Thursday, May 11, 2006

BOOK REVIEW: "Blog!" by David Kline and Dan Burstein

London [Ont.] Free Press (Canada)

As regular readers of this column know, theres nothing I like better than a
good book. I recently finished reading David Kline and Dan Bursteins
402-page-long tome, blog! which isnt all that good, but it did provoke some

As you may be able to surmise from the title of the collection of essays and
articles, blog! is an attempt to gauge the impact bloggers are having in the
realms of culture, politics and business. And, as might be expected, the
authors overstate the importance of their chosen subject. They do have a
vested interest in feeding the hype about weblogs, after all.

How potent are blogs, in the eyes of Kline and Burstein? So potent they have
the potential to change human nature. At one point, Kline concludes that
blogs are to be lauded because one must assume that the more deliberatively
people appraise and document their lives, the more purposefully those lives
will be lived.

Uh, no.

There are few inventions that have altered the character of humankind. It
just doesnt happen. Off the top of my head, I can think of maybe one that
has (the birth-control pill). Blogs are just one more method for
communicating. They arent the be-all and end-all.

The most illuminating comments in blog! come in interviews with industry
figures who dont buy into the master theory offered by Kline and Burstein.

Blogs are a tool, an instrument, nothing more, says Markos Moulitsas Zuniga,
the blogger behind the popular DailyKos site. Nick Denton he of the Gawker
family of sites echoes those comments, saying bluntly that blogs are not
going to supplant established media outlets such as The New York Times, just
supplement them.

Now, you may be thinking the reason Im bearish on blogs is my status as a
card-carrying member of the mainstream media. Not so. Im all for blogs. When
it comes to websites, Ive always said Let a thousand flowers bloom. Being a
libertarian, I firmly believe choice leads to competition and competition
raises everyones game.

But let me give you a different perspective. There is much discussion in
blog! about citizen journalism, the prevailing sentiment being that blogs
are going to allow the average person Joe or Jane Blogger, if you will to
take over the role currently played by newspaper and television
correspondents. I doubt this is going to happen, and my feelings have
nothing to do with professional insecurity and everything to do with the
practicalities of reporting.

Heres the thing: Journalism takes an investment of time and effort. Citizen
journalism is going to remain a limited enterprise because the average
person just doesnt the time or energy to spare.

Let me demonstrate my point with an analogy. The technology also exists for
the average person to make their own bread, but how many of us do so? Youd
have to buy a bread maker, round up the ingredients, then dedicate a part of
your day to baking. Most of us figure its easier and more convenient to let
the professionals handle all of that, so we make a mental trade-off and pick
up our bread needs at the grocery store.

This is the same logic that will keep journalists in business for a long
time to come. Just because the technology exists for the average person to
have a global audience, that doesnt automatically mean lots of people are
going to take advantage of that technology. Im not saying the average person
is lazy; Im saying the average person already has a packed schedule with a
day job and a family to tend to, so he or she will continue to let trained
professionals do the lions share of the information gathering and

(Im not letting so-called dead-tree media off the hook. For my thoughts on
the future of newspapers read this column I wrote a few weeks back.)

Which isnt to say some bloggers wont become influential media stars. Thats
already happened. And thats not to say citizen journalism is doomed Ill
grant you that its here to stay (our partners at recently launched
a new venture in citizen journalism, which you can check out here.) What Im
saying is that its not going to replace mainstream media. The two will
co-exist. Blogging will be a side dish to the main course of old media.

As enthusiastic as the authors of blog! are, even they admit that bloggers
rely for the most part on established media sources. Few bloggers, after
all, gather and report the news, writes Kline. Instead, they utilize the
news gathering resources of traditional media and then apply ideas,
opinions, ironies, links and other kinds of context to the work originally
done by the reporter.

It looks like youre stuck with us.
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