Paul Boutin, Blogging and a Puerile Understanding of Mass Communications

Wednesday, Nov 12 2008

In Issue 16.11 of Wired Magazine, Paul Boutin, a correspondent for the Silicon Valley gossip site Valleywag, wrote an essay advising his readers to give up on blogging.  He writes:

Writing a weblog today isn’t the bright idea it was four years ago. The blogosphere, once a freshwater oasis of folksy self-expression and clever thought, has been flooded by a tsunami of paid bilge. Cut-rate journalists and underground marketing campaigns now drown out the authentic voices of amateur wordsmiths. It’s almost impossible to get noticed, except by hecklers. And why bother? The time it takes to craft sharp, witty blog prose is better spent expressing yourself on Flickr, Facebook, or Twitter.

Paul concludes:

As a writer, though, I’m onto the system’s real appeal: brevity. Bloggers today are expected to write clever, insightful, witty prose to compete with Huffington and The New York Times. Twitter’s character limit puts everyone back on equal footing. It lets amateurs quit agonizing over their writing and cut to the chase. @WiredReader: Kill yr blog. 2004 over. Google won’t find you. Too much cruft from HuffPo, NYT. Commenters are tards. C u on Facebook?

I encourage you to read the entire essay. While his logic is flawed, he does introduce an interesting argument. As with most emerging technologies, blogs have now been adopted by mainstream media and corporations; however, I don’t necessarily agree that there is a vacuum of authenticity. Just because bloggers are no longer amateurs doesn’t make content any less valid or compelling. In fact, when journalists, corporate executives and other professionals blog, I believe it might actually increase genuineness since their posts might exist outside of editorial or legal filters.

I don’t disagree with Paul that there is tremendous competition to now be heard and read online, but I do disagree that it is necessarily a bad evolution. When blogs first started, an amateur could publish anything. If their post ranked high in a search on the subject, the content, true or not, was given credibility. Remember the Kerry gunboat blog posts during the 2004 Presidential election. Well, I think creators of online publications such as blogs should be clever and insightful as well as diligent in checking their facts and making known a bias just as their traditional counterparts, whether they are amateurs or not.

Furthermore, Paul is on to something when he quotes Scoble stating that he keeps his “blog mostly for long-form writing.” Isn’t that what a publication is for whether it is online or not? If you want the Cliff Notes, then Twitter might be the place. But do Cliff Notes ever do the original text justice? Is it engaging? Does it move you? I can never remember being moved or significantly influenced by a 140 character Twitter message or Facebook update, but I have been impacted by numerous blog posts, both amateur and professional.

“Brevity and character limits puts everyone on equal footing” is nonsense. It rings of anti-intellectualism and a puerile understanding of mass communications. Would we want a lawyer blogging about civil rights to be limited to 140 characters? Would Twitter as a communication medium really provide the means to articulate his or her position? Is this equal footing, really? If the lawyer’s position is truly compelling, it will be found, linked to and virally passed and this is the true power of being able to easily publish online irregardless of the quality of the design or interactivity of the content, i.e. video and pics.

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