May 24, 2011
Blogosphere and the Mainstream Media: Any Difference?
Umapagan Ampikaipakan @http://www.nst.com.my
INDEPENDENT journalism has always been considered the last bastion of the free press. With the mass media increasingly conglomerated — each with its social biases and political affiliations — many Malaysians have long given ground and have since sought sanctuary in that fortress, that stronghold, that fastness, that Thermopylae, that Agincourt, that Alamo for a billion souls that is the Internet.
And within that webbed sphere we have those self-proclaimed defenders of free expression, some the Village Voice of a new generation, others merely a subversion in a subculture of wannabes and attention seekers.
Like so many things on the World Wide Web, the blogosphere has evolved tremendously over the last half decade. From an outlet of self-expression into our last best hope for the honest word into media watchdogs and instruments of social and political pressure.
The evolution of the blog has, through Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr, led to the further democratisation of journalism. What was once purely sermon is now conversation.
Now we don’t just read the news, we get to share it, comment on it, and if it’s in error, we can venture so far as to correct it. By allowing us control of our history, this new journalism has in essence become an even greater social experience.
It is no longer the purview of an elite few because now anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can break the news as and when it happens.
We live in a state of impending information, where the voice of the individual is paramount. It is an exercise in democracy by its most basic component. It is raw and unedited, and possesses an unpolished authenticity. It is fractured, and therein lies its beauty.
And for a while, it was incredibly exciting. The digital chronicling. The asynchronous colloquy. It could not be ignored. So much so that all of us felt the need to join in the conversation.
Clay Shirky, the swami of all things social and online once said: “So forget about blogs and bloggers and blogging and focus on this — the cost and difficulty of publishing absolutely anything, by anyone, into a global medium, just got a whole lot lower. And the effects of that increased pool of potential producers is going to be vast.” And he was right. For the most part. Because while the effect of this new movement has been overwhelmingly positive for both the writer, and the wannabe writer, it has left the reader a little worse for wear.
Because what was once a breath of fresh air in both our public and private discourses has long gone stale. The revolution was short-lived and the blogosphere has been reduced to nothing more than the mainstream in microcosm. Much like their old school brethren, there are those blogs that are reliable sources of information, there are those that aren’t, and there are those that just don’t care to be.
The blogosphere has long descended into what Steve Rubel called “The Lazysphere”. Which he defined as a group of bloggers who, rather than create new ideas or pen thoughtful essays, simply glom on to the latest news with another “me too” post.
By holding them to embarrassingly low standards we, the people, have invariably created a monster. We embraced the merchants of misinformation and the purveyors of doom as wholeheartedly as all those reasoned and rational. We gave them credibility by acknowledging them. We fell under their spell so completely that we got carried away.
We began to turn our backs on the mainstream. Why? Initially, it was to seek out an alternative view. We felt that it was something deprived from us for far too long. We felt it an outlet for our frustrations, for our long lost voices. We felt that the more information we had, the better and more informed decisions we could make. We had, for all intents and purposes, rather noble motivations.
The devolution of our intentions, however, happened quickly. We were enticed by the sordid and secret. We exercised the power that came with anonymity. We got lost in our darker desires, our voyeuristic nature, our love of gossip and conspiracy theories.
So much so that we forgot those fundamental rules of being a reader. That we should consider any and all information in the same way, regardless of its source, with pause and contemplation. With reflection. With the proper consideration of all the facts. That we should embrace the credible and reject the incredible. That we should accept all that is accurate and evidenced, adding it to that which we consider knowledge. That we should regard the far-fetched the same way we would an epidemic of aliens fathering babies in the American southwest.