What is blogging? Is it worthwhile or is it a form of self-indulgence? It's both, of course. Trevor Butterworth in today's Financial Times Magazine tries to deliver a death blow to blogging by characterizing bloggers as get-rich-quick spoilt brats with too much time on their hands and an inflated sense of ego. Journalists, by implication, are thoughtful and altruistic in their vocation. The feeling generated by Butterworth's collection of quotes (which you can tell are out of context), errors, and mealy-mouthed expressions is one of pique and petulance, even, dare I say it, a sense of inviolable monopoly being threatened. Poor Butterworth. What is it that upsets him about blogging?
A number of untested assumptions underlie Butterworth's article. They are: (a) bloggers are in it to get fame, (b) bloggers want to make money out of blogging, and (c) bloggers suffer from verbal diarrhea.
Butterworth says, according to Technorati.com, there are 27 million blogs (now over 28m). Are 27 million writers in it for fame? Hardly. People blog for as many reasons as people write, keep diaries, and communicate ideas and opinions. The purpose of blogging has never been to usurp the press. Butterworth distorts his argument by focussing on blogging in Washington DC, inside the Beltway. He does mention blogging as heroism--Iran and China--as though that justifies the pursuit. If you're desparate, you can blog. While I'm not particularly interested in what happens in Washington (for me the West Wing became boring and repetitive a long time ago), I understand why it commands attention and will be a centre of blogging activity. Any city that runs on gossip will attract increasing numbers of gossips/bloggers, and that's where Butterworth is based. Of course some of them will become famous. Some of them will be imaginative, creative, and thoughtful. It's called good writing.
As to moneymaking, there are some who hope to make a buck but most are in it for the fun. Fun is a missing dimension from Butterworth's analysis. Plenty of bloggers go online anonymously in order to write about their lives and aspects of them in ways that couldn't be done with full disclosure. You may want to write about your employer, past lovers, kinky behaviour. Blogging enables this. Money has not been the driving force behind blogging.
Bloggers write too much. This is the monopoly argument: only journalists have legitimate authority to comment. There is junk blogging. But have you seen how much junk journalism there is? Just look at the Sun, the Daily Star, the News of the World, and I won't bother to mention the vast majority of the American press because it's dross. In everday life we learn to sift the bad from the good; it's called distinction.
Let me correct one error that shouldn't have escaped Butterworth. Although Judge Posner may have written about blogging in the New York Review of Books, he maintains one of the best blogs going with Gary Becker at the Becker-Posner Blog. Posner does put his money where his mouth is.
Maybe Butterworth needs to open up to the fact that the internet is an evolving entity, which has the potential to let people communicate in ways that circumvent official channels. Blogging and its derivatives don't reject the press, rather they will keep it on its toes. Blogging allows criticism. This may be the crucial bit: blogging has the potential to undermine the establishment, to threaten its authority. That's no bad thing, Butterworth.