Friday, February 13, 2009

Whitter On

You have the right to remain silent

In the event that you live in a cave somewhere and communicate by carving messages on stone tables, or use the Internet exclusively for downloading porn, you may not be aware of the Times On Line article that has the blogshpere and its resident bloglodites in a tizzy.

Here is my USA Today-esque bullet-point summary:

     - The Ignition: The Times on Line wrote an article
     - The Bad Thing: Said article lifted quotes out of context and without permission or link-credit to the author, Miss Diva
     - The Aggrieved: Miss Diva is upset, and rightly so
     - The Irony: The Times on Line is staffed by professional journalists, who reportedly look down upon bloggers as unprofessional, yet they engaged in egregiously unprofessional and unethical behavior themselves.
     - The Action: Link to the Times on Line article, link to Miss Diva and write a post to “tell the world that you and your writing and your blog deserve respect." (credit: Miss Diva: "Write on! Respect the blog"
     - The Point: To start a revolution demanding respect for bloggers
     - The Result: High profile for a shoddy Times on Line article (and Miss Diva) and a great subject for bloggers to get their knickers in a knot over.

I realize the above sounds rather flippant, but that's just what I do. For the record, I do believe Miss Diva has every right to feel aggrieved and her response is admirable. I do believe the Times on Line behaved unprofessionally and unscrupulously. And I do believe that bloggers are entitled to the respect they deserve. But I do not believe that bloggers necessarily deserve respect.

That’s a subtle difference, but an important one, so pay attention.

The first responses I saw to this brouhaha had me convinced they were coming confiscate our keyboards and legislate away our bandwidth. Curious, I followed the links.

The offending article, which I will not compliment with a link, is simply a lengthy, rambling advertisement for a book (which one might suspect is equally long and rambling) and deserved little attention. Instead, by behaving unprofessionally and unethically, they got a lot. So what are we to learn from this except that pissing people off is a good marketing strategy?

The article, in case you’re interested, simply poses the controversial notion that maybe too much blogging and/or revealing too much in your blog might not be good for you. Whoa! Stop the presses! On the ground-breaking revelation scale, they might as well have said that having unprotected sex with random strangers probably isn’t the best use of your leisure time. Blogging doesn't require you to buy drinks, and is less likely to result in a worrying rash, or late night, drunken phone calls demanding to know why you never return their messages followed by unnerving accounts of weeing on a stick and what it revealed.

I think everyone who has the notion ought to blog. It's free, it’s easy and, unless you live in a country run by a despot, it’s legal. It will also give you satisfaction in ways you never expected. Sure you run the risk of blog-addition but, as addictions go, you’re better off with that than, say, a three hundred dollar a day cocaine habit. I don’t know of anyone who has come to after a night of enthusiastic blogging to find they’ve traded their living room furniture for an eight-ball.

So have at it, just don’t anticipate automatic respect; it doesn’t come as part of the package like all those annoying Blogger widgets.

Miss Diva, herself, appears to agree with me. What she says is bloggers “…should demand the respect that their traffic, their influence and their talent commands.” I read this as: good blogs deserve respect. The attention of the billions of people surfing through cyberspace needs to be earned. This happens through good writing. Good writing takes practice. And practice is best conducted in private.

Just because you can post every word you write doesn’t mean you ought to. There are many fine blogs out there, but some (not yours, surely) make me long for the days when people used to write their innermost thoughts in notebooks and hide them in their sock drawer. If professional journalist do not respect bloggers, it is quite likely because the vast majority of bloggers do not deserve respect.

Miss Diva says if you put "Blogs Ruin Journalism" into Google you’ll receive 3,900,000 hits. I tried that and got exactly ten, and most were from blogs linked to Miss Diva. When I tried it without the quotes, I got 614,000. On the other hand, I got 32,500,000 hits by entering “Big tits are bad” and 121,600,000 for “See me naked.” So what are we to learn from this? Nothing, really, except that “Big Tits are Bad” would make a wicked title for a blog post.

But back to the professional journalist; even if they really do believe blogging is ruining journalism, can you blame them for feeling that way? Suppose you were a professional housepainter. That’s what you trained for and take pride in and it’s how you earn the money to support you and your family. Now suddenly, everyone on earth has taken such an interest in house painting they are all going around painting each other’s houses for free. Wouldn’t you circle the wagons? Wouldn’t you point out the ones who, given the results of their passion, should maybe take up a different hobby?

So I can’t really blame the journalists for feeling that way, but I don’t want to hand them any more ammunition, either.

Let’s use me as an example (because I’m all I have and I’m not likely to file a lawsuit against myself). I have been keeping a written diary since I was 13 years old. This was back when long distance communication was limited to smoke signals. As soon as the Internet came along, I started a web journal. I now have a published book, two blogs, a web site and I guest blog on about half a dozen other sites. But I also continue to keep a private journal. This is because I understand that many of my inner thought do not deserve an audience (you should thank me for this, really). In my private journal, I don't have to think about content, form or my audience; I am free to experiment without worrying about criticism. My private journal is batting practice, and I did a lot of it before I inflicted my writing on the wider world.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t blog; I’m just saying that, if you’re looking for respect, you might want to put off the public blog for a bit and start by keeping a written journal that you hide in your sock drawer where the kids won't find it. Then, after you’ve put in some meaningful batting practice, the World Wide Web will be much more grateful when you do appear, and in the meantime it will remain less cluttered and the Internet can go about doing what it was meant for: downloading porn.


  1. I don't think I deserve respect for my blog. I just love to write. If I don't think a post is decent, I don't post it. That is the beauty of blogger, you can just leave things in the drafts form forever and ever and ever.

    Oh I am going to Stonehenge and Bath soon! My parents are coming to visit next Friday, picking them up in London and spending the weekend there. So excited!

  2. Kat: I've heard Bath is very nice, and Stonehenge is, well, stones. Have a good time.

  3. OK. Our next Pond Parleys question (after Maggie's) is obviously about big tits. Which nationality is more embarrassed at using the word for a ridiculously tiny bird when they're really thinking about mammaries?

  4. It do find that quite hilarious that "tit" is one of the words you can't say on TV. Americans can be oddly prudish at times.

  5. Mike: I'm reading your book and enjoying it a great deal. Agree with your post whole heartedly.

  6. The good thing about blogs: read it or leave it. The same thing applies to good journalism; no matter how many dabbling housepainters there are - it’s the quality that brings them respect. I am absolutely with you – I keep my private journal in my sock drawer. My blog was never intended to wash my private laundry anyway – friends always asked me what I was up to ‘across the pond’, and wanted to know about my wanderings. I thought why not use a blog space to let them know so I wouldn’t have to repeat myself over and over. It took some thinking if I really wanted to out my bad English to do the world. But like I said: nobody is forced to read it.

    Happy Valentine, Mike :)

  7. Hadriana: glad you're liking the book!

    Fida: "Postcards..." was actually started for the same reason you site, and that is a perfect use for a blog.