Jay Rosen posts a chapter for a book to which he is contributing, and as usual, I find a lot to mull over. It is somewhat of an expansion of his “What’s Radical About the Weblog Form in Journalism?” post from last October. Here are a couple of snippets from the main post and the comments:
Yet the genius of the weblog was not in any technological leap, but in completing the last mile in the two-way highway the Web has become. The form favors individual voices and self-publishers, most of whom will have no media institution behind them, and no hope of profit. What they are after is free speech and the enhancement of public life. Or as Tim Dunlop puts it, “an environment where ordinary people can use argument to increase their knowledge.”
I love that thought, and I wish there was a way to get students to tap into that process more naturally. I’ve been struggling lately with how to make student use of Weblogs less contrived, but I have trouble seeing how to do that. (More on this soon.) The concept of increasing knowledge through regular, sustained, evolving written argument and discussion is so powerful, yet it takes such commitment, more than I think we can expect from most students.
On top of the Net was built the Web. On top of the Web sits the weblog and its mini public-sphere, (which Atrios and others call Blogistan) connected by links, public comment sections, search engines, online syndication (RSS), free and paid hosting hosting services, and indexes of popularity– all the tools of the last mile. Now that it’s up and running, the people formerly known as the audience, those we have long considered the consumers of media-the readers, viewers, listeners-can get up from their chairs, “flip” things around, grab the equipment, and become speakers and broadcasters in the public square.
Yes, but only if they are motivated to do so. And as much as I would like to think otherwise, most of that audience (read: students) would rather remain passive.
The evanescence of weblogs, their tendency to disappear, is a major fact about the form; and some, like newspaper editor Tom Mangan, believe this is the critical thing limiting the weblog. It’s hard to keep it going; it’s more like a job than a hobby if your weblog is any good. This, he feels, tilts the field back to professionals, even though the means are there for amateurs to add a lot, and perhaps become professionals that way. I think we will begin to see that temporary weblogs can be effective– event driven, for example. Also, that people try two, three, four weblogs before one “hits” and works. After a major crisis, like the next war, new weblogs will be born into prominence because they captured a mood or political moment. That most weblogs are abandoned is not an inherently bad thing. Most pitches in a baseball game never become hits; but we still have hits. For students, especially, the point is to try your hand at being an independent journalism provider. This in itself is a social and educational good.
This is a great notion as well, but limited by the restraints of a K-12 public school environment. There’s a whole ‘nother post brewing here…