I had an interesting micro-debate with on twitter yesterday that got me thinking about blogs and their rather sordid relationship with mainstream media. At the heart of the discussion was this article involving writer Luis Teodoro’s comments about how journalists need to set an example for bloggers to follow. Specifically: many bloggers tend to be irresponsible with the way they write about news. Now, naturally this is the kind of statement that would invariably incense the blogging community, although I am of the opinion that Teodoro was mostly correct.
I will bet any amount of cash that upwards of 99% of all bloggers will never double-check any of their facts beyond looking at Google or Wikipedia for some external site to link to (preferably another blog, as there’s a greater chance of a linkback). “99%” sounds pretty close to “many” to me.
But this lack of proper, accurate reportage in the blogosphere is a subset of a much larger condition, i.e., the Internet itself. When people salivate about how the Internet has “lowered the barriers” for everyone, they focus mostly on the good side of said barrier-lowering, which is that people now have (mostly) free access to copious amounts of information. There is a less good side though, in that people are now able to generate copious amounts of information as well. The Internet has lowered the barriers of information exchange to the point where everyone can participate. And when I say “everyone,” I actually mean “anyone.” Even those people whose work should never see the light of day are able to publish themselves online, and the overall level of quality is invariably decreased by the amount of unbridled crap that is generated. Mainstream media, on the other hand, has a much higher barrier to entry (e.g., you have to go to J-school, must be accepted by a large, established organization, must answer to several levels of editorship and an ombudsman, etc.). Because the quality control is more stringent, the product is almost always of a higher-grade.
We talk about this in relation with blogs because they’re an easy target, but generally speaking, everything the web touches experiences this phenomenon of Explosive Crap Growth. Think about web design, for instance, a personal pet peeve of mine. “Web design” as a profession has lost much of its gravitas because it’s so easy to get into. So easy that literally anyone can do it, and, as of this writing, it really does look as if everyone has. Look, I don’t care how many hundred Wordpress skins you’ve designed — if you can’t tell the difference between a DOM element that hasLayout turned off or on, then you’re not a web designer, capische?
But I digress. The point I’m trying to make is this: I do not begrudge anyone their grammatically-challenged, horribly-written detailing-my-last-shampoo-purchase train-wreck-of-a-blog. This is your God-given right as someone who (probably) pays for Internet access. However, we shouldn’t sell it like it’s the cure for cancer either. We need to accept the fact that the Internet - particularly the part of it that’s user-generated - is full of crap. It’s filled to the brim and everyday the container overflows and splashes everyone in the face with crap. And we shouldn’t wonder why people on the other side of the fence look at us and shake their heads, saying, “Wow, look at those people doing backflips into that giant pool of feces.”
But that doesn’t mean we should give up on it either. There are gems in that big pile of shit after all; the question is, how long are you willing to sit there and dig.