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"Bloggers Go to SXSW to Try on the Glass Slipper of Journalism"

[written March 24, 2002]

Alright, so I just got back from Madrid, and I found I had missed the annual SXSW festival in Austin. OH NO!! I think SXSW used to be cool before I spent four years at UT '96-'00 but once I got there it was regarded as a party for dinosaurs.

Anyway, I caught up on things at camworld because, while I think the guy's a total tool, he does come up with cool links, and I'm down with that.

He posted his own log of what happened at an exchange of bloggers at SXSW. Very handy, and giving Cameron Barrett full credit for compiling this info, I've included what he wrote at the end of the Soapbox for your reference.

Putting it simply, I think blogs are sad. Now, I compile my own set of links that I get from my own various sources. I also write about issues in the Soapbox that are usually relevant, recent, and oftentimes not altogether unique in their opinions. I don't think of myself as some grandiosely unique rebel, but I know one thing: I'm not a freaking blogger.

But who are my peers in terms of web sites these days? No one exists anymore who doesn't run some sort of blog-style format anymore. It's not like there are people who actually have content on their sites other than re-posts of news and information that most likely someone else (often professional journalists) posted first.

No, blogs are for the most part just link orgies between a bunch of incestuous sites. But in reading the responses from this weblog panel, you can see how important they think themselves to be.

Saturated in their comments is a belief that they are somehow revolutionizing journalism. They ARE journalists, although not in anyone's professional employ or accountable to the same journalistic standard or libel laws. They deserve credibility and they deserve respect. The comments say that they even believe they did a better job of reporting the news than the mainstream media did after 9/11. It was stated that a good portion of people online only trust blogs for their info and not mainstream news. Blogs, they say, are immune from the outright flaming tendencies of Usenet, and the censoring and dulling down by mainstream media. "We deserve to be heard!"

I really don't get it. I mean, I know there've been lots of Internet personalities over the last half decade who have hyped themselves up far more than they ever deserved, but this is taking it to a new level. Apparently they were not deterred after their self-declared online press revolution failed. What once were arrogant, karma whoring personal sites have now turned into regurgitating pseudo-journalist blogs craving attention. Somehow, finding a link off reuters or some smaller, questionable source online is equivalent to flying to Afghanistan to survey recently abandoned Taliban encampments, or going to Arthur Anderson and investigating their paperwork!

Bloggers feed off other people. Mostly it is off of each other, since they all read each other and share info with each other. But eventually what they're doing is leeching off the original news organizations that actually do all the investigating. I'd wager few actually have any real journalist connections. The admission, "we are on the verge of being corrupted by free movie passes, books, CDs, etc. in exchange for favorable reviews," indicates a willingness to sell out, to turn what was a simple personal exercise in entertainment into a money-maker. I would expect that the blogging community would not hesitate for a moment to take free stuff from companies. They are not made of sterner stuff.

One more part that cracks me up is the part about people being afraid to write about their more liberal views, and therefore won't post stuff about their families, for fear of what some angry reader might do. My god. You'd think these guys actually had controversial opinions! Unless there are people out there who are offended by a bunch of self-proclaimed Larry Flynch's and Malcolm X's writing about how their kittens rolled over or they spilled their latte on their XXXL deCSS t-shirts, I seriously doubt they have much to worry about.

It just goes to show you how bloggers think. They are for the most part computer geeks (not bad in itself, I want to point out) who grow to believe that what work they're doing is going to revolutionize and change the world, and all along the way, they'll be tested and subjected to the pain of integrity, honesty, and creativity that lead to righteousness. One day, by reposting links, we will reach the promise land.

You'd think for a bunch of people who wish they were journalists, they might stand by their controversial (?) views regardless of the consequences. Or, for that matter, have subscriptions to the wire services for real-time headlines!

It's the saddest thing. You have a whole community of people who were raised geek, but they don't have much grasp of anything outside geek. If they wanted to really have a competitive advantage, they'd stick with geek. The mainstream media is clueless about geek. Everyone is clueless about geek. You find this on the slashdot forums as well. Slashdot is another community that fancies itself to be more than it really is. It feels it is a worthy journalistic source, yet it regularly bungles up news stories and has forums full of ignorant posts. On the hierarchy of geeks, though, slashdotters seem to be one step ahead of bloggers. For instance, the advents of MP3s and divx's didn't reach the personal site owners (turned bloggers) until well after the slashdot community, and them well after the pirate community.

Oh well. I guess I just expected more. Perhaps some humility. It just feels lonely and isolated (except for the rare gems online like Lance, puce, Justin Hall, and a few others perhaps) when you look out on the web and see a bunch of link hucksters waiting for a revolution that will never come.

[from camworld, by Cameron Barrett]

Blogging the Weblog Panel (Live): The panelists are Meg Hourihan, Rusty Foster, Doc Searls and Cameron Marlow.

12:34 PM: Meg is speaking, doing the introductions. Wants the panel to be interactive, not just a presentation. Does everyone know what a weblog is? Does anyone not? Audience laughs.

