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Bloggers, beware: Old media wants to undermine your authority and scare you into silence (whether they know it or not)

Since I first bought my Kindle 2, I’ve been subscribed to the Wall Street Journal, reading it every morning before I start my regular day of reading through my feeds. Before this, I hadn’t read the newspaper daily in years and it’s been an interesting experience. I was surprised to see an extraordinary amount of the buzz-able conversations that appear online on prominent websites basically being rehashed ideas from the WSJ and the NYT, but on a delay of about a week or so. I thought blogs were supposed to be the bleeding edge of timeliness and speed.

Knowing that this is part of the news cycle—some blogs nearly entirely stealing ideas and concepts from traditional newspapers—I can understand newspaper publishers’ and writers’ shared frustration with blogs. This leads, whether consciously or not, to another trend I’ve noticed. Multiple articles with slightly veiled comments that question the authority or reliability of blogs and position blogs and bloggers as something other than what they are under a blanket characterization that at its most favorable simply implies that we are amateurish and at its worst is downright insulting.

For example, take “Bloggers, Beware: What you write can get you sued” by M.P. McQueen in today’s WSJ. The article is clearly addressed in its title to “Bloggers” who should beware of the numerous lawsuits out there ready to assail us, but as we all know, the majority audience of the WSJ are not bloggers, but consumers of news. In title alone, the article acts as a scare tactic warning us all away from publishing anything publicly without the protection of a large publication with its own set of lawyers, like the WSJ.

The majority of the article doesn’t discuss bloggers at all, but instead focuses on forums, message boards, and social media services like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. An early example is a lawsuit that was issued against Courtney Love for some disparaging comments that she allegedly made on Twitter and MySpace. Love is a celebrity, and as such, is entirely not a good example of the typical blogger who should “beware” of all these lawsuits.

Also, there are some nice gems in the article like the following comment by Sandra Baron, executive director of the Media Law Resource Center and a media-law attorney: “What people used to post on a bathroom wall can now be seen by millions.” People who write on bathroom walls are dirty vandals with questionable ideas about what is and what is not sanitary. The implication here in the way that this quotation is being used by M.P. McQueen implies that bloggers and people who use social media are no better than the bathroom vandals who have plagued society for quite some time.

I don’t know if this was the conscious intention of this article, but the underlying tone and implications made by this article are very similar to multiple recent stories that I’ve been reading about bloggers written by people who have every reason to fear, hate, and want to undermine the authority of bloggers. The message is very much: “Whatever you do, citizen journalist, don’t get into blogging. You might get sued for it. And if you ignore our warning, then you’re no better than people scribbling for a good time call messages in dirty bathroom stalls.”

Also, note the response to this article from yesterday which contains a perhaps somewhat related anti-what’s-popular premise.

In the words of Public Enemy: “Don’t believe the hype!”

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