I hereby proclaim myself the Scrooge of the Kool-Aid Krew. I'm not yet ready to roll over concede that blogs are the best thing since sliced bread and I've got a few semi-recent articles to blather about.
All the hoopla about blogs has always reminded me of a scene from the 1967 classic "The Graduate," when a businessman sidles up to a young Dustin Hoffman at his welcome home party with some sage advice.
Businessman: "I want to say one word to you. Just one word."I'm not saying blogs are a fad, they're not. Neither were plastics, which of course are so ubiquitous these days that to hype them now is just silly. Maybe in a few years when we look back on all this trumpeting about the revolutionary power of blogs it will all sound a little like the "plastics" proclomation.
Hoffman: "Yes, sir."
Businessman: "Are you listening?"
Hoffman: "Yes, I am."
I've talked with Kool-Aid Krew Chief Jackson about this before—early on in this blog's history the ratio of actual posts to posts about posts about the site was pretty uneven. Kudos overdose, the echo chamber effect, navel gazing or even "masturbatory,"—call it what you like, all the back patting leaves little energy for wading through the blogosphere. (People want content, damn it.)
Now that this blog is getting on its feet a little more it's nice to see fewer self-congratulatory posts and more meat-and-potatoes marketing discussion (which I know little about other than dealing with the constant barrage of press releases/marketing spiels/story pitches that came across my desk when I was working full time for BR&IN).
All that said I've come across a few articles I've been meaning to post something about, RE: "Power of blogging... again," and again, and again...
The first is from The New York Times: Wal-Mart Enlists Bloggers in P.R. Campaign. It starts:
"Brian Pickrell, a blogger, recently posted a note on his Web site attacking state legislation that would force Wal-Mart Stores to spend more on employee health insurance. "All across the country, newspaper editorial boards — no great friends of business — are ripping the bills," he wrote.The article goes on to paint a pretty ugly picture of blogging gone bad.
It was the kind of pro-Wal-Mart comment the giant retailer might write itself. And, in fact, it did.
Several sentences in Mr. Pickrell's Jan. 20 posting — and others from different days — are identical to those written by an employee at one of Wal-Mart's public relations firms and distributed by e-mail to bloggers..."
Of course, the bike industry is small potatoes in comparison—far less insidious potatoes at that. Indeed, on this site the posting of others' press releases whole-hog, is overt and deliberate, not surreptitiously.
But, the Wal-Mart example shows how PR people have gotten their collective hand in the blogosphere. No, it's not the kumbaiya, lets-all-get-along, bikes-are-great warm and fuzzy feeling you get from what little of the bike industry has entered blogosphere, but it's all the same end game: spinning in favor of your company.
The Wal-Mart example is an extreme one, a bookend to the trend of the PR industry using blogs to communicate (read: advertize) a message. On the other end of that PR/blogger spectrum you have the honest, open types like Tim Jackson and Donna Tocci who really just want to engage their customers and put a face to a (brand) name, as it were.
But all the while the blog tidal wave this very blog is purporting to be riding might not be as big or as real as we all thought it was, after all.
At least, William Powers, a media writer for the National Journal, thinks so. In a recent article he compares blogs to Bode Miller, says blogs are "flat lining" and points to the fact that "[t]he suits—corporate and PR types—are muscling into the blogosphere."
Now I know of no one in the industry outside probably some honchos in Taiwan who actually wear a "suit" to work, but bear with me for comparison's sake.
Love them or hate them, blogs are still the "next big thing" in communication—if sometimes nauseatingly so. Indeed, the National Journal's Powers notes that "the end of the hype-fueled blog mania might be the best thing that could happen to blogs, because it had created such absurd expectations."
Power's also weighs in on the Old Media v. New Media debate:
Media serve three major functions: 1) convenience (organization of news and information in user-friendly formats); 2) truth-telling (digging up important stories and holding powerful people accountable); and 3) pleasure (the sheer fun of reading, listening, or watching). Newspapers thrived for as long as they did because they were good at all three. And they've declined as they've lost their competitive edge in these same areas, especially convenience and pleasure.So he's not all gloom and doom. Despite his harangues, Powers has positive and refreshingly realistic expectations about the future of blogs. Meanwhile The Philadelphia Inquirer's Jonathan Last concedes some of blogs' virtues, but also points out what he calls their "pernicious effects."
Though blogs are young, they've already proven adept at all three functions. Many are convenient harvesters and organizers. Some are fearless truth-tellers. And the best are a total pleasure to follow. If they're doing all this now, imagine what they'll be like in 10 years.
"[Blogs] elevate analysis over news-gathering; they value speed over judiciousness; and they encourage the practice of journalism to turn in on itself, to tend ever more toward navel-gazing."New York Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald, in a in a speech in March at Marquette University, also touched on the blogger/journalist dichotomy (a speech that sparked a torrent of discussion in—what else—the blogosphere). He said, in part:
"When I'm talking about the difference between facts and truth, facts and knowledge, it's the difference between a journalist and a blogger. A journalist is dealing in facts. Bloggers deal in their own truths, which may or may not be based on facts."Not that journalism and blogging are mutually exclusive. Certainly there are armies of journalists that blog. I concede that companies that blog, and blog well, are creating some of the more exciting marketing opportunities out there, as long as they stay transparent. And whether you're blogging as a journalist, as a marketing person or blurring the line between both, the pitfalls can be the same—blurred "truths" and on overvaluing of speed and opinion over research and objectivity. But if you can meet Powers' three criteria for succesful media: convenience, truth telling and pleasure—and of course if you can meet all three while maintaining credibility, then the upside can be phenomenal.
All apologies for the long, wandering (and navel-gazing) post, if you've gotten this far.
*"Blog-Humbug" borrowed from Jonathan Last, The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Posted by Chris Lesser at 8:01 AM