In the now subsiding wake of the Bullard furore (just ‘tomu it), here’s something that puts that particular contribution to global warming in perspective:
There will always be bloggers who poke at newspapers and editors who resent that poking. But the best of the blogs take a deeper, more nuanced view about coverage, and the best newspapers think about how to leverage what the Internet offers. We need to bring more readers into the discussion, instead of cutting them out. (Mark Sarvas, quoted in a piece by Josh Getlin at the LA Times).
What most commentators in the recent local bogstorm miss (again, just ‘tomu it), is that good writing is good writing, no matter the medium or platform. (The difference between online and paper is actually thin, and less significant than between, say, paper/online and oral.) Some media may exert certain pressures on the writer; others may free up the writer. Different media may have different imperatives regarding style and tone. Bullard’s column, for instance, is less formal than the more serious columns in the same newspaper, putting him closer than he might like to the informality of many blogs. But one cannot generalise about the media involved. (Or maybe one can – many SA papers over the past decade or so have allowed more informal language and slang onto its pages, and sub-editing seems to have become a profession in name only.)
Put another way, bad blogs are not bad because they are blogs; they are bad because of bad writing. Similarly, good (print) journalism isn’t good because it is in print, though structural strictures (hiring, editing, sub-editing) may engender, but not guarantee, good writing. And then there are far too numerous blogs to mention that make for much better reading than what passes for journalism and columns, especially in SA papers.
But most blogs are indeed badly written because they are not part of a professional system; there is no pressure to apply any standards to anything and what the writer might imagine is their free-ranging creativity is really them on a ramble through their own mental labyrinths. But there are many superbly written blogs, across a range of topics and themes, styles and tones (I feel like a fool for having to state the obvious) and so it is not the medium, ultimately, that is at fault.
Finally, there is that old ‘meme’: (political) blogging is a form of pamphleteering with a long and strong tradition that includes George Orwell and Thomas Paine. This is an idea that started percolating through the internet since at least as early as 2001 (see Bricklin, George Packer, Kevin Maney, W. Caleb McDaniel, among others). Forms of alternative expression, in other words – and it hardly needs saying, but since people seem to operate in cultural-historical vacuums and are always quick, in the absence of research, to imagine themselves discoverers of ideas or trends – but, forms of alternative expression have a long history of opposition to mainstream media. Both sides in Bullardgate would do well to consider this humbling tidbit: pamphleteering is nothing new, blogging is nothing new.