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Opinion - Good blog, bad blog: does the value of blogging outweigh its risks?

Opinion - Good blog, bad blog: does the value of blogging outweigh its risks?

As to be expected the blogosphere has exploded with commentary following the New York Times' "death by blogging" article. The article has spawned everything from accusations of sensationalism (blogger Howard Owens) to tips on keeping healthy as a blogger.

The New York Times suggests that the ceaseless work required to stay afloat led, at least partly, to the recent death of two "prolific" bloggers. This, however, leads to the larger question: does the value of a non-stop internet economy outweigh its risks?

We can all agree that blogs have become an integral part of how we consume news. The lines between blogs and journalism are blurring, and arguments are being thrown around that blogs may be more influential than the New York Times. There's even calls for a sort of blogger's union.

As illustrated in Nieman fellow Josh Benton's Curve of Journalistic Interestingness, the quick response time of bloggers adds a fresh, interesting dimension to news before a story has a chance to be repackaged into wire copy. Moreover, blogging's viral nature, as well as the chance to engage without a major-up front investment, has enabled the "little guy" in a way never before possible.

Take the recent success of a covert video by an animal rights activist who posed as a slaughterhouse worker for six weeks. The undercover vegan citizen journalist released the video, which went viral within hours on the blogosphere, reports the New York Times.

Consequently the slaughterhouse was closed, the United States Congress held hearings, and the Agriculture Department recalled 65 million kilograms of meat, the largest recall in American history.

It is a powerful example of the virtually instantaneous ability of blogs to spread information, which elicited a change in policy faster than would be possible drumming up support through print alone.

And now to the dark side. Yes, the Times was reaching a bit in tying the death of two bloggers to the strain of their profession. The paper itself acknowledges that "to be sure, there is no official diagnosis of death by blogging." But they do hit on a nasty side effect of the ceaselessness that has made bloggers a success; the around-the-clock demands of the internet forces bloggers work extreme hours in order to keep up.

The same concerns of excessive overtime hours are weighing on newspaper journalists, who are being encouraged to blog on top of producing articles. It also stands to detract from quality journalism; if journalists have to compete in the same "pay-per-click economy" in which bloggers exist, quality inevitably slides. With these two opposing pulls on journalists' time, it is hardly surprising that newspaper blogs are not yet perfectly oiled machines, as detailed in a study by Ball State University.

So does blogging need regulation? Healthwise, perhaps the answer is yes. But that would go against the essence of blogging, which owes its popularity and its relevance to its 24/7 engagement.

Even the stress-level issue is up for grabs. In the words of TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington,"This is not sustainable."

But then there's Larry Dignan, who was interviewed for the New York Times story and not quoted, according to Romenesko.

"Yes, blogging is stressful. Yes, it can be insane," Dignan said. "But is it any worse than being a corporate lawyer? How many of those folks dropped in the last six months? How about mortgage brokers? Hedge fund traders?"

It will fall to bloggers to first determine the dangers and then draw the new rules of the game.

Sources: Romenesko through Howard Owens, New York Times



Kelley Vendeland


2008-04-09 17:14

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