Pot. Kettle. Black.

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.

11 thoughts on “Pot. Kettle. Black.

  1. Paul K.

    Nick —

    You misconstrue my arguments. My “tech friendly” comment about Forbes was intended in ironic inside baseball fashion — Forbes has over-loved tech for years, and publisher Karlgaard rarely misses a chance to write a lovenote on the subject. I wasn’t seriously suggesting Forbes had broken some blood oath, just that it was an obvious cheap publicity ploy.

    And with respect to the article being dopey, it was. Lyons stretched both of his arguments to the breaking point, all to make a point that hardly need be made: That blogs could bust your business? Please, be serious.

    Finally, speaking as a card-carrying contrarian, this knee-jerk contrarianism of yours is tiresome. Far from being provocative, you’re entirely predictable. Bloggers are thin-skinned, but this Forbes piece only demonstated the nutty nervousness of the mainstream press.


  2. Dennis Howlett


    Hyperbole is what all contrarians deal in – it’s stock stuff – you do it, we all do from time to time. Forbes certainly played that card.

    The problem I have with the blog pimps is more fundamental than worrying about bruised egos. It’s about not having the ability to see past the gloss and at the more fundamental point. When the blogerati comes under attack for its bloggorhea (or is it bloggerel,) any maturity of thought largely disappears – almost instantly. But note where it comes from – the very PR and marketing machines that want to sugar coat reality, blogo-circle style.

    Forbes makes important points that business needs to read. Companies and people do get flamed. Sometimes rightly sometimes not. It’s the anarchic nature of this stuff that is terrifying. Try explaining that to a CEO who’s curious about the claimed value of blogging.

    As always – balance helps – unfortunately, there isn’t much of that about at the moment.

  3. vinnie mirchandani

    I had an interesting discussion recently with some of my ex colleagues at Gartner. If Google or Yahoo are becoming the universal search tools, us bloggers, followed by print media, followed by analyst firms are getting more hits and getting our perspectives read. The ratio from what I can tell is almost 7 to 2 to 1 for tech topics. So from the Google channel, many of us have more of a following than a Forbes journalist or an industry analyst. Of course, they have their own proprietary channels where their visibility is much much higher than the average blogger’s. But whose channel is growing quantum times quicker? If they are not worried, they should be. Of course, per written word the price paid is in reverse and they can afford to keep their journalists and analysts focused full time (though an analyst only spends 10-15% of his/her time writing) – most of us do it as a hobby, but with economics changing, who knows?

    As for personal attacks, smear campaigns etc – let’s see now – how many times has that printed paper – the National Inquirer been sued? Sure we have plenty of idiots in blogsphere, but print, radio and TV have their own share…

  4. The Power Of The Schwartz

    Daniel Lyons Suggests Harassing ISPs To Fight Back Against Blogs

    … he advocates complaining to their ISPs about copyright violations, subpoenaing the ISPs to get information about bloggers, and even threatening to sue the ISPs even though he points out that the host isn’t liable for content posted on its systems. …

  5. Joshua Porter

    “the ultimate vehicle for brand-bashing, personal attacks, political extremism and smear campaigns.”

    It’s also a great vehicle for brand-worshiping, personal praise, political understanding, and I love yous.

    What I worry about, and you’ll have to excuse my teary-eyed reaction here Nick, is that this sort of talk is too much like political extremism…with the Forbes article akin to an orange level alert.

    Remember, the vast majority of bloggers are in the middle and are writing relevant things.

    Maybe not relevant to you, Nick, but relevant to *their* life.

  6. Sam Hiser


    “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.'”

    Funny. That reminds me of the so-called mainstream.

  7. oldcola

    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.

    And that made me laugh out loud!

    How much have you read of the criticisms along the blogosphere to get to that conclusion?

    Probably a sliver (just four links!?). And probably one language.

    Do you see what the problem is here?

  8. Christopher Byrne

    Mr. Carr,

    I do not think that in the case of myself, or my colleagues, there is a rush to judgement in our blogs. I have been battling it out with Mr Lyons for a long time now. Yet he still, in this latest article, chose to attack something written on my blog. Unfortunately, he misrepresents what is written and twists it to his own purposes. In fact, he has once again (even though he has been given the full facts) misrepresented the scenario wrapped around my postings.

    So with this in mind, I ask you to read my response to the article.

    This is not a own-time offense on the part of Mr. Lyons and Forbes, so you will have to forgive those of us that are more than a little fed up.

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