Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Blogging goes to college

Cnet News.com's Paul Festa interviewed David Winer today about his new fellowship at Harvard University's Berkman Center for the Internet and Society. Harvard called upon the long-time software executive and Internet innovator to promote communication amongst its departments by teaching staff, faculty and students how to blog. They hope to end up with at least a hundred good blogs filled with information about the goings-on at the various schools within the University.

During the interview, Winer discussed the evolution of weblogging and the ramifications it has for the more traditional forms of public information. He noted that private individuals provided the first pictures of the Columbia disaster, and commented that people will more and more look to weblogs for their global news rather than to professional journalists.

Festa: "So you're saying that professional journalists don't provide any value, any context, any background that helps make sense of the news?

Winer: "The typical news article consists of quotes from interviews and a little bit of connective stuff and some facts, or whatever. Mostly it's quotes from people. If I can get the quotes with no middleman in between--what exactly did CNN add to all the pictures? Maybe they earned their salaries a little bit, but Web logs have become journalism, and it's much richer. Journalism is a high calling, but it's really no more than points of view on what's taking place. I think the pros are going to use this tech, and they are doing it more and more.

No more than "points of view"? That sounds to me like Winer might claim that "one point of view is as good as another". I think many people confuse a "constitutional" or "inalienable" right to have an opinion with a total equality of the opinions held. Journalists generally have an education and a certain amount of experience, not to mention a professional interest in distinguishing between fact and inference. Any general semantics student can tell you that few people have an awareness of the difference, much less the skill to discern it in their own thinking. While I do not wish that fewer people would have weblogs, I do wish that the people who read blogs would keep a conscious awareness of the potential vapidness of the content.

I would also wonder about the impact of school-sponsored web logging on the reading and writing skills of students. While some blogs come from professional writers, most blogs lean heavily toward the subjective and personal, with an almost institutionalized disregard for both form and fact. This results in casual and emotion-laden content without adequate evidence for the facts involved. Subjective material can have great value in developing emotional bonds among readers, but it does not generally lead to clear thinking or constructive decisions.

Finally, we must consider the question of quantity. Most intelligent people support the idea of sharing information. Only some stop to consider the whether everything they read qualifies as information, and furthermore whether having more information always qualifies as a "good" thing.

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