29 April 2008

We Are the Media - Now What?

I've been thinking a bit lately about the unique challenges introduced by the new world of media, particularly now that blogging is pretty much accepted as mainstream. It brings in a whole new rule set.

Take, for example, lone bloggers or even blog consortia where each brand is strongly identified with an editor or a single contributor (e.g., the Gawker Media sites). I read two such, smaller fry sites on a daily basis - Soxaholix and The Comics Curmudgeon. What happens when the person who is the brand goes on vacation or gets sick? Comics Curmudgeon's Josh has Uncle Lumpy to step in for his planned absences, and he will often note the outside forces keeping him from posting promptly or at greater length. But I notice when he isn't there. Uncle Lumpy is great, but he's an entirely different person and most of the site is built on Josh's personality and sense of humor. In Old Media terms, it's almost like GQ trying to slip you an issue of Details because their editor was too sick to pump out an issue. Over at Soxaholix, author Hart Brachen posted about his and his wife's illnesses, which were keeping him from his daily posting.

Compare this to newspapers or magazines - simply anonymous organizations where most any cog can be replaced and the readers are none the wiser. Even television news and entertainment programs can generally swap personalities with little audience disruption. Not only have we come to expect a high level of quality and frequency from sources who operate at little or no profit, often as a side "job" but we further expect an explanation for any lapse, including personal details from someone with whom we actually do not have a personal relationship.

I'd been thinking about this fairly concrete aspect of it even since Hart's recent problems. But a post today at Feministing got me thinking about a whole new level - ethics. Besides expecting a higher level of commitment from our bloggers and online media personalities, we also seem to expect just plain more of them. Jessica's post is entitled Some feminist self-reflection but is much more self-recrimination than anything else. Her crime is not plagiarism, made-up sources, or even not producing enough corroboration in support of facts, her crime is not listening to her detractors and critics, particularly those who post in the comments section of the site. This is simply fascinating to me. (On an interesting tangent, I considered briefly that this was a symptom of being a progressive woman blogger, rather than simply a blogger. After all, progressive ideals lead us to be more collaborative, bottom-up, inclusive and non-hierarchical. Then I realized those are the same ideas of the blogosphere, so there you go.) You would never see such a statement from television or print commentators; after all, it's their job to convince you their opinion is right and you are stupid if you disagree. Even factual errors are relegated to small retraction or correction statements, only the most notorious cases generate such a brutally honest, long-form apology.

I love that the web is shaping not only new forms and delivery media, but actually shaping the quality and content of the information we consume, even if some aspects of the transition make me feel a little sorry for these guys.