Friday, June 06, 2003

A Few Scattered Thoughts

A debate is heating up over what exactly constitutes acceptable journalism, and just where do bloggers and blogging fit in. I've just added a few logs to the fire by responding to a posting from Chris Thompson on George Nemeth's blog. But this recent Wired article adds a few other interesting insights to the debate. "More and more I'm running into myself on Google," reports one Madrid-based blogger. A search-engine optimization guru adds a crucial insight: "The web is the great equalizer. Good content rises to the top of the Internet. It doesn't matter if the medium is a blog or a corporate Web page."

In other words, writing for the web is something of a radical meritocracy, which lots of traditional journalists have a problem with. It makes them really nervous that they might actually have to compete for readership or audience respect solely by the power of their arguments or writing style or how compelling their subject is. You can't coast on the fact that you have a staff job at a well-respected pub and then write crap.

And this new story really points up how hard it's becoming for those in power to enforce the nice rules of silence which often amount to little more than censorship, as long as there are who can directly report on events of interest. Seems that a blogging lawyer and a venture capitalist had a stronger urge to communicate with their audiences than did the well-behaved "journalists" who tamely agreed to stop taking stenography when their patrons insisted, their audience be damned. Said San Jose Mercury News columnist Dan Gillmor, one of the first high-profile bloggers in straight journalism, said it best: "conference organizers cannot make an event off the record only for the official journalists anymore. The rules of 'journalism,' whatever that is, are changing. This is just one more example."

Enough said about that for now. Suffice to say that we'll be hearing lots more years of self-righteous indignation from journalists who are driven to distraction by the possibility that millions of people who aren't in their profession might actually be able to write better, more compellingly, with more passion and knowledge than they. That's a scary idea for people used to thinking of their professional status as an ID card that mostly serves to keep the hordes out, but that doesn't make it any less true.

Here's a good example for you. Matt Welch is a guy some of you may have heard of. He got his start as a writer primarily on the web, in the functional equivalents of blogs or self-publishing. And yet his profile and reputation have grown incredibly, based on just one thing: the guy can write! Check out this article, for instance. Read this, and then tell me that he's not a first-rate writer and thinker.

On to other developments: Rookie blogger of note. Recently I nominated Kukral for the prize, and his last week of entries have done nothing but confirm that status. His take on Feagler was especially interesting (but in fairness, I wanted to point out that poor, lazy Dick F. could once write like a dream, back when he did some work. Try this heart-tugger, for instance, on the last days of the Cleveland Press. It's sublime. Too bad he hasn't written like this in at least 10 years. Jimmy K. also has a pretty good sense of humor. Check out this little animated head app that he put together on a page that's a take-off on Google.

Anyway, Kukral's successor as the rookie blogger to watch is none other than Bill Callahan, a name perhaps familiar to you if you've been in the neighborhoods movement. For years, he's run programs on the near west side, in something called the Stockyard Association. Bill ran a couple of interesting events around the theme of the digital divide, which he billed as Digital Vision. And he's even received funding from the man himself, Mario Morino, which is all the vote of confidence I need.

Bill's West Side Computer Community Center is even reputed to be increasingly collaborating with Dan Hanson and his Computers Assisting People, which is a welcome development that gives a nice geographic balance (near east/near west) to those related efforts. With all that as background, check out his blog when you get a moment.

And speaking of Dandy Danny Hanson, my heart dropped for him just a moment, when I learned that United Way's Community Vision Council has teamed up with Cleveland Public Library to debut an attractive, well-funded site for seniors. Called, it comes complete with eye-catching signage throughout the library (motto: "The Web Site for People Who Weren't Born Yesterday"). This will compete directly with Dan's spunky self-funded site, Clevelandseniors, which isn't the most graphically appealing thing, but contains some wonderful content if you know where to dig.
But there's enough out there for everyone. I'm just happy that Cleveland Public (which is actually the third largest public research library in the country), under its energetic, charismatic new director Andrew Venable, is fully living up to its ambitious slogan as "The People's University."


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