Friday, March 14, 2008

Why Not Bother With Bloggers?

John Bowman wonders "Why Bother With Bloggers?"

In a recent article on CBC Blogwatch John Bowman asks "why bother with bloggers?"

At first glimpse, it actually seems like a fair question. Bowman explains why:

"Why should have a blog called Blog Watch that blogs about what's happening on the blogs? What's the point?

Blogs and the internet, we're told, contribute to a "cult of the amateur" that threatens professional media and our very culture. (I've written here about how blogs can perpetuate a falsehood that would never stand up to the scrutiny of a watchful news editor.)

Blogs, we read, are full of ephemeral knee-jerk reactions, free of anything resembling a well-thought-out argument, their words obsolete as soon as their writers click "Publish."

Bloggers are vile, we're told, spewing forth personal insults at anyone they disagree with (although Raphael, no fan of some of the more radical right-wing blogs, curiously fails to provide even one example from among the Blogging Tory ranks of this practice).

And you only have to read through a few pages of YouTube comments or a short series of flames and counter-flames between two bloggers before you're tempted to throw up your hands, rip the Ethernet cable out of the back of your computer and use it for more something more productive, like playing Lemmings all day.

As much as we may hate to admit it, all of these things are true -- to some extent.

Whilt the myth that more and more people are getting their news primarily from blogs doesn't necessarily pan out to be true, it is true that a fair number of people do, and furthermore, turn to blogs to engage with the news, posting their opinions and debating the news with others.

There's a demonstrated home in the blogosphere for those who rush to judgement on various issues -- and even those who strive to be more disciplined can often be hasty -- or allow their particular ideological bent to cloud themselves from the issue (witness some of the heady enthusiasm surrounding the Karlheniz Schreiber non-story).

Bloggers stoop to lows that no journalist who had to worry about professional credibility would dare. And they'll battle one another nearly to the death, sometimes over the silliest things.

We as bloggers -- or citizen journalists -- can't pretend these things don't happen.

"So, why bother?"
Why indeed?

"It's hard for me to write a defence of blogging that doesn't sound trite ("news as conversation," "wisdom of the crowds," etc.) like so many that are out there. The Wall Street Journal ran a very good piece by Peggy Noonan three years ago arguing that journalists should embrace blogs because they perform a public service.

I've told people around the newsroom here that the point of Blog Watch is to find stories originating in the blogs that haven't made it to the wires or the news desk yet.

I hope that it will also be a place to find opinions expressed in the blogs that you might not hear in the (*sigh*) main-stream media. I won't repeat anything vile, but I might feature well-reasoned opinions from bloggers who have at other times expressed views that some might consider objectionable. ( has published writing, for example, from both Kate McMillan and Kathy Shaidle.)
While some bloggers do manage to break stories that the mainstream media doesn't, or focus on stories that the mainstream media largely ignores -- ranging from the recent scandle over apparent CBC/Liberal party collusion this past year is a prime example to the more common muckraking of Matt Drudge -- the real strength of blogs is the wider range of opinions on offer.

Bloggers have the advantage of being able to air their opinions without having to worry about the political bent or editorial policy of a particular publication. The kind of freedom bloggers enjoy can be as much an advantage as a liability.

"Blogs aren't moderated or censored. There's no House of Commons Speaker standing and muttering for order. Most of the time, there aren't even advertisers you can threaten with a boycott. There's no CRTC to complain to if you find something offensive, although it seems like some people think the Human Rights Commission is the place to take their complaints.

Blogs are as free as free speech can get, with everything that entails. It ain't pretty a lot of the time, but it's definitely worth paying some attention to.
Freedom of speech is fairly important, but it's important to recognize the dark side of that freedom.

Freedom of speech, when combined with the kind of anonymity that allows for unscrupulous individuals to dodge responsibility can be extremely dangerous, and damaging to political discourse.

Consider the case (predictably) of Canadian Cynic -- whom Bowman necessarily alludes to when mentioning Raphael Alexander's recent "Why are bloggers so vile?" post.

This is a guy who, when he isn't attacking the mothers of dead soldiers, wishing for the deaths of political pundits or excusing the tasering of university students combs the blogosphere in search of people to attack with petulant, childish insults and ad hominem attacks (which otherwise are considered libelous).

Occasionally he even posts the home addresses of political opponents -- all the while insisting that he be allowed to maintain his anonymity so he may be protected from reprisals from his opponents.

Why bother with bloggers? Freedom of speech is a good enough reason.

The depth of opinion which is otherwise unavailable is another good reason.

But one of the best reasons is that it can remind one of the human ugliness that we occasionally like to believe doesn't exist, and only realize exists when we're confronted with it: such as when an individual thinks it's acceptable to renege on an offer to donate money to charity in order to trump a political opponent.

