Bloggers haven’t been shy about pointing out the flaws of traditional print and broadcast journalism – what they often call the “mainstream media.” Up until now, the criticism has been mostly a one-way street. The articles about blogging in traditional media outlets have been, on balance, pretty positive. That’s changing now. As the blogosphere’s influence grows, its own flaws are finally getting the inspection they deserve. In its new issue, for instance, Forbes has a big story that examines how the blogosphere has become “the ultimate vehicle for brand-bashing, personal attacks, political extremism and smear campaigns.” It’s a charge that’s hard to dispute, and Lyons does a good job of documenting the problem. The article’s aggressive, to be sure, but that’s Forbes’s style.
It would be nice to think the blogosphere would use the piece as an occasion for a little bit of soul searching. But instead of addressing the criticism, most bloggers are simply blasting the messenger. Dan Gillmor sums up the article as “a pile of trash … an alarmist and at times absurd broadside.” Paul Kedrosky says the article is “dopey” and asks “how did it ever see print in tech-friendly Forbes.” Steve Rubell, who charmingly refers to the real world as the “meatspace,” goes into church-lady mode: “Forbes, I am very disappointed that you chose to take such an unbalanced POV when BusinessWeek and Fortune told us both sides of the story.”
A common theme in the responses is that Lyons is “damn[ing] all bloggers for the sins of the few,” as Doc Searls (in an otherwise balanced response) puts it. That’s a misrepresentation. Lyons specifically writes that “attack blogs are but a sliver of the rapidly expanding blogosphere.” (He does go on to argue that the problem extends beyond the bad actors themselves – scurrilous or one-sided attacks are naturally amplified in the blogosphere’s vast echo chamber – but that’s a valid point.) The fact is, in the context of the article’s argument, it’s clear that references to “blogs” and “blogging” are references to the attack blogs that are the subject of the piece, not to all blogs or bloggers.
Lyons’s article isn’t beyond criticism. His rhetoric does get overheated at times, and he can stretch too far in trying to make his points as pointed as possible. But those are hardly hanging offenses in magazine writing, and in the “citizen journalism” of the blogosphere they’re as commonplace as typos. In rushing to dismiss the article, the blogosphere is simply exposing another of its shortcomings: It can dish it out, but it can’t take it.