Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe: “I don’t like blogs....”

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Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

“I don’t like blogs....”

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I heard someone say that recently. And since it was someone who is unfailingly current on the news, it seemed odd. It was as if he had said, “I don’t like newspapers” when what he might have meant was “I don’t like the Herald.” And, since he added that he would never want to leave a comment on a blog post, it was like saying he’d never write a letter to the editor. Okay.

I never expected to be a poster child for blogs. I am not naturally part of the blog demographic, if there is such a thing, and I can’t imagine my morning coffee without a newspaper spread out on the table in front of me. But when my Boston Globe section closed and I wasn’t ready to stop the conversations I had been having in my column, I became a blogger. And somehow in the process I also became a blog advocate.

Not that I don’t see shortcomings in blogospace: there is no end to the online equivalents of the shoddiest of print journalism. And not that I think blogs should replace newspapers: I hope with all my heart that that won’t happen. I believe that each has important strengths along with significant weaknesses and that the ideal information system for a democracy would be an energetic combination of the two.

But for us newspaper readers, getting at least some the news from blogs will take some getting used to for three reasons.

1. It doesn’t come neatly packaged. When you bring The New York Times or The Boston Globe in from the doorstep (or the flower bed) you can feel you’ve got the news in hand. It’s there--international to local, arts to science, insightful commentary to celeb gossip. Add the snatches of NPR you get in the car and you’re at least marginally current.

Blogs are a sprawling mass, sometimes herded by a few sites like The Huffington Post or Slate or The Daily Beast, but for the most part staking out their own territory. To read them, you first have to find them. And their numbers are so huge that,even as you read, you’re out of breath from the feeling that there’s no possible catching up.

2. It doesn’t come vetted. The Washington Post or the Los Angeles Times doesn’t stand behind most blogs. Not even a copy editor does. Which doesn’t mean there aren’t well-researched and well-written blogs. It just means that you, as a reader, have to be an active participant, an assesser of information as well as a consumer.

3. Blogs invite comment, just as newspapers invite letters to the editor. They can carry the sender’s name or, unlike in most papers, be published anonymously. But the comments on blogs, for better or worse, are generally unedited. Commenters can cover themselves with glory or set themselves up for ridicule with the touch of a “send” icon. Of course you can just be a reader, not a responder. But it’s precisely the possibility of communal conversation that is the medium’s unique feature.

So I understand the feeling of my friend who doesn’t like blogs and all those like him. Taking the first small step into this rowdy world can feel like throwing yourself into an ocean wave. But face it, you’re going to do this sooner or later. You know that no matter how much you protest. After all, you probably already have a tv, right? An e-mail account?

The fact is it’s not a question of one or the other. Newspapers and blogs each are better at some things. If we’re lucky, we’ll get to have both.

Watch for my next post in which I’ll offer an intro to some of the blogs I’ve come to count on for the news that, in addition to newspapers, keeps me connected to the world.

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