Thursday, February 03, 2005

Video Killed the Blogging Star

Blogging? I generally ignore blogging on blogging, which explains why I am only getting to Jack Shafer's week old article now - but reading it, I see some interesting comments on the Sony Portapak Video revolution. Now that's intriguing. Did the portapak change the world? at least, the balance of power in the media world? Did it? Shafer's got some good stuff from Michael Shamberg, one of the pioneers (at Raindance) of the video revolution. Shamberg proclaiming,

With portable videotape technology, anything recorded on location is ready on location, instantly. Thus, people can control information about themselves, rather than surrender that power to outsiders. ABC, CBS, and NBC do not swim like fish among the people. They watch from the beach and thus just see the surface of the water.

Did that revolution come? That is the question, but it's not time to answer it yet...

When it comes to blogs, there's plenty of the same kind of hyperbole. Quothe Shafer:

In language only slightly less fervent than Shamberg's, conference participants declared blogs the destroyers of mainstream media. (See this page and this page for a real-time transcription of the conference.) Others prescribed blogs as the medicine the newspaper industry should take to reclaim its lost readers: Publishers should support reader blogs and encourage their reporters to blog in addition to writing stories. Podcasts would undermine the radio network empires. "Open source" journalism, in which readers and bloggers help set the news agenda for newspapers, was promoted as a tonic for what ails the press. Reporters were encouraged to regain the lost trust of readers by blogging drafts of their stories, their notes, and even their taped interviews so other bloggers could dissect and analyze them for fairness.

It's easy to mock that stuff, and all the shivery self-promotion bloggers indulge in. It's probably easier since it is, so often, a rehash of the shivery gushing advocates of portable film equipment, portable video cameras, the personal computer, the world wide web, etc. etc. have indulged in through the years. The problem with mocking it is, those things have changed the world. What is missing from the bloggers' version of the story, though Shafer has it, is that the change is usually absorbed into the existing structures of the media (since that is what we are talking about.) Electronic delivery (and creation) systems - like blogs - are absorbed by the existing media - or absorb it - or - this is not new. I have not had a newspaper subscription since, I think, 2000. I read the same papers - read more papers, actually - online. For this reader, blogs, the New York Times, online database sites (IMDB, AMG), academic journals - are part of a continuum of internet material.

Video did the same thing - changed everything, but did it without seeming to change everything. Those portapak cameras are directly responsible for huge swaths of what is on TV right now - reality shows? the way news is reported - the way movies look? the way video games look? The internet has already done much the same thing with text information - it is the delivery system of choice for quite a few people (even people who still read books and magazines). It chas changed the way information is organized, the way we conceptualize information. It has not eliminated old media, or the power structures of old media - though it undoubtedly will change them.

Finally, getting to the bloggers, getting to blog "triumphalism" as it is called: the idea that somehow blogs replace television or newspapers or magazines is somewhere between ridiculous and rather terrifying. Or let me rephrase - replacing television, as a source of news, is almost all good - blogs are deeper, more interactive than TV. Going from TV to blogs for your news is undoubtedly a step up. But newspapers, magazines are still the defininitive sources for information. Blogs don't compate, and can't compete. Blogs - at least the kinds of political blogs that political bloggers think are the only kind - are, really, not about producing content at all. They are pointers - they are records of what someone has read, and has thought other people should read. This tendency seems to get stronger the more political the blog is - the less political blogs tend to be more interestingly written. But there you go.

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