There’s an article in Internet Magazine this month about weblogs and weblogging which starts with these words…
Weblogging – what’s it all about? A bunch of losers prattling on about what they had for breakfast and pretending they found links that Memepool unearthed eons ago? Or the new hope, coming up from the grassroots, for a Web counterculture that’s finding itself increasingly drowned out by large corporations? Don’t know? Want to find out more? Then read this survey of the blogging world by Kim Gilmour. [Their emphases]
Let’s get the stuff that might undermine my argument out in the open straightaway. Yes – I found this article because someone e-mailed me about it. Yes, there is a screenshot of plasticbag.org in it. And yes, plasticbag.org is listed in the section called Essential Blogs as well, along with Microcontent News, BlackbeltJones.com, Megnut, Scripting News, Swish Cottage, Not.So.Soft and Wil Wheaton Dot Net. I don’t think this is particularly relevant to what I’m going to be talking about – but you may disagree.
Right. Back to the beginning then. Let’s look at that opening paragraph for a moment. Firstly let’s take issue with the site that’s mentioned prominently – in fact let’s point out that Memepool is in fact a weblog. It may be a weblog pioneer that predated blogger, but it remains a weblog. This is just a minor gripe. I have no major issue here.
More interesting is the statement about weblogs as the ‘last, best hope’ against ‘large corporations’. And here’s where the irony of the whole article comes very clearly into focus. Because as you read the article – which (among other things) ostensibly is describing how personal publishing is a work of resistance by the little guy against the homogeneity of mainstream media – it becomes very clear very quickly that the only people that they’ve talked to for this article are representatives of corporations, business and mainstream media. And all of these representatives have some kind of vested interest in weblogs and weblogging. In fact while the emap publication talks a lot about the utility of weblogging, the fun of weblogging, even the egos of webloggers at no point does it believe that webloggers have the intelligence or authority to actually have a legitimate opinion about their medium.
This is probably the right point to drag in our old friend Simon Waldman from the Guardian, who in fact does have a weblog of his own, although it’s hardly what he’s known best for. Simon is very definitely a weblog enthusiast, someone I don’t believe is interested in ‘exploiting’ weblogs, and someone who earnestly believes in the power of the revolution in personal publishing. Interestingly he’s also the man behind the Guardian’s Best British Weblog Award. And he’s also the man that in our recent debate said this:
“This competition is the result of our respect for the movement, not an attempt to appropriate it. We would no more try and appropriate blogging than we’d try to herd cats, juggle jelly and push water uphill at the same time.”
Now I’m more interested in gesturing towards the attitude of the writer of the article than I am at Simon. But nonetheless, for someone who states publically that he doesn’t want to appropriate blogging to be quoted or referenced seven times during the article – talking about everything from the nature of weblogs as democratic publishing through to the ethics of impartiality online – seems more than a little ironic. I don’t want to pick on Simon, because if he’s been asked for his opinion then why on earth shouldn’t he give it, but not once are the questions of integrity, pretensions to journalism, cliquey-ness etc ever addressed to the people who are in the best position to comment – political webloggers, personal webloggers, warbloggers, techbloggers.
In fact if we collate the people who are quoted in the article (in a ‘for this article’ way rather than the scant quarter sentences ripped off from someone’s site) we come up with this:
- Simon Walden Seven mentions
The director of digital publishing at Guardian Online has his own weblog, certainly. But I don’t think he’d consider it unfair if I said that he was far from an expert on webloggia.
- Evan Williams Seven mentions
One of the earliest webloggers to use Blogger – but essentially interviewed because he was one of the creators of the software in the early Pyra days.
- Steve Browbrick Two mentions
Steve is the founder of Another.com, a site which does web-based e-mail. His presence in the article is completely unexplained.
- Rob Taylor Two mentions
The developer of a weblog comments system.
So here’s my conclusion, and this isn’t true either of all publishers (the Guardian is a welcome exception here) or mainstream media groups, but I think it is true of many. Despite their protestations to the contrary, most mainstream publishers who say that weblogs represent a new democratising of the media still lapse into talking to figures with substantial ‘authority’ in the ‘real world’ rather than webloggers themselves. It seems that even though we represent a ‘counterculture that’s finding itself increasingly drowned out by large corporations’, the mainstream media is still more prepared to go to representatives of these businesses and corporations when they want an opinion about personal publishing. It seems that when talking about personal publishing, mainstream media still doesn’t credit webloggers with the intelligence, integrity or ability to even comment on their own revolution…