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Nashville Noted

May
9
2005

One of the themes running quietly through BlogNashville, the conference held over the weekend in Music City, was an interesting one that’s been bubbling on various on-line sites for a few weeks now. You could call it The Quest for Civility or How Big Media Gets In The Way.
It started, really, with Dave Weinberger’s post about quitting MSNBC after they asked him to talk about some silliness that he didn’t think was worth his – or his readers’ – time. Big Media has been using – and yeah, the full meaning of that phrase – Big Boy Bloggers to do roundups and other daily takes on what we’re all writing about. It’s nice that folks – mostly folks on the East Coast, within a stone’s throw of the studios – get this exposure. And don’t get me wrong, I’ve done a fair amount of self-promotional TV and I’ll do it again. But there’s a line here. And it’s one worth looking at pretty closely right now.


See, on the web, quality doesn’t cost more than junk. Getting up and running isn’t some sort of equipment or cost nightmare. Finding an audience, however, takes a bit of work. Which is why, among other things, you’re going to see a consolidation in sites and writers over the next year or so. TV helps build an audience – no question. And TV has “discovered” bloggers. We’re hot. Don’t stand too close to the hype, however. You could get burned.
Lots of folks seem to appreciate this. In Nashville, the conversations were about how bloggers were handling their interactions with Big Media TV folks: Do they ask for money for the time they spend researching the roundups producers ask them to do? Do they take direction from bookers or producers about what they’ll talk about? Do they present themselves as experts on a topic – a topic covered by their site? Many folks I chatted with said they didn’t like the process and a few seemed to resent the limits imposed on them by TV’s time strictures. Me, I think the Big Media guys are taking advantage. And I think they know it.
When Big Media TV guys get roundups of what’s going on on-line for free – in other words work without pay – they’re really cheapening the work we’re doing here. That’s a trend that ought to be stopped now and Dave Weinberger’s one-man protest is a step in the right direction. It’s not just the economics, either. The search for ratings is what drives TV shows. In the on-line world, this translates to page views and unique visitors, and ratings – no matter how they’re measured – can be corrupting. That fact isn’t as widely appreciated on-line as it is in TVland. But it’s there.
There’s something else going on in this conversation, though. Call it the search for civility. LaShawn Barber talks about it as part of her well-received talk on faith-based writing. Others, like Robin Burk at Winds of Change have also.
More and more at these cross-political events, there’s an understanding that the screaming and shouting that makes up TV “coverage” doesn’t work. For anybody. I’m getting the sense that there’s some real curiosity at play on both sides of the political spectrum with on-line writers and bloggers most of whom understand that their – our – popularity is the result of this frustration. Of course, some of the discussions you hear center on a love of technology: A geek is still a geek and they know each other by their their cool little digital cameras. But some is clearly springing from the idea, conviction even, that something is dreadfully wrong and broken with the way this country talks about politics.
Now, it’s far to early to hook your hopes on this. Big Media can still pull in the Big Boy Bloggers with their ego needs and get them to shout at each other. But civility and intelligent conversation can – they really can – thrive on the web. It’s partly because these are the early months and years; only a handful of people are involved. The folks who are hot for this stuff are smart and they’re getting the rare pleasure of meeting other smart people who care about the same stuff they do. But some of it’s also an economic reality; one that works for, not against, the trend that TV has come to embody. Quality doesn’t cost more here. It costs the same. And while audiences may not be huge; they’re going to be big enough to cover those costs and a little bit more.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 2:36 PM | Permalink

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