What's All This Then?

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Friday, August 26, 2005

It’s been a long time since I recorded any thoughts on the business of blogging - and I guess that almost isn’t a wrong word to use about the blog phenomenon. Business. It’s that for a lot of people nowadays. For sure it’s less a "phenomenon" than it was a year or two ago. I was listening to the radio this morning and the morning man who hosts the show I listen to was introducing his newest intern to the audience - a 22 year old kid. Sometimes they’re younger. Anyway, her age, which happened to be the same as one of his kids, prompted him to go into a routine that has become popular in recent years - that of listing some of the things that have always existed for someone of a certain age - and some things that they will never have experienced.

For example, for kids entering high school this year, there has always been the Internet - and pretty soon, for kids reaching that scholastic milestone, there will always have been the "BLOGOSPHERE."

"What’s that Grandpa? There wasn’t an Internet when you were a kid? No e-mail? No blogosphere? How did you stay in touch? How could you publish your thoughts?"

I’ve been blogging now for almost two and a half years - and while I enjoy it and frequently have fun doing it - I don’t feel that I’ve ever become a true "member" of the blogosphere. I don’t have any "cause" to which I’m dedicated. I’m not a college professor. My blogging has nothing to do with any particular industry or science or any of the arts. It isn’t devoted to any particular political philosophy. I’m simply recording commentary on whatever grabs my attention or interest at a given moment. It’s more or less a hobby - and a way of putting together a body of work that can be preserved and read by others years from now. There might even be enough good stuff for a vanity book.

The more "professional" blogs that are somewhat like mine - that is, they record commentary, either of a single author or multiple contributors - seem to be more connected to the blogosphere by virtue of links that appear on their home pages. I have to say that sometimes I am overwhelmed by the sheer volume of links that I run across when I click on some blog sites. As you can see, this blog is almost link-less. I link to columnist Eric Zorn because I read him in the Chicago Tribune, because he was an early blogger among newspapermen and because when he started blogging, I critiqued his blog and he critiqued me. And because he links to me. And I link to Israpundit because of my interest in Israel. Clicking on Israpundit exposes me to a variety of Israeli thought. Most of what I find there is of a conservative nature - but I can balance that out by reading Haaretz or other Israeli sites that lean more to the left. At one time, I had two other Israel links on my home page, but those blogs, even though they included commentary, were more like personal diaries - and I have no particular interest in looking in on anyone’s personal diary.

A rare exception would be something like riverbend - personal observations of the unfolding scene in Iraq by a 26 year old Iraqi woman who said in her opening post in August 2003 -
A little bit about myself: I'm female, Iraqi and 24. I survived the war. That's all you need to know. It's all that matters these days anyway.
I don’t link to her as you can see. I just drop in on her blog once in a while to get her take on what’s happening in Iraq. And from her blog, I’m able to visit the blogs of other Iraqis.

But I digress.

Israpundit is one of those sites with links that overwhelm. If you look at it, you’ll see links to more than 120 blog sites - and hundreds of links to other sites in nineteen different categories from "Shop Israel" to "Arab/Muslim Media." It’s virtually an Israel information link center. I’m not sure if it’s a better way to find information you may be looking for than typing something specific into a search engine - Google or Yahoo or Dog Pile - but it gives the site a "busy" look, which may be what the hosts and designers want.

Being a busy link site devoted to serious matters, Israpundit has what seems to be the obligatory link to Instapundit - the blog of Glenn Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor who has more than two hundred links on his home page. I wrote about my impressions of this blog back on September 15, 2003 and having just looked at it again, my opinion about it hasn’t changed.

I once asked a blogger who I will not name here, why his blog had a link to Instapundit. He wasn’t able to give me an answer that made any sense. His blog was concerned with one small corner of the world. Instapundit is eclectic in subject selection, so I suppose there would be an occasion when single topic bloggers might find some Instapundit comment that related to their area of interest, but what I really gleaned from our e-mail exchange was that it was a coffee table kind of thing. If you want to be a big time blogger, you have to link to the Glenn-meister. It’s said that Instapundit is the most visited of all blog sites. I’ve looked at it. It’s prolific. Reynolds is obviously an intelligent man and enamored with blogging. Beyond that, I don’t know any more today about why it’s the most visited of all blog sites than I did when I visited and wrote about it in September of 2003. Maybe that’s why I’m not a full fledged, card carrying member of the blogosphere. I don’t get it.

In that same blog posting of September 15, 2003, I also criticized the arrival of a blog by Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn. If the Tribune was going to have a blog, I said, it could put it to better use than being little more than an extension of the paper for "stuff that it had no room for or wouldn’t bother to publish anyway." Notice, I said if the Tribune was going to have a blog. Back in 2003, that’s what I thought was happening. Blogging was growing in leaps and bounds, so the paper had decided it would get in on the phenomenon and create its own blog and Eric Zorn was going to run it. That’s what I thought. Boy how times have changed. Pull up the Chicago Tribune today and click on "Opinion" and you’ll get a list of the Tribune’s columnists. Scroll down and below that list you’ll find a list of the Tribune’s bloggers. That’s bloggers, plural. The Tribune no longer has "A" blog run by Eric Zorn. Zorn has his own blog and so do several other Tribune columnists who the Tribune is proud to identify for you. "Read ‘em in the paper. Read ‘em on line!" The print medium has embraced the blog medium - if there is such a thing.

I suppose one could conclude that the force driving the marriage between newspapers and blogging today is that a number of big time news stories have been broken by bloggers - the Dan Rather goof with phony documents about the President’s military service being one that immediately leaps to mind - and Newspaper Editors have concluded that blogging has become a legitimate news source and that they need to get close to it.

Since the Rather goof, there’s been a lot of talk about the power of all those individual bloggers out there in cyberspace. They could uncover a story that escaped the major media, post it on their blog sites - and voila - the blogosphere scoops the world and people are forced out of their jobs or made to apologize or just made to look silly. Except that’s not quite how it happens. At least I don’t see it happening quite that way. Bloggers are not quite that powerful. Not even Instapundit.

Think about where you first learned of the Dan Rather faux pas. On your local or national television news program. On the radio. In your daily newspaper. Sure the discovery of the phony documents may have been attributed to bloggers who caught the fraud and wrote about it on their web sites, but how many people actually first came upon the story while reading someone’s weblog??

Without major media picking up and running with the story, it may never have been a story outside of the blogosphere. So while blogs may be tools of influence in news reporting and critical thinking, I don’t see them being able to be so without the aid of major media instruments to call attention to their existence.

With millions of blogs already in existence and more being created every day, the chances of a casual or even not so casual news seeking web surfer coming upon anyone’s particular blog is small indeed. Of course if the surfer is a regular visitor to and perhaps a member of the blogosphere, he knows the addresses of the Instapundit types and how to get to them. But that’s only a minuscule fraction of the blogosphere. Someone like me could discover that the founders of Google are really a couple of escaped Martian convicts and post it here - and the scoop might never see the light of day.

And to prove my point, I’m going to say unequivocally that I’m not kidding. Larry Page and Sergey Brin really are Martian criminals, sentenced to 9,000 cesraps on the moons of Gilligan in our year of 1826. If you want to know the details of when and how they escaped and got to earth, you’ll have to come back to this blog.

Unless of course this revelation finds its way to the front pages of the New York and London Times and is the lead story on all television newscasts tonight and the sole topic of the Sunday talking heads this week-end. In which case I will speedily admit that my knowledge of the blogosphere is even less than I thought it was and I will fall to my knees, genuflect and confess my fealty to the all knowing, all powerful, almighty blog.

This one!!