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8/24/2009
10:08 AM
Michael Hickins
Michael Hickins
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Blogger Clashes Make Us Better

Blog fights are fan favorites that tend to be treated like fluff, but they actually serve an important purpose, and the angrier the fights, the better.

Blog fights are fan favorites that tend to be treated like fluff, but they actually serve an important purpose, and the angrier the fights, the better.Here's why: the appeal of blogging is also its Achilles heel. Blogging is immediate, personal and authentic -- and by authentic, I mean that bloggers write out of interest, not because they're assigned to a particular beat.

It's also assumed that while journalists working for traditional media outlets are systematically gagged by advertisers and corporate parent interests, bloggers aren't beholden to anyone. The truth is a little more nuanced than that, but several former colleagues still toiling for established publishers have admitted to self-censoring their work in order to protect advertising relationships. And while bloggers also depend on advertising for revenues, the arrangements are more fluid and less direct than the traditional advertising model.

But assuming that all bloggers are free spirits and speak truth to power, that freedom also represents a lot of room for error -- kind of like being in a fast car on a race track with no painted lanes and little kid riding shotgun.

In other words, bloggers still need someone to review our syntax, challenge our assumptions and check our motivations -- the role that old-fashioned editors used to fill.

That someone can only be be other bloggers.

And because fellow bloggers can't actually fire us or refuse to give us raises, there's only one sword of Damocles they can hold over our heads -- and that's the harrow of public humiliation.

Holding someone up to scorn for being naïve or ignorant, or challenging their motivations (as I have with Robert Scoble in a recent post) is good for the soul and good for our readers. And if the criticism isn't harsh, it simply won't be effective. (Note that Scoble responded to my criticism in the comments.)

The point of calling out our fellow bloggers isn't to be a scold, it's to hold each other to a high standard -- or high enough that we don't allow ourselves to grow lazy and earn the distrust of our readers.

The reason blogging has become popular, and has in some ways overtaken traditional journalism, is that bloggers don't pretend to an objectivity some would argue is hypocritical and impossible to maintain. Bloggers are fast and their words come across in an unfiltered way.

But we're human, and we can be unfair or one-sided or sidetracked by self-interest. We need other bloggers to keep us honest.

By the way, that doesn't mean we have to make it personal. As Michael Corleone would say, "It's not personal... It's strictly business."

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