Blogs can serve as a reminder that human beings are imperfect, mostly because bloggers have the freedom to be imperfect.


  1. I completely agree. Blogs and the range of unedited opinions they spew out are both an asset and a liability in terms of maintaining a free and open society. As a fellow blogger, I like to think that I contribute to the more positive side of cyberspatial dialogues, yet I've received some pretty juvenile and sometimes defamatory emails in response. Overall, I still believe the blogosphere to be far more of an asset and wouldn't trade away the space for anything.

    Like the place you've got here. I'll definitely be checking back.

  2. I think it's true: bloggers fill a void, even if some voids filled by some bloggers would be better left empty.

  3. Hmmm… I’m rather astounded that you didn’t take Bowman to task for his statement that “Blogs aren't moderated or censored” given that your obscure corner of cyberspace is just that. A pesky little fact that I can’t help but point out seeing as it puts all of your admirably high-flown rhetoric about the value of “free speech” into a rather ironic context.

  4. Great post Pat, well thought out. I'll admit that I have written some posts that are a knee-jerk reaction at something I read on someone else's blog or a newspaper article. I think that it's important for bloggers to have the freedom to discuss their issues in this realm of public discourse since there really isn't any other avenue for this kind of speak. (Besides maybe local pubs and the occasional university classroom.)

    The problem is that it is "public" in the sense that the internet is a "public" place - I put the word public in quotation marks because the internet is only a "public" place for someone if they can pay for a computer and a modem.

    I guess the issue for me is exactly that, is the internet considered "public" domain or not? If it is then expressions of freedom of speech are both hindered and helped. If it isn't, there are also benefits and drawbacks (most of them legal in nature).

    I also think that you, Rob, made some excellent points. I don't agree with a lot of what is written out there and that's their prerogative. I've been name-called and flamed and everything else under the Sun, (certainly some comments worth legal action) but that doesn't mean I'll take any since I believe in the freedom of expression.

    The adage: I might not like what you have to say but I'll defend your right to say it, should be the blogger's motto and ultimately the rule of thumb for anyone on the internet reading the opinions of students and wannabe-pundits out there in the blogosphere.

  5. "A pesky little fact that I can’t help but point out seeing as it puts all of your admirably high-flown rhetoric about the value of “free speech” into a rather ironic context."

    Marty, I know as someone who once compared Canadian Cynic to the forefathers of the American constitution, the idea that rights, by necessity, come with responsibilities is entirely lost on you.

    (By the way, those particular ruminations -- almost certainly a source of your palpable embarrassment -- are preserved here despite your attempt to wipe them from the blogosphere.)

    Just like the fact that people like Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton were at actual risk of legal persecution at the hands of the British system of the day (while Canadian Cynic is at risk of no such persecution), and eventually discarded their anonymity and fought for their beliefs, as outlined in their writings -- thusly accepting responsibility for them.

    Where as you seem to think that freedom of speech entails the right to launch ad hominem attacks on people while accepting no responsibility for those comments.

    As I mentioned before, Marty, you are nothing more than another one of these individuals riding for free on backs of people who defend the freedoms of speech you enjoy, and preserve their sanctity by taking responsibility for their comments -- people like myself.

    And you want to try to lecture me. Do you even understand irony?

  6. I agree with you, Dylan. I'll defend the right of people to say what they like (within reasonable "fire in a crowded theatre" limits), but I'll also hold them accountable for what they say.

    No freedom comes without responsibility and those who use their freedoms irresponsibly only trample the sanctity of those freedoms.

  7. It amazes me that you continue to lie about that reference I made to 18th century pamphleteers.

    Hopeless. Utterly hopeless... You're such a barefaced liar.

  8. ROTFL

    Who's lying Marty? You're quoted at length. You wrote (and I quote):

    "Bloggers can be tracked and traced if necessary and in most cases their identity is well known to their circle of friends and associates. As for pseudonymity, there’s a rich history of this in opinion journalism. Most famously, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay wrote 'The Federalist Papers' using the pseudonym 'Publius' and Benjamin Franklin wrote under a number of amusing pseudonyms including 'Anthony Afterwit' and 'Alice Addertongue'.” As a matter of fact, the 'Richard Saunders' of the eponymous book 'Poor Richard’s Almanac' was another one of Franklin’s best-known pseudonyms. Many other authors have chosen, for one reason or another, to publish their work under pen names."

    All in a post about how it was somehow apparently wrong to criticize Cynic for attacking people from behind a veil of anonymity, and suggesting that somehow his behaviour was justified because the individuals alluded to did it.

    It would seem, Marty, that you're the one lying about the comments in question.

    Then again, it's little surprise. We've seen the pack you run with, and they're a bunch of liars par excellance.


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