Monday, February 19, 2007

Blogs, standards, and spin

A post of Span's about the prelevance of spin on certain blogs raised the question of what (if anything) bloggers owe their readers:

What do bloggers owe their readers? Do we owe you honesty? Do we owe you truth? No, not really.

A comment Make Tea Not War made (on a post she wrote about phalloblogcentrism at What We Said) challenged me to think about the annoyance I feel when other bloggers don't link or hat tip - we don't even owe each other that. There is no code of ethics for nz pol bloggers.

Span is entirely right about the absence of any obligations or professional standards in the blogosphere. On the plus side, this lack of expectations means the barriers to entry are low, and it frees us to do our own thing. We can choose our own topics, our own level of involvement, our own style and tone. The free market in legal jurisdiction and ability to blog anonymously or pseudonymously means we can operate a genuinely free press, limited only by the ability to find hosting and attract a readership (to the extent that we care - and not everyone does). We can say things the normal media would not dare say, for fear of official or unofficial retribution; we can puncture inflated egos, and say that the emperor has no clothes. However we can also lie, spin, smear, defame, swift-boat, spread outright bullshit, and (in one worrying recent case from the sewer) threaten violence. The problem with our genuinely free press is that most of the time, it resembles a cesspool, and it isn't cream that's floating to the top.

Not that any of this needs to be a problem. After all, none of us have to read the crap if we don't want to - and I generally don't. Likewise simply because blogging as an institution has no standards doesn't mean that we all have to wallow in the sewer. The freedom to adopt whatever standards we choose means we can also choose to have some rather than none.

Unlike Span, I am trying to use my blog to push a political barrow. As I've said before, democracy is "participate or perish", and if you want your views to be taken into account, you have to speak up for them. That's what I'm doing here. I am also, in a small way, trying to change minds and influence opinion. The difference between this and some other blogs is that I choose to maintain some basic intellectual standards in doing so.


Thanks for the linkage and the thoughts. (I wouldn't say I'm not pushing a barrow, but I'm not trying to be sneaky about it, that's for sure!)

This conversation isn't just about Kiwiblog, it's broader than that, and I'm glad you've picked up on that.

It is good that we can blog, and that so many people do. I agree with you about the importance of a low entry point.

I guess what I'm wondering about is whether we actually can police ourselves? Craig R often comments that the left is as bad as the right and that those of us on the left don't call lefties who descend to the sewer on it. For my part I don't tend to read a lot of the blogs where that stuff happens (even on Kiwiblog I actually rarely read the comment threads, particularly once the number of comments is in to double figures).

I'm thinking about this too in the context of the current discussion in the USA about the professional right wing noise machine. Which seems a bit overly paranoid in our little country (and even littler blogosphere). But still...

Posted by Span : 2/19/2007 10:00:00 AM

i'm really new to this blogging thing, though made my entrance thru a 'yelling' match on another site (anarchia) and felt compelled to stay awhile longer... My thoughts on the culture of political blogging, I guess with no guidelines for behaviour the blogosphere can become down-right insulting and really not a pleasant place to be. I try now to avoid this sort of conflict..its not much fun and really not very intelligent either.
Becomes abit like 'a tyranny of structurelessness'(can be found for reading in my pages section)...almost like when mobiles first came out and everyone was so obnoxious with them..yelling in cafes, ringing in movies, interrupting conversations...perhaps we will eventually find a more civilised way of interacting with each other in blogland sooner rather than later I hope!

Posted by Anonymous : 2/19/2007 02:17:00 PM

You don't have to run a very deep examination of comments threads on both left and right blogs to deduce that a small number on the left have a foot in the sewer and a much larger number of the right are in so deep they can barely breathe. And some of them are deep dwellers.

Posted by Anonymous : 2/19/2007 04:32:00 PM

hmmmm... a few bloggers talked at a seminar hosted by the state services commission awhile back, and geoff from thorndon bubble talked about the need for something like a 'bloggers code of ethics'.

if i remember right, be reckoned you could have a wee marker on your site if you stuck to the rules. one of which was decency.

the main hassle is, who polices it?

that said, it might not be such a bad idea to try and talk it through. if not only so that punters wanting to read some useful information don't walk into a slew of vitriol fired from left, or right.

and as for craig, i think he overlooks the behaviour of the whaleoils of this world. probably not deliberately.

