I have a friend who hates blogs.
(That’s not the only thing he hates. Lawrence and I have been discussing the construction of a sentence designed to make his head explode. So far, we’ve got “Prominent blogger Cory Doctrow really likes Quentin Tarantino’s new movie, especially since he released it under a Creative Commons license without DRM.” I think we’re almost there, but we need to work “Rob Enderle” in somehow.)
I don’t want to go into all the reasons my friend hates blogs; I’m not even sure he knows all the reasons himself, or that his reasons are even rational. But one of his major complaints is that blogs don’t do any original reporting; they just link to other people’s work. His question is, “What will the blogs do when they kill off the newspapers, as they keep saying they want to do?”
This certainly is true of some blogs, of course. I’ve pointed out the existence of counter-examples, such as Michael Yon, but my friend really isn’t interested in Yon’s reporting; and, to some extent, his attitude is “If I’m not interested in it, it doesn’t exist, or isn’t worthy of consideration.”
(I know this makes my friend sound like a jerk. He’s really not; he’s a good guy who I’ve known since Jesus was a 2nd lieutenant. He just has very strong opinions.)
I come down more on the side of Clay Shirky. The title quote is from his excellent essay, “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable“, about the possible demise of the newspaper and what it means for society. Yes, there may not be many blogs doing original reporting right now, and it is legitimate to wonder what will happen to them when the last newspaper reporter is strangled with the entrails of the last newspaper editor, but…
When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to.
Haiti started me thinking some more about what Shirky says here. (Yes, I’ve been working on this post for a long time.) It seems clear that we needed boots on the ground to cover that situation. Those boots needed infrastructure; they needed food and water and communications and power and security and living quarters. In a chaotic environment like Haiti, those things are nearly impossible to provide without a substantial investment of money.
Who has the resources to provide that? The NYT, the WP, the WSJ, and the TV networks. Who doesn’t have the resources to provide that? Individual bloggers.
And now Egypt is burning, and the Internet is cut off.
I think it’s very easy for Shirky to say that people who want to know “what’s next?” want to be lied to. But maybe that’s not the case. Maybe the people who want to know “what’s next?” think Haiti and Egypt and the next crisis after that are too important to be left to chance.
(Note: I’ve been working on this entry for a long, long time, and I’m still not 100% happy with the way it hangs together. But it seems like the the time to post is now, and I’m not sure picking at it much longer is going to make it any better.)