June 28, 2002

Weblog Panel at the National Press Club

I attended today's Weblog panel at the National Press Club, sponsored by The Idler, and came away mixed. First off, the panel was marred by the absence of Lileks, Reynolds, and Marshall - and Marshall, living locally, can't use flight cancellations as an excuse. The panelists who were actually able to show up (John Hiler of microcontentnews.com, Dennis Loy Johnson of mobylives.com, Douglas McLennan of artsjournal.com, James Taranto of OpinionJournal.com, and Alice Marquis of The Idler) were insightful and passionate - as were many of the audience - but I got a definite sense that the panel lacked long-term perspective about weblogging. One panelist, for example, fessed up that he had only been blogging for two or three months. I think those have been hard-core months, but nonetheless, it's hard to get the long term view by cramming.

In particular, I got irked by hypothetical questions that no one on the panel could really answer - and they should have been able to, with a little historical perspective under their belts:

Are there collaborative blogs? (Duh... )
Are there blog critics? (Since day one, and continuing... one two three four for starters)
Are there blogger workshops where bloggers meet face to face to discuss weblogs? (Workshops? Hell no. But all of us were there in the room to discuss weblogs.)

We chose a few well-traveled paths - what is a blog? Can blogs make money? - but also went down some interesting new ones.

The group debated credibility of blogging, as an one audience member hijacked the panel for a while complaining that some things on the Internet - Gasp! - aren't true and may even be unpleasant. Of course, much of what Dan Rather says, and the New York Times prints, and people whisper over the backyard fence, aren't true either. They require people to develop critical and analytical skills - even if those people are children.

Mr. Hiler made an excellent point when he observed that through the process of writing, he began to develop a sense of how news gets "packaged" for comsumption, and that each weblog is part of a conversation whether they want to be or not. My thought is that trickles down through every weblogger. as we write weblogs, and what we write gets discussed by other bloggers, and the very process of reading, writing, and posting on the web forces us to develop those critical skills.

One participant asked about the relatioship of blogs with - I love this phrase - "legacy media" like newspapers, and whether blogs would replace newspapers which he felt to be a dying breed. Taranto disagreed that newspapers were dying, and mentioned that he had heard of internal memos at the New York Times specifically addressesing the Times-critical site SmarterTimes.com. Of course, now that many of the "legacy media" have weblogs of their own, they read other blogs as well and so one hopes that important criticism ultimately makes it to the source via one channel or another. The panel consensus was that blogs will mainly serve to complement and check, but never supplant, the legacy media in their primary fact-finding role.

I especially liked Hiler's discussion of the psychological effects of addiction as they apply to blog writing and reading - how long is the gratification delay? How often does the elation hit?

Other than short-term syndrome, most of the panelists seemed to "get" blogging as a concept - what it is and why we do it. I enjoyed the session (and running into Tom) and hope that those who participated continue the discussion online.

UPDATE: other reports from Tleeves (cute name...), Corante/bottomline, and Combustible Boy with pictures. Also, Hiler responds.

Posted by wasylik at June 28, 2002 05:23 PM