Some time earlier this year The Times
online noted that the 40 millionth blogger had now added his or her voice into cyberspace. 40 million - the figure is staggering. Just as impressive is the impact that bloggers - sometimes called Citizen Journalists - have had on public information. Bloggers have uncovered stories and secrets mainstream journalism hasn’t. Equally they’ve often stumbled and been accused (by journalists) of not serving the real traditions of the trade. There’s some merit in that argument - but not a lot.
The real virtue of bloggers lies in not being institutionalised as part of media culture - which now more often than not, means corporate culture. By comparison, their voices represent the diversity of humanity itself. From the war zones of Bosnia, Iraq and Lebanon, these voices tell us more about what people have in common, than what separates them. While their sides do battle, bloggers exchange thoughts and, in Israel, a surreal experience:
‘I had breakfast with clowns today’ wrote Pilka. ‘I work at the children’s department, okay? So strange, a clown on the right, a clown on the left, a vegetable salad in front of me, and next to it, a clown again. Scary. They eat in their noses and suspenders, just like that. It feels especially weird when one of them begins to complain that his wife took their little son away to Eilat, a few hours by car from here, and he hasn’t seen him in two weeks already. And the other is whining that he is sick and tired of sharing a protected room with five other people, mother-in-law, father-in-law and two children. And I used to think that clowns are funny…’
Bloggers have drawn the interest of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at the Harvard Law School which runs the non-profit Global Voices
media project. The centre recognised that a growing number of bloggers around the world were emerging as “bridge-bloggers”: people who are talking about their country or region to a global audience. Its global team of regional blogger-editors works to find, aggregate and track these conversations. Reading some of the posts shows how vital bloggers are be to an informed society. Their impact in the run up to the mid-term congressional elections was noted by the e-zine ‘The Huffington Post’ in October.
‘…the voters had more faith in the system and more impatience for the status quo than I imagined’ wrote Hilary Rosen ‘and I credit the blogosphere for much of the movement. Not only has the web drawn millions of Americans to become informed and engaged, it has consistently maintained pressure on the mainstream media (though most will deny it) since the 2004 election to push back on the White House spin’.
The posts also raise critical issues about the possible manipulation of this new medium - in the same way as its older cousins.
‘…the blogosphere effects over the (Lebanese –Israeli) conflict are being largely recognised by the mainstream media, and it is no surprise that it somehow starts to be used strategically as media weapon. Blogs, chats, e-mail lists, comments sections in news portals… those are the new battlefields to be conquered by the ones who have elected words as their main tools in the dispute. The question is how much this possibility can be used as military strategy coordinated by generals or ministers.'
Another post has an ‘answer’. Or does it? Well no, it’s an unconfirmed claim. That failure of editorial balance is exactly of what trained journalists suspect most about bloggers. The blogger writes:
‘The Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister has ordered diplomats (sic) trainees to identify blogs and chat rooms with debates around the war in Lebanon, so that activists platoons can go into those pages to defend their foreign policies.
'Something around five thousand members of the World Union of Jewish Students downloaded the special software that identifies surveys, chat rooms and blogs where the theme is debated, in order to influence discussions and survey results.’
Even so, its virtue is that it raises an issue which can be investigated, confirmed or denied. If it’s true, it’s another conflict of sorts, morphing through keyboards and screens and as with every other media, trying to win hearts and minds. For hundreds of years, the challenge to a uniformity of views whether corporate or clerical, was met by the printing press. Today our Weapon of Mass Defiance is the Net - and ourselves.
Last year one of America’s great journalists, Bill Moyers, spoke to the Society for Environmental Journalists in Texas, but could just as easily have been addressing the world’s bloggers:
‘…I see the future every time I work at my desk. There, beside my computer, are photographs of Henry, Thomas, Nancy, Jassie, and Sara Jane - my grandchildren, ages 13 down. They have no vote and they have no voice. They have no party. They have no lobbyists in Washington. They have only you and me - our pens and our keyboards and our microphones - to seek and to speak and to publish what we can of how power works, how the world wags and who wags it’.