Friday, April 8, 2011

The Blogosphere - Millions of Citizen Journalists

[Based on a presentation by Ira Glickstein to the Philosophy Club, The Villages, FL, 08 April 2011. Powerpoint slides are available HERE]
What if everybody had a printing press with worldwide reach at essentially zero cost? Well we do!
The Blogosphere
is a growing, multi-million person army of citizen journalists. Anyone can create a blog that can be read by anyone else, instantaneously and worldwide, at essentially no cost.
Technological developments in the past decades have diluted the ownership of the press from a monopoly of the professional, connected, monied elite to a more balanced playing field where ordinary people can reach extraordinary audiences. The elite no longer choose what is "the news of the day".
As the left-hand panel of the graphic indicates, the traditional model has professional authors and reporters, who are assigned by and work for media conglomerates, gathering and reporting the news of the day. Their work is funnelled through the editorial and publications processes of the media conglomerates and is then flushed down upon the people, who the media elite regard as "The Great Unwashed Public". We poor souls at the bottom have no choice but to lap it up. (Yes, there are "Letters to the Editor" and call-ins on Talk Radio, but these are screened and selected by the same media elite who published and broadcast the original stories, so effective views that happen to be contrary may not see the light of day.)
We, now do have a choice. The new model, shown in the right-hand panel, consists of literally hundreds of millions of non-professionals who run blogs out of their homes, and billions of blog readers who may become commenters at the flip of the switch on their PCs and laptops. Bloggers interact with each other on a peer-to-peer basis. Of course there are some blogs with greater readership and influence than others, but it is an almost pure meritocracy. My blog -and yours- is just as convenient to bring up on any computer as the most influential blog in the world!
We are fortunate enough to know the exact moment of truth when the media elite decline began. It was late one Saturday night back in January 1998, when, at precisely 11:32:47 PM, Pacific Standard Time, in the kitchen of his apartment in Hollywood, CA, a strange looking fellow named Matt Drudge posted an item to his news aggregation blog. His scoop was the fact that Newsweek Magazine had just spiked a story by veteran reporter Michael Isikoff, apparently for political reasons, because the story was about the then President of the United States and his sexual affair with a young intern named Monica Lewinsky.
Quoting This Day in Tech History: "Almost overnight it seems, traditional news media, especially newspapers, began to lose ground to Internet news sources."
The Drudge Report continues to be one of the most popular websites in the world. I visit it a couple times a day to check on the latest news. Unlike other popular websites, the Drudge Report continues its "plain Jane" style (or lack thereof), linking major media reoports of the news stories I most want to read and sometimes breaking new stories of its own.
I've had a blog since the mid-1900's. The first one I had to code in raw HTML because there were no editors available to me at the time. It is still online at, frozen in time because I have not had access to it for about seven years.
I currently have four Google Blogs, the one you are reading now, The Vitual Philosophy Club, plus Curb Your Enthusiasm - Fantasy Episodes, 2052 - Life, Liberty and Technology - predictions for the second half of the 21st Century, and 2052-The Hawking Plan, my free online novel.
I also have a dozen Google Knols to my credit, and here is the list. Knols (bits of knowledge) are Google's answer to Wikipedia. Ironically, I started writing Knols after Wikipedia rejected a scholarly item I wrote about Optimal Span. I made the mistake of mentioning that it was based on my PhD Dissertation and one of the Wikipedia volunteer reviewers thought that was inappropriate. It turns out that Wikipedia has a formal review process. My item was challenged, I made changes and appealed the challenge, and some comittee voted and excised my item.
Even though I think their process misfired in my case, overall this experience enhanced my respect for the integrity of Wikipedia items on important topics. Yes, anyone can post misinformation to Wikipedia on unimportant topic areas, but they do have dedicated volunteer reviewers for domains of importance. So, rejected by Wikipedia, I went to Google Knols and posted my Optimal Span item there. (A great example of the efffectiveness of competition in increasing the freedom of choice of writers and audiences!)
Over the past few years, I have posted a dozen Knols on many topics, and they have garnered over 20,000 page views.
Back in December of last year, I became a Guest Contributor at the world's most viewed climate website, Watts Up With That?, which this year was voted Best Science Blog. Since December, I have posted 16 topics, garnering over 90,000 page views, and a few thousand comments. It is quite thrilling, and a bit humbling, to post an item and, within 24 hours, have a few thousand page views and a one- or two-hundred comments!
I'm doing my share promoting the citizen's army of journalists. And by reading (and commenting) on this, you are too!

