Snarky Behavior

The Blogger’s Imperative: Always Consider the Alternative

November 16, 2007 · Leave a Comment

Reader’s Note:  I intended to post this on the Huffington Post but in retrospect it’s probably too meta.  I do think that there is a place for ombudsman-like impartial eye for bloggers, especially as blogging sites become primary destinations for news and information.

The Huffington Post’s recent admission of first-time profitability marks an important occasion in today’s media landscape. 

More than any other outlet, the Huffington Post represents what Al Gore terms “the Marketplace of Ideas.”  The web-site’s only compensatory incentive to its contributing bloggers is the platform itself, a conduit through which competitive voices can be heard and considered.  The opinions that most resonate with the readership rise to front-page prominence, while lesser viewpoints simply fall by the wayside. 

A general imperative for consumers of information is to “always consider the source.”  In this sense, the Huffington Post holds a powerful comparative advantage over established media outlets, which are increasingly characterized by thinly veiled ideological slants or biases, or are otherwise beholden to the advertising interests that sustain their business models.  That is to say, opinions on the Huffington Post can be evaluated on their face, with a lesser degree of suspicion as to the vested interests or motivations of the authorship.

The successful “networked democracy” that the Huffington Post has achieved is certainly a worthy cause for celebration.  However, as the outlet gains prominence and increased readership, the very model which has made it a success threatens to dilute its cause and purpose.  Let us consider future challenges to the web-site:

  1. First, the extremely low entry-barriers for contribution arouse cause for concern as to the quality of the product, and a super-saturation in the “marketplace.”
  2. Second, the powerful reach of the outlet provides opportunities to amplify and distort opinions and ideas that are simply bad or ill-informed. 
  3. Third, the insular debates of the community may devolve into an in-group dynamic that threatens the logical norms by which arguments are framed.
  4. Fourth, the “publish or perish” cycle accelerates the process of due-consideration of important ideas and arguments.  1,800 writers are constantly competing for the advancement of issues to “the next topic.”
  5. Fifth, and most importantly, the high number of contributers and low-entry barriers for contribution diminish the accountability of each individual to provide responsible, well-reasoned opinions.  A democratic exchange of ideas shouldn’t be throwing things against the wall to see what sticks.  It should be at once a constructive and critical exercise. 

With respect to the fifth point, let us remember and consider the words of the late Norman Mailer, who explained its danger to Charlie Rose:

“Democracy is noble, and because it’s noble it’s always in danger.  Nobility is always in danger.  Democracy is perishable.  I think the natural government for most people, given the perversities and the depths of human nature, the ugly depths, is facism.  Facism is a natural state.  Because it’s easier.  It’s easier, and if you have any resentment, your resentment can be focused.  The hardest thing in a democracy is knowing whether your resentment has any point to it or not.”

Mailer’s words ring true posthumously in the current context if we consider this web-site to be a “networked democracy.”  It is far easier to focus our opinions and resentments around polar arguments than it is to find a constructive point of departure from these criticisms.

If then it is the imperative of the informed consumer of information is to “always consider the source,” it seems the imperative of the blogger is to “always consider the alternative.”  The strength of any democratic exercise lies in the extent to which all parties recognize their rights and responsibilities to maintain the integrity of the democratic structure.  Mediocrity, group-think, laziness, distrust, subterfuge, and a lack of comity – or reciprocity in constructive arguments – threaten to degrade that structure. 

The expansion of the blogger’s legitimacy therefore must be accompanied by a self-disciplined commitment to provide high-quality, progressive, and well-reasoned opinions.  Although we are all entitled to our own opinions, and assured the right to express them, we must also recognize our responsibility to do so constructively, lest our “networked democracy” degrade into “networked facism.”

Categories: Uncategorized
Tagged: , , , , , , ,

0 responses so far ↓

  • There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment