Saturday, November 18, 2006

Snakes on a Blog

So the recent spread of the (false) rumor that MyBlogLog had been acquired got me thinking. How have the emergence of blogs affected the way news is reported and consumed? And, overall, are they a good or bad thing?

Unfortunately, my opinion on this is pretty middle of the road, so don't expect a scathing piece. That said, I'll try.

The rapid propagation of the MBL rumor yesterday highlights the negative aspects of blogs, especially compared to traditional media.

For starters, there's the unreliability. Bloggers usually ink what they hear immediately, vying to be the first to report a piece. Furthermore, as soon as one prominent blog has broken a story, the others swoop in and report it as well, assuming its accuracy has been verified. For example, yesterday, Valleywag reported that MBL had been bought out in the morning, and, by noon, Techcrunch and GigaOm had followed suit, tacking on that the buying company was, in fact, Yahoo.

Now, this particular rumor did no harm. But what about the ones that do? Reputations tarnished once are never again made completely whole. In that sense, bloggers, especially the big names, need to verify the accuracy of a story when it could have a potentially damaging effect on a person or group.

In a larger sense, we, as a society, need to keep the blogging phenomena from decaying into exaggerated journalism. Anyway who has seen the Google World Domination video (EPIC) knows its underlying message is scary. The video portrays a future in which we "consume" our news via a network of popular blogs, making for embellished and sensational reporting. And that might not be too far from the truth.

However, blogs do have a positive effect on society as well. As I wrote before, they are truly revolutionary because they give the average joe a voice. Personally, my blog has given me a forum to discuss issues on my mind and, hopefully, has provoked thought and opinions in my readers (once in a while, maybe?).

It's this sliver of light that keeps me optimistic about blogging. Blogs can empower the individual in ways this world has never seen.

And that brings me back to the title of this post. Most of you have heard of the movie "Snakes on a Plane" (side note: best worst movie ever. Seriously). But what you probably don't know is that the promotion for the movie, and the cult-following that had built up even before its release, stemmed from articles on blogs. The movie's blogging-based viral marketing campaign caused more people to go see Samuel Jackson combat hoards of serpents than most ever thought possible.

Long story short, it's crucial that we, as bloggers, realize the power of the double-edged sword we wield. Failing to do so can have disastrous consequences for the future of news and journalism.

(Personal note to the Penn Sixers who dared me to title a post "Snakes on a Blog" and have it make sense: Booyakasha, wugwan.)


  1. The only thoughts this blog provokes are thoughts of kicking your ass.

  2. I think that the most important aspect of journalism has always been and will likely continue to be reputation. Credibility can completely dissipate with the publication of false information predicated on unsubstantiated rumors.

    For that reason, I disagree that there exists a fine line between blogging and true journalism. What distinction is there between free, virtual publication in the form of blogs and expensive, physical publication in the form of newspapers?

    Bloggers have dedicated readership bases, just like their physical counterparts. When a blogger publishes misinformation, the people that read and acted on that information will be, at the very least, disappointed.

    And whereas before we had newspapers with pretty significant start-up costs and therefore oligarchic structures, today we have blogs with minimal start-up costs. That means that if one blogger publishes wrong information, his readership can quickly and easily find a completely new source of information -- information that's equally free and probably equally well-written.

    And now, with the advent of syndication, the line between blogging and journalism is getting even slimmer. Services like BlogBurst and Lisensa allow publishers to purchase bloggers' articles for mass publication in their portals -- whether they be the NYT or or Newsvine. To me, this seems like an entirely new development in freelance journalism. Just thinking about it (and ignoring the costs associated with freelance journalism), imagine widely-read newspapers syndicating blog articles on a regular basis: provided editorial boards perform proper and significant due diligence, I don't see this as particularly unrealistic.

    I think that what's happening here is that journalists and other writers are being selected on an entirely new form of merit -- and are capable of catering to specific audiences unlike they've been able to before. I don't think it's a credibility issue; if a blogger spreads misinformation, then his career in blogging will have to restart (sometimes) from scratch, and that means earning the trust of his former readers as well as new ones.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is that misinformation can be spread through both physical and virtual means, through a paid staff as well as an amature servicing the people. But you're much less likely to just drop the NYT or WSJ if they print false information than you are to drop some blogger who spread false rumors. So in that sense, reputable blogs may be even more reliable than the physical newspapers we trust today.

    I guess the same argument can be made for Wikipedia, but I'm not 100% confident.

    (I just wrote a small blurb of a post about this the other day.)

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