Sunday, August 23, 2009

Weblog Democracy

It may be a good thing, in retrospect, that I missed the awakening of the blogosphere. Five years ago, when neither Acts of Minor Treason nor its unlamented predecessor were so much as drifting concepts, the blogs rose to the fore and the prediction was that the mainstream media would be ground to dust and scattered to the winds by these brave citizen journalists.

Things didn't really work out that way. The newspapers and 24-hour news channels still dominate the news cycle, for better or for worse, and as David Olive pointed out in the Toronto Star earlier today, prominent bloggers are increasingly joining with mainstream media sources and becoming "slaves to conventional wisdom," as the media was commonly seen back in the wild and hairy days of 2004.

My own opinion is that the concept of weblogs replacing traditional journalism entirely is something akin to madness. Media organizations have what bloggers don't, and that's global reach with global infrastructure. News agencies like Reuters or CNN or the New York Times, even with the recent painful contractions in the newspaper industry, have correspondents and field offices across the world who go out and look for news. Many bloggers, on the other hand, use stories originating in the media as a jumping-off point for commentary and analysis.

This, I think, is the real strength of the weblogging movement. Its future doesn't lie in replacing journalism, but democratizing journalism. In the past, the flow of news was effectively one-way, from the Media to the People. Today, blogs provide the people a tool to hold up a mirror to the media, to bring greater exposure to stories that aren't front-page material and to challenge the media when things don't add up - witness the Killian documents scandal back in 2004.

Unlike the mainstream media, the barrier to entry in the blogosphere is effectively nonexistent. A blogger's greatest challenge is gathering and maintaining an audience.

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