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 CBCNews.ca 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.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.
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. (CBC.ca has published writing, for example, from both Kate McMillan and Kathy Shaidle.)"
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.Freedom of speech is fairly important, but it's important to recognize the dark side of that freedom.
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, 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.