Wednesday, February 27, 2008

On blogs: In which I discuss why me and the internets are best friends and then borrow heavily from my own grad school essays

Put down that media! Did I say you could touch that?

So, obviously I've given in. I've committed to this blogging thing after probably a year and a half of considering, occasional posting, occasional deleting, and indecision. But just reading blogs wasn't cutting it for me anymore. And besides, I can only update my Facebook profile with the ridiculous stuff I find online so often before it starts to get sad. So: blogging. Working, as I do, in a job with constant internet access and not really enough to do a lot of the time, I found myself becoming more and more involved in the current feminist/progressive blogosphere. I became a politics and news junkie. I actually developed opinions of my own. I honed my views by loading myself up with information and reading the endless commentary of other people with opinions who were willing to put them on the internet. What happened to my apathy? I guess I just applied it to my actual job. Haha.

But so on to how blogging relates to my proposed course of study in American Studies graduate programs (applications in, fingers crossed): I think it's really an exciting time to be doing any sort of media studies. I'm interested in how the expansion of digital communication and the internet in the recent past has affected how we construct and transmit contemporary folklore (folklore in a broad sense—I’m mostly referring here to what I'd consider cultural narratives, which I really don't feel like defining, so go take a class in the humanities building and get back to me). With the popularity of weblogs comes an increased accessibility to public discourse. Blogging and other new media give more people access to the shaping of public narrative. You only have to listen to the disdain "mainstream" media types express for bloggers and the netroots in general to realize that a fundamental shift in media, information, and access is going on.

People with journalism degrees are no longer the only ones considered qualified to report and analyze current events. There's an egalitarian movement going on right now that moves much faster than traditional newspaper or TV news reporting. We've created a 24-hour news cycle, and the internet is a highly responsive site for commentary and analysis that actually works as quickly as the news is made. A huge variety of people are now publicly interpreting the news. A valuable project would be to look at how the broad viewpoints represented by blogging affect our ideas of what makes up American culture, and how that may begin to change the ways politicians and journalists talk about it. Some of the most comprehensive and insightful analysis of contemporary politics is going on online, among relatively unknown bloggers. I think of the well-documented coverage of the Scooter Libby trial provided by the folks at Firedoglake last year. They were thoroughly covering a story the news networks were underreporting, filling a gap in competent journalism that has been widening over the past decade or so. I'd really like to study how the broadening of sources and analysts influences how stories get told and how it can affect what the story itself is.

I was thinking about this while I read a post by Chez of Deus Ex Malcontent about his sudden firing from CNN for blogging. He talks about how through its reporting, CNN "pays more lip-service to bloggers and their internet realm than any other mainstream media outlet, but in the end that's really all it is—lip-service." Apparently, blogging is a trend that’s popular enough to be covered, but somehow still too unseemly for the network’s own employees to participate in. Chez goes on to say that, “As far as CNN (and to be fair, the mainstream TV press in general) believes, it still sits comfortably at the top of the food chain, unthreatened by any possibility of a major paradigm shift being brought to bear by a horde of little people with laptops and opinions. Although the big networks recognize the need to appeal to bloggers, they don't fear them—and that means they don't respect them.”

I think Chez is right that bloggers aren’t respected by establishment media types, but I do think they are feared. I can’t think of why else otherwise perfectly respectable journalists and politicians would waste their time putting down bloggers (just Google “disdain for bloggers,” and you’ll find plenty of discussion of this phenomenon—written mostly by bloggers!). If we (I can include myself now, I suppose) blogging-types are just a bunch of weird liberal Cheeto-munching geeks hiding in basements, why bother acknowledging us at all? I think corporate TV and print media outlets are terrified of the free-for-all that is the blogosphere. Rupert Murdoch (that hottie pictured above) has yet to figure out how he can buy it, control it, and fit it in his expensively-tailored pocket (Is he well-known as a good dresser? I have no idea, but I assume his clothes are not cheap since I’m pretty sure he owns everything including my right arm by now.).

There’s also the very real issue of political “bias.” CNN implied that Chez was fired not just for writing for non-CNN sources (his own blog and others), but for the content of his writings and how they would reflect on the network. People need to stop listening to the Bernard Goldberg types. Corporate media conglomerates are NOT bastions of liberalism. Any entity that can be described as a “conglomerate” is automatically out of the running for “most progressive point of view.” I don’t think I should have to explain why. And yet, the right-wing media complains that the “mainstream” is too liberal, and the mainstream responds by becoming more and more conservative. (As Stephen Colbert says, “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.”) The fact is that the evolving political netroots are dominated by liberals and progressives, who have built their online communities in response to their views being at best ignored, and at worst demonized in the mainstream media. I think the powers-that-be resent the blogosphere’s demographics and see their efforts to be heard as an upstart power-grab. “Surely those commie interwebs whippersnappers are up to no good! But in the meantime, we’ll just attempt to mock and discredit them and maybe they’ll go away.”

As Chez concluded:

"CNN fired me, and did it without even a thought to the power that I might wield as an average person with a brain, a computer, and an audience. The mainstream media doesn't believe that new media can embarrass them, hurt them or generally hold them accountable in any way, and they've never been more wrong. I'm suddenly in a position to do all three, and I know now that this is what I've been working toward the last few years of my career."

I do think they're starting to feel threatened. As well they should.


  1. 1. I really like reading your grad school app stuff.
    2. Blogs are more obvious with the biases that they use to discuss news, which I think makes them more trustworthy. It's easier to to pinpoint how you feel about an issue based on how someone else expresses theirs. If you know where they're coming from, you can identify how it fits into your paradigm.
    3. Blogs are a way more interesting way to receive news and commentary about the world.

  2. Good for you! Now please, never blog about blogging ever again. I think there's a level of hell dedicated to that sort of thing.


  3. You wish. I'm totally going to blog about blogging every day and it's going to be so meta and you'll be forced to read it. BLOGGYBLOGBLOGBLOGBLOGBLOG. Yeah, good for me.