothing to say. Most blogs have nothing to say even then. Without editorial control, they are unconstrained by sense, proportion or grammar. Almost by definition, they are the preserve of those with time on their hands. Blogs have a few successes in harrying miscreant politicians or newspapers, but they are a vehicle for perpetuating myths as much as correcting them. In Mrs Huffington the preposterous term “blogosphere” has a worthy champion. " One can't disagree with much of this. (Well, I can't anyway.)But blogging has many more dimensions to that described by Kamm. I would not see blogs as a primary news-gathering function, I'm with him on that. They are great at fast, unfettered analysis. The trouble is, filtering out the rubbish. RSS helps immeasurably there, it would be impossible to manage without it. And as mentioned previously, blogs are not great for joined-up thinking, of presenting a reasoned argument having weighed up all the factors properly. That will probably come with Web 3.0 ;-) Of course Kamm is right to say that blogs lack the resources of newspaper and other media publishers, and to a large extent are parasitic -- they couldn't exist without the media and essentially form a reactive medium. But bloggers can keep "conventional" (Kamm dislikes the term "mainstream") media journalists on their toes, they can unearth connections and perspectives that did not get picked up by the regular lot, and they can keep up the pressure on smug politicians and the like. I think they are a great force to the good -- I personally find the political blogs a bit tedious and predictable, but I am glad they are there, the Robin Hoods of cyberspace. (Do I mean Robin Hood? Probably not, but I don't mean Cassandras either, and it's too late to think straight.) Blogs aren't all about news and politics. There are blogs for everything: self-expression for egoists and others, sure, but also they are a great way to educate and connect people with similar interests, as I have found. I've enjoyed, developed and learned so much since I started blogging 4 months ago compared with any phase of my life since my last "wide education", which was at school. (University was narrower, my first few weeks of enforced general cutting-edge science education at Nature came close.) Blogging can allow you to follow your own interests at your own pace, the potential for learning about anything is infinite, and you can add in your voice too! This last aspect is a rush to the head for a longstanding disciple of M. Scott Peck's concept of "delayed gratification". Even Oliver Kamm has a blog, so he's probably not being entirely serious in his rant. I have not kept in touch with Ms Huffington's doings (other than inadvertently reading a few extreme gossip items) since my student days and her Bernard Levin phase, but I suspect, based on that, that Mr Kamm may be on the button about her. Mind you, it is no mean feat to have a blog as successful as hers, and I suppose I should check it out. (Although I am already suffering a bit from blog burnout -- 'blog cornucopia' is a more descriptive term than 'blogosphere'.) I have just received an email from Amazon to say that "An Army of Davids" has been dispatched, so no doubt I'll soon be properly clued-up.