Thursday, October 16, 2008

We're Here, We Blog, Get Used to It

"Blogger" has been a four letter word for some time now. Also called "citizen journalists," bloggers have proven their powerful influence in many spheres, not the least of which is politics and public policy. Still considered to be on the edge, bloggers are becoming more and more accepted. Paul Verna, Senior Analyst at eMarketer, goes so far as to say that bloggers are now "mainstream." He supports his argument in an interesting post titled "Blogging Becomes Mainstream:" Blogging has become so pervasive and influential that the lines between blogging and the mainstream media have disappeared. I wouldn't say that the lines have "disappeared," but they are certainly getting blurry. Verna does make a point, however. Reporters and personalities at most newspapers, radio stations and television stations, it seems, now have their own blogs embedded within their paper's own official web site. Hey, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Verna quotes an expert on the subject of the rise of the bloggers: “Blogs are now mainstream media,” said Richard Jalichandra, CEO of Technorati, in an interview with eMarketer. “We’ve certainly seen that with the number of professional, semiprofessional and passion/enthusiast bloggers who are creating real media experiences. At the same time, you’re also seeing mainstream media come the other direction to add blog content.” Often, that blog content is lifted and used without attribution, giving no credit or acknowledgement to the blogger or citizen journalist who wrote it. Bloggers often scoop the big media, and the Internet in general is doing serious damage to newspaper circulation. Insecure politicians across the country have been screaming "Those damn bloggers!" for years now. Bloggers have been dismissed as fringe kooks, insignificant busy bodies, not "real" journalists, and less flattering terms by public officials who grew comfortable in an era of big corporate newspapers that paid no attention to them. As noted above, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. That was a double edged sword, however. On one side, for example, many a city council member ("aldermen") in every city has bemoaned the lack of attention to his or her good works. Thirsting for good press, those little dictators were often frustrated that they could not issue an edict commanding the Big Local Newspaper to regurgitate the fluffy press releases sent to them. The editors and reporters often have bigger issues to pay attention to. After all, when a newspaper (or radio or television station) covers an entire city, some alderman's over-inflated pride in his exaggerated Green Corps petunia planting program will be competing with gang killings, citywide tax issues, schools, and much more. On the other side of that double edged sword: The aldermen are quite happy when the same big media news organizations ignore the failures and controversies in their fiefdoms. Living in the shadows, as they often did in the pre-Internet days, made them less visible to voters. When you're a corrupt, lying politician, that can work to your advantage. Those days are gone. Along came the Internet, and with it the ability of Anybody to write about anything and post it for all to read. Discredited aldermen like Chicago's Joe Moore (49th Ward) panic. Moore, in fact, actually has interns in his ward office spend many hours at a time printing out blog posts that he considers to be offensive. Moore keeps dossiers on at least two bloggers in his ward. Think Nixon and his infamous Enemies List. Politicians like Moore just don't understand the ways of the 21st Century and the New Media that comes along with it. The voice of the people, it seems, is just too loud for them. Many politicians learned to take advantage of bloggers, in the same way that they've taken advantage of "real" journalists for centuries. Some even embrace them. Those politicians understand that a blogger who writes about pot holes in her neighborhood is no different in practice than Ben Franklin was when he printed his little newspaper in Philadelphia. It is clear that citizen journalists, or "bloggers," will not go away. Those who think that blogging is just a passing fad are mistaken, in the same way that fools were who once thought that of rock and roll. Barring the rise of a dictatorship, blogging and citizen journalism will never die. That, of course, is something that so many bloggers stand against each and every day, from discredited petty tyrants like Joe Moore to the highest levels of officialdom.