12:36 PM: Meg says weblogs bring together a breadth of knowledge that is unmateched in traditional journalism. We are "domain experts" and provide a more accurate story. Wants to explore the collective of this group. How does this balance against the media conglomerates?

12: 38 PM: Rusty introduces himself. The Internet is fundamentially a two-way medium. It is different from all the other mass media we have. K5 is not about journalism. But the site and the ideas behind it are about journalism. The collaborative model behind K5 is about bringing people together.

12:40 PM: Doc introduces himself. "I am in fact a media whore." Asks how many of the audience are webloggers. 90% of the audience raises their hands.

12:42 PM: Cameron is speaking. He is focused on the research aspect behind weblogs. There are a huge number of weblogs, but they are connected. It is a personal connection. They are conencted socially in and informationally. Talks about Blogdex and how it displays the network/connection behind weblogs.

12:44 PM: Meg asks "What is a journalist?" What is the difference between a professional and an amateur? Doc says being a professional is being paid to write. "I use my blog to drive traffic to Linux Journal."

12:48 PM: Cameron says that being professional means providing the responsibility for being factual and reporting the facts.

12:49 PM: An audience member talks about a woman in Houston who is in jail for refusing to give up her sources. She was not protected as a normal professional journalist is.

12:50 PM: Audience member, from IndyMedia, talks about how their reporters are seen as part of a protest instead of as real/professional journalists or part of the professional media.

12:53 PM: Doc says that companies require proof that you are a professional journalist before issuing a press pass.

12:55 PM: Companies have a limited amount of resources, so they naturally want the best coverage. Doc says "Bloggers are going to give great coverage, so companies will soon recognize that."

12:57 PM: Meg asks "If a weblogger writes something that isn't true, how does that all work itself out?" How does the good stuff filter up and out? Cameron says "The stuff that populates is the stuff that most people think is interesting/"

1:00 PM: Doc says "One of us is going to get sued at some point. This is America, we sue each otehre here."

1:01 PM: Anil Dash (in the audience) mentions that he was threatened with a lawsuit threat by Walter Mossberg. "There is a resentment towards improving the credibility of weblogs."

1:03 PM: Rusty is talking about how weblogs are inherently personal. You can get the credibility you need, but it takes time.

1:04 PM: Rusty, "If you want pundity, go to weblogs. You'll get it."

1:05 PM: Jason Kottke (in the audience), "Hard news is expensive. In general, it takes time, research and money."

1:08 PM: A member of the K5 team in the audience talks about people reporting events live as they happen from the field, via their weblogs. His example is the earthquake in Seattle last year.

1:10 PM: Anil Dash says "We would all do better if we thought of our weblogs as journalism."

1:11 PM: Jesse James Garrett (in the audience) says "If amateur journalists are going to be afforded the same rights as professional journalists, then they need to have the same responsibilities."

1:14 PM: Rusty says "People I know who get most of their news from the Internet do not trust the news thst is on television."

1:16 PM: Doc points out that the top story on Blogdex is the news that AOL is going to use the Gecko rendering engine in their next AOL client. An audience member disputes, and Doc tells him to blog his opinion. The audience claps.

1:18 PM: Cameron says that in the wake of September 11 the people on Metafilter were doing a better job of reporting the news than the mainstream media sources.

1:20 PM: Meg says that businesses are starting to recognize the importance of weblogs and we are on the verge of being corrupted by free movie passes, books, CDs, etc. in exchange for favorable reviews. An audience member says that this is what happened to zines, and it destroyed them.

1:23 PM: Audience member asks "Have you ever been to a fake blog that was manufactured by a company to promote a product?" The audience laughs and agrees they've seen this. Manipulative?

1:31 PM: Doc says that he likes weblogs because they are not like the flame-y nature of Usenet.

1:34 PM: Rusty says "I don't think you can hijack the popular voice."

1:38 PM: The weblogger community will route around hate speech and bigotry online.

1:43 PM: Doc says that television initially did a great job of reporting the Sptember 11 events, but shortly afterward defaulted to crap headlines and stories like "American Under Attack" and "Attack on America." How is that different from weblogs?

1:45 PM: What we have with weblogs is a group of people who are absessive about specific things. They are the experts on x and y. You will get an informed opinion and not manufactured sensationalistic news.

1:46 PM: Wes Felter (in the audience) says that webloggers are domain experts. Anil Dash says that it's a question about finding that one weblog that caters to your specific news need.

1:47 PM: The panel is wrapping up. It's getting too hot in the room and peole are antsy. And hungry.

1:50 PM: Doc says "I have only a 24-hour attention span and I don't scale. I'm astonished at how much I miss."

1:52 PM: Doc asks the audience how many have political opinions that are left of center. Most of the audience raises their hands. He then asks how many people are afraid to talk about it on their weblogs. He mentions that he got a lot of scary email from fundamentalists. He no longer talks about his family on his weblog, out of fear.

1:57 PM: Meg says that this fear is silencing a lot of people. Doc says that we have to be careful. Cameron says that we're not writing for an audience, we're writing for our friends.


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