Ira Glickstein


Howard Pattee said...

I agree with Ira that the Internet opens up a new world of information and communication that will have profound changes in our society. I can’t be happy without it.

But I’m not as optimistic as Ira about its overall effects on society. There are many studies about the Internet’s effect on children. It is too early to be sure of the results, but parents complain they have lost control, and cyber-bullying has become a serious problem (Remember Golding’s Lord of the Flies.)

Competition is good, but only if the payoff is good. I mean, competition for the biggest bully on the block is not a good thing. A large number of people value the quality of information as contrasted with its popularity or “scoop value,” but largely because of the entertainment value (addiction) of the Internet this number is rapidly decreasing. The Internet pornography statistics are suggestive, in more ways than one.

I also check the Drudge Report occasionally, but I do not regard exposing people’s or President’s sex lives as a great “moment of truth.”According to Mark Halperin, a quality journalist, Drudge steers political coverage towards "the most salacious aspects of American politics.” And talk about the pot calling the kettle black, Bill O'Reilly twice called Drudge a "threat to democracy", and Keith Olbermann referred to Drudge as "an idiot with a modem". So much for competition for popularity (i.e., ratings).


Ira Glickstein said...

Thanks Howard for your comments. Well back before the Blogosphere I was bullied in grade school and I was shown porn by some of my fellow classmates. With cyber-bullying and cyber-porn, there is better evidence available to counsel or prosecute malfactors.

Is your link to Drudge misdirected somehow? I just looked at Drudge and ALL of the top stories and 90% of the other links were newsworthy (and non-salacious) by any measure.

While I did praise Wikipedia in my talk and I do watch O'Reilly almost every weeknight, I don't believe everything they say, particularly when I can check with my own eyes. Why don't you follow my link to Drudge right now and report any salacious links in a comment here.

Ira Glickstein

Howard Pattee said...

Ira, you say, “Well back before the Blogosphere I was bullied in grade school and I was shown porn by some of my fellow classmates. With cyber-bullying and cyber-porn, there is better evidence available to counsel or prosecute malefactors.”

I conclude just the opposite. It is just because cyber-porn and cyber-bullying are anonymous, easily propagated, and not geographically limited that they have reached epidemic proportions. There are no means or resources to catch malefactors, let alone prosecute them.

You also ask, “Is your link to Drudge misdirected somehow? I just looked at Drudge and ALL of the top stories and 90% of the other links were newsworthy (and non-salacious) by any measure.”

True, most of Drudge’s stories are just taken from other sources. I don’t think Halpern was using salacious literally but as indicative of the “tone” or quality of Drudge’s journalism. My dictionary of synonyms and related meanings of salacious includes dirty, abusive, defamatory, scabrous, flaky, etc., all of which I think would apply to one or another of Drudge’s past stories as referenced in Wikipedia (“Drudge Report”).

I am in favor of Muckraking journalism, but Drudge does not come up to that standard. A muckraker is defined as, primarily, a writer who investigates and publishes truthful reports. Drudge and Breitbart seldom write news, only flaky headlines. They do not investigate, but just copy other sources adding provocative anonymous tips and rumors that are often untruthful.

I agree with you that there is room for all kinds of journalism, including Drudge. I only disagree with your opinion of quality. I don’t hold up Drudge as high quality journalism, or a replacement for your “elite” journalists who have other (and in my opinion, higher) standards.