Allegations of cruelty to Webloggers have surfaced after the Democratic Convention last week. Around 30 Webloggers were invited to join 15,000 accredited media at the political convention, and in the build-up, the "blogosphere" drew its breath in anticipation. Only now, after the sadistic practices have been revealed, has the true nature of the invitation become clear. Far from home, and vastly out-numbered by "Big Media", the Webloggers were forced to submit to some bizarre requests.
"They carted the bloggers out like zoo animals, seated them at tables and then let people examine them as they ate breakfast," writes Halley, of the very famous Weblog "Halley's Comment".
"WTF?!" she asks.
What indeed - there's nothing in journalism's unwritten Geneva Convention that condones such behaviour. We were looking at the depths of depravity.
"Boy, if I were there," she continues, "I would have jumped up, knocked over a few "old media" cameras, tossed some scrambled eggs around the joint and screamed "I Am Not An Animal! I Am A Human Blogger!"
But it would have been a futile protest - even if the scrambled eggs had really been live hand grenades, primed to blow up in the faces of the Webloggers' Ivy League tormentors. It was a "freak-show", in the words of Seth Finkelstein who identified the social jostling on display here, and any claims to be a "Human Blogger" would have simply goaded the clean and well-groomed J-School elite into even further acts of ridicule, we suspect.
If this proves anything, it's that the class system is alive and well in the United States. Only it's a lot more dynamic and spontaneous than Europeans often give it credit for. It's every bit as vicious as the one in the Old World, too. For there are few opportunities that give the children of the elite in the United States more pleasure than making fun of techno-utopians, especially if they've promised to "smash the media" or be "citizen journalists". The difference being that now, thanks to the blogging hype, they don't have to wait for an economic bubble to burst. The professional media may have short memories, but they can remember how a few months ago, the "bloggers" candidate Howard Dean was going to sweep the nomination, break the two party system, and revolutionize spin-drying, for good measure. So you see, the DNC weblog invitation was a tarpit just waiting for a victim.
Which the Webloggers duly provided, as this anonymous poster neatly summed up on Slashdot.
Blogs are going to change the world. Example:
OLD, TIRED MEDIA: "The Associated Press reported that Saddam Hussein was captured yesterday by American forces."
NEW, EXCITING MEDIA: "omg like kos reported that he saw on chris's blog that john trackbacked to mike's journal where he read about bob's girlfriend's brother's cousin who was like watching Fox News (fair and balanced my ass! lol) and they said something about saddam i dunno current music: brittney cleary - im me current mood: corpulent"
Notice the synergy of information and the ease by which information propagates throughout the blogosphere.
Long-time weblog-evangelist Dan Bricklin resorted to the metaphysics of the famous Microsoft lightbulb joke to explain the disappointment.
In the Microsoft gag, Redmond programmers fix the problem by redefining darkness. In Dan's explanation, he redefines "failure" as "success", as you can read here. Dan said it was a "learning process", although for which party he means isn't immediately clear.
Nor is it clear that Dan saw Friday's notorious breakfast parade, but perhaps he did, because he wills a new kind of ridicule-proof blogging to emerge from this awful experience.
"We need to know how best to use blogging when an unscheduled natural or manmade disaster hits," he writes, positing a role for the PowerBook-toting army as a sort of militia, or International Red Cross, ready to come the rescue in an emergency... provided they have a decent WiFi connection and some Atkins-compatible foodstuffs. But these really aren't necessary. "Bystanders" have always turned such moments into vivid memories, thanks to the work of oral historians such as Studs Terkel, and it was the insight of their recollections, not the tools they used to record them, that made them so memorable.
Let's hope the bloggers' bid succeeds, but meanwhile, the Fraternity-style breakfast-time atrocities may continue unabated. And in the meantime we fear that "Big Media", which has seen many ephemeral balloons float by, each supposedly a mortal threat to its existence - the "Internet", "cyberspace", and now the "blogosphere" - will continue to do what it's always done for two hundred years, and pick off the crème of the talent, and carry on.
The DNC breakfast illustrates that it's a vicious fight out there, and to survive, it isn't enough to define yourself by the tool you use. Seth Finkelstein sums up the gaucheness of the hopeful WiFi militia when he wrote,
The blunt question of readers is always 'Why should I read you?. They're asking, what power and influence do you have, what intellectual worth do you possess, what is your place in the social hierarchy? It's not impressive to answer: "Because I am a unique and special snowflake".
The Fourth Estate does have a privileged role, much accountability is required, and like politics, much more is needed from a socially acceptable candidate than simply talent or good looks. But if the citizens' WiFi army would have you believe it, the privilege involves nothing more than using a particular tool: a tool of their choosing. Which is very silly indeed.
We suggest choosing a skill that no one else has (such as building houses) as your USP. Doctors save lives, sometimes, and bury the mistakes, which gives them pretty good street cred. Soldiers fight wars, which requires by default the sort of physical courage few are prepared to demonstrate. For webloggers to reach such ranks, and it's an activity defined as something anyone can do, we suggest taking a tip from the Mason's book. There'll be less humiliating breakfast parades if you do. And with good PR, you can get away with it for hundreds of years. ®