October 18, 2003

Name the Dog

I might have to stop linking to Jay Rosen's PressThink in a favor a banner that says: Read PressThink daily. The man's mind in is high gear.

After giving us 10 radical characteristics of weblog journalism, Rosen follows up with 10 conservative elements. Here's No. 6:

"The quality of any weblog in journalism depends greatly on its fidelity to age old newsroom commandments (virtues) like check facts, check links, spell things correctly, be accurate, be timely, quote fairly. And as Roy Peter Clark says, if you’re telling a story and there’s a dog, get the name of the dog."

In a separate post, Rosen puts the John-Markoff-blogs-are-CB-radio contretemps into the ranting-about-the-Times perspective.

Poor John. I feel for him. He got buried in a blogathon of pilers-on when, after rereading the interview with Adam Clayton Powell, the CB remark comes off more as a Tourette-like quip in an otherwise typical journalistic response -- withholding opinion until the facts are in.

Markoff admits to being confused about the future nature of journalism, one enabled by technology and redefined by readers as they become participating authors, editors, commentators, photographers and critics. He says:

"In that kind of a world, I think one of the things that does for journalism is it sort of changes our role in ways that I find totally baffling at this moment. But I think we're going to be in this period, you know, a long period of instability because technology will keep changing, so I'm not worrying about it."

That's a reasonable answer. Even those of us who champion more technology and more participation admit, if we are honest with ourselves, to bafflement about what forms of journalism will emerge. That's OK. Uncertainty in uncertain times is an acceptable option. (Inaction, though, is not).

I say cut Markoff some slack. Maybe he's just depressed (as he says in the interview: "I'm afraid that I'm so depressed by the world ..."); maybe he's just less articulate in an interview than he is in print, as so many writers are (which is why they write). Maybe he really believes Movable Type templates will some day end up in the Bad Fads Museum with CBs. If that's the case, it's unfortunate and he has become an Internet pioneer who's reached the end of his trail.

Posted by Tim Porter at October 18, 2003 07:41 AM

People sure are reading a lot into Markoff's motives and intelligence from an edited transcript of one conversation. If he were some leading blog light like InstaPundit or Jeff Jarvis, everybody'd be screaming about how quotes were taken out of context, that we really need to cut the guy some slack, and that this small sample of his thought output is hardly enough to condemn the guy. That's the way I see it because I see things from the news media's point of view. Though I don't know Markoff from Adam, I've tended to come to his defense because I think of him as a colleague, particularly in this case because what he said was essentially true: it has not been proven that blogging is more than a fad. Blogging well to develop an audience takes a huge commitment of time and intellect. I'm with him when he wonders how many of the post-9/11 newbies will still be at it 10 years from now. I certainly wonder if I will.

Posted by: tom on October 18, 2003 09:25 AM

I think we agree, although I seem to have a hard time getting the words right. I *do* Markoff (but not Adam) and he's a smart guy. I think he was trying to put blogs in the context of other emerging technologies, many of which are now submerged. The CB line is the perfect blog-bite. I think it was an unfortunate choice because 1) of the Smokey and the Bandit association (no one in the blogerati wants to be compared to Burt Reynolds) and 2) more importantly because CBs were not a disruptive technology as blogs are.

Markoff is dead on about the faddish nature of technology and gadgets. Just looking around my own office, I can spot several abandoned or obsolete pieces of hardware (old scanner, old printer, dead cell phones, extra Zip drive, half-dead laptop, old Powerbook. And, likely most people's personal blogs will go the same way.

But, I wish he had acknowledged the commercial and communicative uses of the blog as he did with Instant Messaging, which started as a personal tool (and continues in that use) but also migrated into various commercial fields such as equity and commodity trading, where it plays a key communications role between traders.

Posted by: Tim on October 18, 2003 09:54 AM
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