Thursday, April 12, 2007

Blogging through the muck

In April's edition of Wired magazine, there is an article entitled The See Through CEO that includes the following paragraph that I found interesting:

Secrecy is dying. It's probably already dead. In a world where Eli Lilly's internal drug-development memos, Paris Hilton's phonecam images, Enron's emails, and even the governor of California's private conversations can be instantly forwarded across the planet, trying to hide something illicit - trying to hide anything, really - is an unwise gamble. So many blogs rely on scoops to drive their traffic that muckraking has become a sort of mass global hobby. Radical transparency has even reached the ultrasecretive world of Washington politics: The nonprofit Sunlight Foundation has begun putting zillions of public documents in elegantly searchable online databases, leaving it to interested citizens to connect the dots. One adroit digger recently discovered that former House Speaker Dennis Hastert had earmarked $200 million for a highway to be built near a property he had a stake in. When the property was sold, Hastert made a 500 percent profit on his original investment, provoking a wave of negative coverage.
The discussion of transparency and the end of secrecy is an intriguing one, and whether it's actually true and desirable in the worlds of business or politics could be debated at length. It is, however, the sentence on blogs (my emphasis added) that I find instructive at this particular moment.

There is a Wild Wild West atmosphere on blogs right now, where anything goes and the rules are still ill-defined, especially when it comes to politics. I think the biggest mistake a politician can make is to try to control that discussion. Instead, they need to learn how to engage it on some level so that they become an integral part of the conversation. Of course that's a daunting proposition given the toxic environment currently being cultivated on most blogs.

The biggest asset of the Internet as a medium is its ability to radically democratize different fields. Certainly that applies to blog journalism, where anybody can put finger to keyboard and bang out a story on what's happening locally.

With the abdication of investigative journalism by the mainstream media, especially at the neighborhood level, someone has to fill that void and it's a positive thing that local voices are emerging to do so. The Internet gives bloggers a potential audience that they could never reach in print. The trick of course is attracting that audience.

Some take the easy way out and try to increase traffic to their sites by succumbing to sensationalism, as pointed out in the article. Most readers, however, are more savvy than we think, and they'll catch on to that game quickly enough and tune out the blather. For those bloggers who stick to the high road, embrace credibility, and win the trust of their readership, the payoff will be much greater.
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