Biting the hand that’s digging you out of a rut

Photographs by Anne Koth 

As a follower of Kassia Krozser’s blog, Booksquare, my only wish is that she’d post more frequently. As a blogger, I understand there are bills to pay.

Today, Krozser brings up a subject that’s been troubling me, given the number of my acquaintances and friends who are so sour on blogging that I’ve begun to feel like the target of irrational, though perhaps instinctive, hostility similar in nature to ethnocentrism. One person recently pressed me to respond to the allegation that “bloggers bite the hands that feed others.” There’s no reasoning with or reassuring such friends, but I may finally have recognized they were of the fair-weather variety.

My reply, which probably didn’t satisfy the individual who inquired, was, in part:

You’ve made it clear in our past conversations that you hold bloggers and blogging in low regard, though like any other writers (journalists, novelists, scholars, poets, playwrights, historians, etc.) bloggers form an entire spectrum of quality. In fact, each blogger is nothing less than his or her own brand. Just as I don’t bother reading inferior newspapers, pulp fiction, tabloid gossip, and fundamentalist blather, I avoid the writing of bloggers who are careless, boring, uninformed, and unethical.

How do I determine who’s credible in print or in digital media? I believe one of the purposes of my liberal arts education, stunted though it may be in comparison to [that of the journalist in question] and many of my friends’, was to inculcate the habit of critical thinking . . . [Many newspaper columnists'] jobs are threatened or have been eliminated by the increasing migration of advertising from print and broadcast media to the Internet. I’ve blogged about encountering a foolish bias among journalists and critics who would do anything, be it ethical or ruthless, to cling to the professions they’ve worked long and hard to secure. Survival requires constant adaptation. Some people can’t adjust, some people whine endlessly about it, and some cheerfully do what needs to be done. Which type would you rather spend time with?

. . . Along with many other bloggers, I see no difference between donating an article to a Web-based publication and donating a chapter to a book. Internships, apprenticeships, pro bono work, and self-promotion are nothing new, as you well know.

Many book authors are flattered by the opportunity to give readings without compensation, and some venues have even begun charging to host author appearances. Not everything a writer produces requires monetary compensation. Influence is incredibly valuable to those who achieve it, as is name recognition for those who are not as driven by a hunger for power.

Your specific question concerns the ethics of avoiding, or at least revealing, conflicts of interest. Many bloggers simply laugh when journalists claim they adhere to a higher standard of avoiding conflicts of interest. As a group, they certainly do not. News Corporation has been the target of much criticism in that regard, yet I know you consider some of its subsidiaries your most reliable information sources. The truth is that each journalist, like each blogger, is now his or her own brand, constantly in peril of being replaced by a new, improved, more honest version. Certainly some audiences and readers don’t want their beliefs to be challenged and don’t care to recognize their own or their sources’ biases. Fortunately for them, there are columnists, anchors, and journalists who will happily tell them whatever they want to hear. Not every reader or viewer cares or has time to think critically. Some just want to feel good about themselves.

Honestly, I’m tired of journalists who focus on themselves and their profession. Aren’t there a few good stories about more interesting people just waiting to be reported?

Now that I’ve sunk to the level of those particularly whiny, navel-gazing journalists I deplore, my old friend will return to her favorite newspapers and news broadcasts for the comfort of familiarity while my ruffled feathers are smoothed by Kassia Krozser, who writes:

It is silly for defenders of old media to continue to fall back on tropes about blogging being facile or too much in the moment. The continued fighting for lost inches—they are not likely to return, at least not in the foreseeable future—by attacking people who are creating interesting, thought-provoking literary discussion is nonsensical. The repeated suggestions that bloggers are lesser critics smells like sour grapes.

Adding:

Like it or not, the reader is moving online. The reader is online. The reader is searching blogs, particularly, for the information and analysis that traditional newspapers and other publications either could not or would not provide. What is happening should make any serious lover of reading very happy: not only are these bloggers making the conversation easy to have, but they’re also expanding the conversation. The nature of linking and community means that readers—again, they’re the ones who buy the books—are discovering even more possibilities.

Read Krozser’s entire post on Booksquare »

I once said that turning away from the dazzling array of information offered on the Web was to become voluntarily impoverished. I haven’t stopped reading books and periodicals in print, and I look forward to the day when I have the option to choose the medium in which the information I seek is rendered. Meanwhile, it’s a joy to be at the beginning and a sorrow to let go of those who cannot embrace it.

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3 Responses to “Biting the hand that’s digging you out of a rut”

  1. Kassia Krozser Says:

    As Kassia Krozser, I wish I’d post more often (though, frankly, I wish I had more guest bloggers as, like most writers, I’d rather not read me as much as someone else). It’s not so much the bills (though we are trying to convince the cat to get rich) as it is the time. I am looking for a clone. Cheap.

    I so appreciate that you picked up the conversation. I’m still knee deep — or sleet deep, as I am assured that is the weather I’m encountering — in the Tools of Change conference. We (me, Ron Hogan, Mark Sarvas, Maud Newton, and incredibly patient and intelligent moderator Jeff Gomez) had a panel today where these topics were discussed. In fact, the old media versus new media dichotomy is being discussed a lot. Nobody believes print books are going away…but we all agree that readers — and is a whole new, exciting generation of readers — are engaging differently. It’s time to change or become a dinosaur.

    I am sorry that some believe you are biting hands, but, well, if they didn’t leave pinkies extended, it wouldn’t be so hard. As a blogger (and writer) nothing excites me more than opposition. Nothing hones my argument like disagreement. In a world where nobody’s right, totally, completely, without-a-doubt right, the blogosphere offers challenge. Intelligent challenge.

    I don’t know how to judge credibility except by my own trust-o-meter. I don’t care about format, but I do care about intelligence. Readers — and I maintain that they are the only part of the publishing food chain who are ignored, yet matter most — depend on these trust relationships to find books (ever buy a book based on a dull-as-nails review?). If you haven’t built rapport with readers, what are you doing?

    A long comment, yes, but I gave up brevity for lent…

  2. Robin Mizell Says:

    KK:

    I can’t wait to read your analysis of the TOC Conference. I would have loved to be there, but I know I can count on you for thoughtful, well-researched reports on the topics that interest me.

    You’re so right that opposition inspires passion and leads to more interesting, or at least entertaining, writing and discussion—the kind provoked by “being in the moment,” in spite of the dangers of spontaneity. That bloggers’ discussions occur online doesn’t make them less valuable than debates taking place in the classroom, at conferences, in print, when televised, or infamously on talk radio. We use all of our instincts to judge, and there’s something to be said for the removal of filters that can make good judgment more difficult.

    The publishing industry will eventually need to deliver its products in all of the formats desired—even demanded—by consumers. It’s a huge problem, and the solution requires collaboration with innovators and lots of experimentation, which I’m starting to see. Failures are an expensive part of the process. There will be jeering. I’m glad you’re up to sorting it all out.

  3. Robin Mizell Says:

    Check out Krozser’s subsequent post “Blogging in the 21st Century.”

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