Last month I did an entry on Bloggers as the New Arts Critics. This past weekend, Terry Teachout touched upon the same subject in an interview on Studio 360. (The whole interview is very interesting, but for the portion pertinent to this entry, click the forward button on your media player twice to the third segment and move the progress button to about 5:15)
During the interview, Mr. Teachout mentions that he writes so prolifically for his blog in addition to providing reviews and commentary for print journals and authoring books (a fact noted in a recent Washington Post article) because contributing to a new medium and interacting with his readers is so exciting and engaging. He goes on to talk about how he sees serious arts coverage naturally migrating to the web as less time is devoted to coverage in papers and television. He is confident that good bloggers will gain credibility and influence. He says of blogs, “They empower the amateur. Anybody can write one. And whether you have any credentials or not, if it is any good, believe me, it will get noticed.”
He was then asked if more amateurs blogging necessarily meant there would be more talented people in the world rather than just a lot of people churning out a lot of mediocre stuff. Teachout mentioned he now interacts with many very talented people who he had never heard of prior to coming across their blogs. These people don’t have access to the traditional media channels through which to make their reputation but are doing so on the web.
The interviewer also brought up the point that the ease of self-publishing on the web circumvents the reflection and review process that one goes through before submitting work for print publication and removes the outside point of view of an editor. Teachout responds by pointing out that it is also easy (and widely lauded by the online community) to go back and insert an update or retraction in an entry saying you were wrong in your initial assessment.
He did feel that the way Amazon has set up their review process was not conducive to the rendering of honest, quality reviews. He does mention that he can find some really excellent writing among the other reviews, mostly from people who are amateur experts with a passion for the subject matter.
I find this whole conversation on the future of blogging very exciting and intriguing. I had a brief email discussion on this matter with Adaptistration writer, Drew McManus. He pointed out that another article I linked to about publishers sending free books to top Amazon reviewers didn’t address the issue of payola for a favorable reviews. I had mentioned this as a possible dark side of blogging reviewers in my blogger as new reviewer entry. As I said then, how do you guard against it? If you are getting paid nothing and working hard to produce quality work, it is easy to favor those who provide you with even modest considerations.
The obvious answer is for today’s noted bloggers to come up with a policy of behavior that will establish a precedent while blogging with the intent to influence is still young. The problem is that there is no recognized source of authority (and isn’t lack of a dictating force part of blogging’s allure?) for people to organize around. Drew McManus’ opinion is that it will be another decade before companies find a way to make the process profitable for the writers. What happens in the interim? He points to the fact people choose news channels most closely aligned with their own views as a harbinger of the end to an effort of objective reporting.
While the idea that one may soon be able to go through life without having their world view challenged is rather frightening, the silver lining would be more writers would find employment satisfying the demand for niche writing. (I can even imagine someone becoming fabulously wealthy providing material that reinforced opposing views.)
As Terry Teachout said–interesting times and technology to be contributing to and taking part in. Of course there is a reason why the sentiment “May you live in interesting times” is considered a curse by the Chinese.