Thursday, February 10, 2005

When will the Charlotte Observer wake up to blogging?

It is so frustrating living in a backward city like Charlotte. Especially when smaller cities and towns only a hundred miles away are leaving us in the dust.
I have been observing the strange wandering in the dark for a few months now, but also remember wishing dear Charlotte would wake up to the web. And alas, it finally happened, and was, in fact, embraced. But for Charlotte, which is to say, the Charlotte Observer or in this case, John McBride -- see I can compliment! -- the learning curve is slow indeed. Even negative.

I have been waiting for the Observer -- good people all, and people I defended earlier today from charges of being Communist sympathisers -- to mention the word, blog, in their paper, like I said, for months. And finally something squeaks out, in the Business section, and is negative and basically shrugs it off, as if the handful of flip blogs visited were representative of the whole. But alas, there are as many kinds of blogs as there are kinds of newspapers. And the quality of writing in blogs, is both better and worse than in newspapers. And certainly more raw, less edited. Less "interested". Or, if "interested", explicitly so.

I worked at the Observer back in the 80s, and know they are not stupid people. The author of the piece, John McBride, is an old acquantance, even. Played softball together. Partied. Had a few words. And probably a few brews. He is a bright guy, and a real sweetheart of a personality. Why he is writing about blogs, and disparagingly, is beyond me. Had we kept up, he certainly would not hold the opinions he does.

I'd like to challenge him to come to Chapel Hill this weekend then write about it. Or talk to the editor of the Greensboro News & Record -- a newspaper that is destined to make history...and the future.

Here are some excerpts from John's piece:

Will blogs liberate us or just bog us down?

Last year, blog readership jumped 58 percent in America, so now would be an excellent time to acknowledge our limitations.
If we can.
The problem is we don't always know when we stink. A Cornell University study showed that people who bombed tests of logic, grammar and humor "grossly overestimated" how well they did on the tests.
"Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions," said the authors, "but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it."

OK. So John starts out talking about blogs, and jumps right into scientific proof that many people "stink" but think they don't stink. Not a very positive approach to freedom of speech, of which blogs represent the ultimate expression. He goes on...

Yeah. Their metacogni-whatchamacallit was robbed. That's what I was going to say.
It's not that they didn't get the jokes. They didn't get the jokes and they thought they were Chris Rock. They were, as the authors put it, "unskilled and unaware of it."
Which brings us to the Internet.

Again, drawing the comparison. Making jabs. And the word is metacognitive. Remember your greek? Meta=tag. Cognitive=of or related to Cognac. Getting tagged on Cognac. Do it all the time.

More than 90 percent of people who use search engines online say they are "confident" of their searching skills, according to a recent study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.
But only 38 percent of them could tell paid search results from unpaid search results.
Hello? We're hot stuff with Google -- but we don't know an ad when we see it? These must be the same people who hate getting spammed -- and then buy the herbal remedy the spam hawks.
It's easy to shake our heads and wonder how people can be so dumb. If you've ever watched "Jerry Springer" or driven in Mecklenburg County, you've done it. People really can be stupid.

Apparently John has not been introduced to the concept of aggregators, as that is, more and more, how people find blogs. Not simply Googling. But again...why the hostility? Why the condescension? Because of "compensation?" Jeff Gannon was compensated. Steven Glass was compensated. Jayson Blair was compensated. So are Rush Limbaugh, SEAN HANNITY, Colmes and all the other, apparently smart writers and pundits.

But let's be humble. We all have limitations. On some level, each of us has a few lights out in our metacogni-whatever marquee.

Which brings us to blogs.

At last count, there were 8 million blogs, the new online journal craze that's sweeping the nation. The numbers are growing fast. Anyone who can get online can start one for nothing and say whatever they want.

Do I detect a little envy here? :)

Forget about metacogni-whosis for a minute. Eight million people writing what they know online!

Blogging may represent the ultimate triumph of free speech. Everyone's a publisher with no limitations on space or distribution. Write as much as you like -- no extra charge for paper or postage.

This is no small advantage. Who knows? Maybe he is secretly promoting blogging, only subreptiously, so he won't get whacked by the man upstairs.

Or blogging may represent the ultimate in banality. Actual quote from a randomly selected blog: "Finally got my birthday card from my parents. It came today, but the neighbor got it in her box by mistake. I'm glad they didn't forget." Oooooo -- author!

OK. Go pick a random quote from a random newspaper. Here. I will...

"DENTURES: ACHIEVING THE 'EXTRAORDINARY' for those with higher expectations." about banality! Oh, and there is a horoscope, and a car ad, and granted, some good stuff too. Lots of it, actually. Perhaps a little slow on the uptake, regarding blogging and that vast social reality dubbed the blogosphere. This is where is is missing the main point, I believe.

Or blogging could represent advertising's best hope. Pay a few popular bloggers to mention how great WhizBang Widgets are and forget about all those people who can recognize an ad.

Oh. So I see. It's about the integrity of the newsroom, and the wall of separation between the ad department and the "serious" news. Were it only true! But fact is, most bloggers do it for free. Like that feller in Joni Mitchell's song. And although many are, admittedly banal, adolescent, even jaded...there are many more examples of the same in the printed world...and there are many blogs that would bury the Observer in the sheer quality and quality of information provided. Group blogs, for example cover a much vaster array of political matters, and with much greater depth.

Or it could usher in a new era of misinformation. What happens when the unskilled-and-unaware-of-it crowd corners the blog market?

The unskilled-and-unaware-of-it crowd haven't the wherewithal to pull such a thing off.

Or blogging could mean 8 million people talking and nobody listening. One town square, 8 million soapboxes, no ears.

Too late. John needs to marinate in the culture for a while before writing about it, methinks. If he had done so, he would already know that the above scenario is not going to happen. In fact, were he to put forth a little effort, he might find himself being the Ed Cone of Charlotte. But it seems unlikely at this point.

Or maybe blogging will mean all of this. Or none of this. I stink at predictions and pronouncements, and I know I stink. But you should see me Google.
John McBride

Blogging already IS. And it doesn't reflect well on the Observer that they would release something so unresearched. It's almost as if they are biased against blogging. And if this is, indeed, the case...they are the big losers. Not the bloggers. Bloggers will do fine with or without them.

John. You're a smart guy. Come to Chapel Hill. Shoot! Krantz came to Greensboro! Dave Winer is going to be there. Ed Cone and Dan Gillmor is going to be there. Jay Rosen will be there, only in spirit. In fact over a hundred bloggers will also be there, and many of them are just as bright, if not brighter, than you or me.

Help bring Charlotte up, and into the future. Don't be such a Luddite! You aren't one!

Help John by sharing your wisest blogs with him. And be nice. He really is a swell fellow.