THERE was a cartoon that was popular some years ago, one of a dog sitting on a chair and surfing the net. The caption read: “On the internet, nobody knows you are a dog.”
These days, everyone and his dog has a blog. There are so many of them that there is an aura of confusion over what a blog is, where the species came from and what it is meant for.
Seven years ago, there were hardly any websites which could be referred to as blogs. The traditional term meant a web log, some kind of a diary maintained by someone who was necessarily web-savvy since it meant using processes like FTP to transfer files and having a website of one’s own.
In 2002, things changed markedly, and one has to give one of the world’s great semi-literates credit. George W. Bush began a campaign to send American troops into Iraq and the falsehoods that he and his administration used to try and con the American people began to annoy those who were wise to this kind of deception.
The problem was compounded by the fact that American journalists appeared to have lost every ounce of courage and most backed the push for invading Iraq. They simply repeated the administration’s lies, functioning as cheerleaders and forgetting that they are not known as the Fourth Estate for nothing.
There were brave souls around though and some of them began to write about the lies spread by the administration on their own websites. The number of those indulging in this exercise grew by leaps and bounds, in direct proportion to the cowardly politicians and journalists who refused to condemn Bush and his cohorts.
The number of blogs mushroomed at this time. They were marked by being run by individuals, most of them politically aware and able to articulate their thoughts clearly.
By the time the Americans had got a number of countries on-side and invaded Iraq, there were a lot of websites that were opposing the war. The lack of uncensored information from Iraq led to a further explosion of such sites and this was crowned by the efforts of one Iraqi blogger who went under the name Salam Pax.
The trend continued. By 2004, many mainstream media organisations had noticed the phenomenon and some journalists had decided that this was an easier way of communicating with people. Blogs, which had until then rarely been used for breaking news, became sites where everything that some journalists produced was hosted.
Journalists went this route simply because a trend that has now become alarming – the fall of both ad revenue and circulation – was making itself evident. Newspapers were said to be serving a corporate agenda and hardly bothering about issues that concerned the people.
There were two occasions in the US in 2004 which are noteworthy – one when retiring American politician Strom Thurmond was exposed by bloggers as a racist; this came after there were suggestions that he would have been a worthy candidate for the presidency.
A second instance was when the well-known CBS news anchor Dan Rather was accused by bloggers of using documents about Bush that had not been properly authenticated. Rather finally apologised on air.
Mainstream online publications slowly began to add blogs to their sites. Over the next couple of years, it became trendy for a site that was mainstream to also have its own blogs. The meaning of the word – an individual’s diary – had changed by now.
Mainstream media blogs could contain news, views, or interviews. Some journalists choose to use their blogs more or less for everything they write. The same care that goes into editing is not present; a blog is raw and more immediate. That, many feel, tends to attract readers. Others differ and their blogs are subject to the same process of editing to which print journalism is subjected.
Lone bloggers often get confused when they encounter blogs which are part of mainstream media. They have one meaning for the word and cannot relate to the mainstream media blog. They get confused – they only know of one kind of blog, the type they own.
The development of blogging software like WordPress and MovableType and the free blogs on offer from web giants such as Google has given even more impetus to the growth of blogs – if any was needed. It is trivial to create and publish one’s own blog these days.
But as the number of blogs grows and the faddists drop out, blogs, like online media, are coming under as much scrutiny as mainstream media. There are many who blog who do not know what they can and cannot say; some even seem unaware of the reach of the internet.
The case of Australian mining magnate Joseph Gutnick who sued the journal Barrons for defamation in the Australian state of Victoria has changed the way people approach online media. Barrons contended that the case could only be tried in the US but was overruled and Gutnick won his case which was heard in Victoria.
This set down the precedent that, unlike a newspaper, the place where something is read can be used as the location for a defamation action. More recently, a Chinese games website has filed a case in Sydney, Australia, against a British blogger. Exactly how this will turn out remains to be seen, but the man will definitely be inconvenienced by having to travel all that distance. And any Australian verdict can be enforced in Britain.
As blogs come under more and more scrutiny, the trend will change. The growth will level off and it will slowly become something of a cottage industry. These days many bloggers make a little money off their blogs, at least enough to cover their bandwidth and hosting charges. Original material will be at a premium and, like all trends, it will level off to the point where only those who have something original to say will remain in business.