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Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Blogging: First Truly Free Press?

With millions, if not billions, of blogs online, the question no doubt has occurred to most bloggers if there’s really any point to it. Let’s face it, no one’s really blogging for themselves. That’s called journaling. Even the most wholesome among us, those who would scoff at hit counters and shun Google ads claiming they write for themselves, must sneak a peek at the number of comments they’ve accumulated for some hint of how successful they are at blogging.

The fact is we want to be noticed. Every blogger has their own twist on this fact, but it is a fact. Whether you hope to rally a group of friends around a small keep-in-touch blog, or cram key words like Harry Potter, Howard Stern, and Christina Aguilera into your blog in the hopes of attracting tons of traffic that will bring you riches as folks click your ads, you want to be noticed.

I recently heard blogs called the first truly free press. It got me to thinking if that was really the case. I grew up reading the just-retired Bill Lyon, the legendary sports columnist of the Philadelphia Inquirer. He was the final word on sports issues as far as I was concerned. Even when I disagreed with him, or felt he had flopped on an issue, he was the guy I wanted to read the next day. Lyon had earned his post as an Inquirer journalist, proving he could write well and connect with readers over the course of years.

Writing was the one thing I always wanted to do. It wasn’t the only thing in my nearly 34 years, but it was (and still is) the one constant. As a disabled individual, writing was where my childhood dreams to be involved in pro sports went when reality set in all too soon that playing sports just wasn’t going to be a career move. When my hard-to-understand speech announced itself as a major obstacle to participating in the able-bodied world, I again turned to writing. It was writing that allowed me to express myself freely, without concern for the physical problems inherent with my spoken word. And, without injuring myself to pat my own back, it turned out I wasn’t too bad at this whole writing thing. I managed to write for the Inquirer, before working at a publisher until the corporate world did its thing. I even published a children’s book on Oscar De La Hoya.

As I said in my last post, the blogging boom seemed like a perfect fit for me. But this idea of blogging being the first truly free press has gnawed at me for a while. More specifically, the idea that anyone can literally be published online within minutes of signing up for their free blog, and thus be part of the so-called first truly free press, bothered me. It’s the same feeling I get when folks encourage me to self-publish the fiction I’ve written.

Call it the snob in me, if you like. You may be absolutely correct. But I began questioning if it’s truly a good thing that everyone and anyone can be published. With so many voices, I wonder how those worth hearing will ever stand out.

Granted, the Inquirer and every other paper in the world wants to make a buck. Actually, they want to make millions of bucks. And I’ve dealt with more than a few editors I wouldn’t allow to write graffiti let alone publish work. That said, at least papers and publishers have a process where they look to ensure quality. And when you pick up a paper or book from them, you at least have a level of trust that you’re reading something worth reading.

If that filtering process is completely eroded, is that really what we want? Does that really qualify as a free press?

Of course, a natural filtering process will survive, as good blogs thrive while others die off or are ignored. But it will be more along the lines of what drives radio — personality, style — that will act as the filter. That is not what I want driving the press.

Instead of a free press, blogs may actually constitute something more important — a true voice of the people. Last year I had about 2,000 hits on my site. A ridiculously small number compared to the big guys. But, it was still 2,000 times that someone read what I had to say. It was 2,000 times I had a chance to connect with someone else.

Daniel Rubin has a quote on his blog, Blinq: “It was a wise man who said news is a conversation. Let’s talk.” I’ve always thought the best books were the ones that spark conversation. As TV, radio, and even the internet threaten to turn our minds into mush, maybe the true value of blogs is their potential to spark intelligent dialogue.

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