The rain came in the very early morning, falling straight, hard, fast and long, soaking the summer-dry earth and cleansing everything. I laid awake and listened to it falling outside my fully open windows, felt its cool freshness drift through the house and smelled its aliveness, mingled with the scent of a mokihana lei, which I’ve noticed always smells more pungent when the air is filled with moisture.
It was all over by the time Koko and I got up, but traces of it were everywhere. Poinsettia leaves held big fat drops, the soil beneath the taro was dark and the mountains that weren’t snuggled up with clouds had that particular stunning clarity that is found the morning after a drenching rain.
Clarity is something I’m always seeking, with mixed success, and lately I’ve been trying to get a little more clear about blogging — specifically, its purpose and pitfalls, value and meaning.
I noticed over on Disappeared News, a blog I read regularly, that Larry Geller has been a bit critical of Doug White's (correx: that's Doug Carlson's) new pro-rail blog, which he is being paid to write. Andy Parx also takes Doug to task for failing to prominently disclose on the site that it’s a paid initiative.
While I personally like to know if a blog is a paid effort — especially an advocacy blog — this discussion raises a bigger issue. The other day, a friend who deals regularly, and warily, with the media asked me: “So just what are the rules of blogging?”
I had to tell him that so far as I can tell, there aren’t any, except those imposed by each blogger. And that’s where I start to get a little bit worried about blogs, just like I get a little bit worried about so-called citizen-journalists, a term that is not only a misnomer, but an insult to every professional journalist. Both are out there operating with a lot of the freedoms of a journalist, but none of the training or responsibility.
If you pull out your kid’s loose front tooth, you’re not a citizen-dentist. If you offer a friend some words of comfort, you’re not a citizen-therapist. If you do a pro se divorce, you’re not a citizen-attorney. Yet just because somebody has written a blog post, or recorded a bit of sound or video and put it up on the net, they think they’re a citizen-journalist.
Worse, newspapers such as the Advertiser pander to this delusion with their “My Advertiser” section in which they encourage people to submit stories. Yet if you look at them, they’re generally press releases, often from marketing firms. What’s of value here?
I have no problem if a person happens to be in the right place at the right time and they get a great shot of something. Sure, go ahead and run it, and give them the credit. But this idea that citizens should, and are able to, report the news alongside the professionals is a false one. Journalists spend time studying and practicing their profession. It has certain codes of behavior and ethics associated with it. There’s a lot more to it than simply regurgitating some “facts” or snapping a photo.
So just as we now have all these supposed citizen-journalists running around just waiting to entrap an unwary politician with a hidden recording or a cell phone photo, we also have an untold number of bloggers regularly churning out news and opinion of widely divergent quality and accuracy.
As a result, we’re got more information than ever before, but it’s also less reliable than ever before. Equally troubling is the way blogs, both left and right, become these weird little outposts of vigilantism.
The most recent example can be found on the liberal Daily Kos, which is all a-twitter about the Obama “New Yorker” cover, with people saying it should be stopped, urging folks to cancel their subscriptions, etc., etc. I mean, hey, wait a minute. What about the First Amendment? And what about the fact that this is a magazine cover that will be on the stand for one week. It’s really no big deal.
And then there’s the viciousness of the comments. Maybe it has something to do with the power to say anything, under the cloak of anonymity, that causes people to say all kinds of really mean and stupid things. I think the low point for me personally came last week, when a person likened the comments section of my blog to a “message board version of Jerry Springer” — a television show that has absolutely no redeeming value.
I must admit, that set me back a bit and got me thinking more about what kind of message I want to be putting out, and why it is that people respond the way they do. Words are such powerful things, and they're spewed about these days with so little thought as to their consequences. It’s a strange little medium, blogging. I can’t help but wonder if we’re creating a monster.