Posted by Triple T : 2/19/2007 07:02:00 PM

Span: No, I don't think we can police ourselves. Policing requires an enforcement mechanism. What's ours? Social sneering clearly doesn't work on the sewer, though it may work to stop "respectable" bloggers from joining them.

Jo: The net is like that - a rude and robust place. The best advice is that if you want it to be better, be the change you want to see in the world. Think before you post, and before you comment, and Do Not Feed The Trolls.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/19/2007 07:51:00 PM

Che wrote:
and as for craig, i think he overlooks the behaviour of the whaleoils of this world. probably not deliberately.

Um, you're both right and wrong. I quite deliberately ignore the likes of Mr. Oil and his equivalents on the angry left because 1) life is short, 2) there are way too many blogs (political and not, foreign and domestic) worth the attention, and, 3) I don't see the point of rewarding the toxic toddlers of the rabid right or loony left with traffic or attention.

Having said that, Che, if something does catch my attention and piss me off I'll say it in no uncertain terms. I don't think I give the rabid right a pass while jumping on the left, but (again) I don't apologise for not making it my life's work to get up to my neck in sewage and point out the smell.

I don't want to bore (or nauseate) anyone with the linky-love, but
I've had a fair amount of abuse - public and private - from all sides over the years, for all kinds of reasons. With all due respect to Span (I have a lot) when someone hiding behind a pseudonym is expressing the fond wish your partner will be raped, infected with HIV and die a slow and horrible death - or calling you 'morally equivalent to a Jewish Nazi' because you're an openly gay. Maori member/officeholder of the National Party - then putting an ideological tag on a vile fuckwit seems spectacularly beside the point.

So, yes, I quite sincerely think both the left and the right need to clean their own houses rather than pointing at 'the other side'. All political bloggers - especially in the heat of an election campaign or around hot button issues like race relations - just need to own their own shit when the rhetoric starts throwing more heat than light. (I'll admit I haven't always lived up to my own standards in that respect, but hope I've also got a rep for being respectful of others, and just admitting when I've got things wrong. One very bad habit too many bloggers have picked up from the MSM is their extreme reluctance to admit simple human error. That's one of my ethical bars for blogs: I respect people who can swallow their ego long enough to say mea culpa and here's the correction without a court order.)

But I guess that's much easier said than done. :)

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 2/20/2007 09:50:00 AM


That's an entirely hypocritical line, given that two of the four most prominent pinko commentators derive their reputation from their allegiance to the Labour Party, and clearly fly kites on behalf of the ninth floor. I have never seen anything even remotely critical of the government from Jordon or Tony Milne. They can't afford to, lest they upset their future political careers within Labour.

Idiot Savant has more credibility as somebody who is prepared to lambast the government when deserved, but I did think he was scraping the barrell when he resorted to promoting Labour's whiparound, and he frankly could have been more honest about Labour's fraud and deceipt over last year's election spending fiasco. Russell is a pompous git with a pinko agenda, but he at least doesn't feel bound to spouting Labour's line all the time.

Posted by Insolent Prick : 2/20/2007 11:40:00 AM


Hey, to be fair, Jordan and Tony don't hide their partisan affiliations - which is an ethical no-no the size of the Queen Mary 2 in my book. In the end, when the party hackery gets too thick and shrill I go elsewhere, and that's the self-policing aspect of the blogosphere that gets lost in discussions like this. Of course, there are always going to be hucksters pandering to hyper-partisans who just want their confirmation bias jacked off 24/7. But my instinct is that most people have pretty good bullshit detectors, and just zone out. In the end, all a blogger has to trade on is intellectual capital and the credibility that comes from it.ubotww

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 2/20/2007 12:12:00 PM

IP (and ors.), kindly note that I have responded to your allegation of extreme hypocriticism over on my own post, where you comented in a similar vein.

I'm curious to know who the four most prominent pinko commentators are though - I'm assuming, other than Jordan and Tony who you have already named, that you mean our gracious host Idsy and Russell Brown?

Posted by Span : 2/21/2007 04:37:00 PM