In this era of corporate media, watered-down news, and pompous pundits, blogs offered a chance to deliver democracy back to journalism. The internet gave anyone the chance to become a Woodward or Bernstein of cyberspace by breaking news outside the mainstream pipeline.
But blogs also posed a credibility question: Without professional standards or editing, could readers believe the content? Some bloggers scooped the press with legitimate news – such as Drudge’s tip on Monica’s semen-stained dress – yet others spread bogus rumors.
Nearly a decade after its creation, the blogosphere has evolved largely into gossip, scandal-mongering, and trivial pursuits. Political bloggers fling dirt about right-wingers or left-wingers. Amateur scribes attack hated politicians. Teens blog on MySpace about last night’s party. Sports fans ruminate on Fantasy Football trades and Steve Nash’s latest stats.
So has blogging fulfilled its promise of bolstering press freedom and delivering facts, unfiltered, to the people? Only 16 percent of American adults read blogs, according to a study last year by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. In fact, 62 percent of internet users in the study didn’t even know what a blog was (the word is an abbreviation of web log).
That’s not exactly a boon for the First Amendment.
Still, blogs influence American culture. Even 16 percent of the adult U.S. population equals about 36 million people, if my math is correct. That’s not a small audience. No wonder even the mainstream media are jumping on the blogwagon. There are plenty o’ advertising dollars to be earned. Here’s a sampling of the Fort Worth-Dallas blog blabbery:
- D magazine’s “FrontBurner” (frontburner.dmagazine.com)is the granddaddy of local media blogs. If you can get past self-indulgent dispatches about staffers’ drinking habits and celebrity lust objects, you’ll find it crammed with snarky comments, local mudslinging, and up-to-the minute reports on “breaking news.” The D tattlers love to rag on other media, especially The Dallas Morning News Metro columnists, whom they accuse of printing mug shots nearly as old as high school yearbook photos.
- Not necessarily in response to merciless FrontBurner ribbing, DMN columnists recently created their own blog, “Bold Types” (metro.beloblog.com/) Not much pizzazz yet. Jacquielynn Floyd dishes about Dirk Nowitzki’s three-and-a-half-inch tongue, Steve Blow posts his lunch menu, James Ragland weighs in on immigration, and Gromer Jeffers wonders whether Condi will be president. But they’re just getting started, so give them a chance to ramp it up. Full disclosure: Most of these people are friends of mine. I worked with them for more than a decade in the DMN Metro section.
- Several Startlegram columnists have started blogs, and apparently it’s up to each whether to maintain them. Film critic Christopher Kelly and sportswriter Jim Reeves haven’t blogged since April. Bob Ray Sanders keeps up to date on his “A Liberal Dose” blog. The ubiquitous Randy Galloway’s photo is on the blog page, but the link is broken, as is Mitch Schnurman’s (he shut it down). J.R. Labbe blogs somewhat regularly. The most entertaining Startlegram blog by far is Paul Bourgeois’ “Startle Grams,” a compendium of weird news, strange photos, and off-the-cuff comments. Sample comment on the spelling bee: “How often do words like eremacausis, gobemouche, chiragra, Bildungsroman and terrene turn up in conversation? (Well maybe President Bush … He says things like this, but not on purpose…).” Find ‘em at www.dfw.com/mld/dfw/news/special_packages/online_extras/.
- The one that comes the closest to fulfilling blogs’ democratic ideal is http://www.dallasblog.com/. It’s an alternative news source in a one-town newspaper. A slew of the bloggers are former DMNers, including political writers Carolyn Barta and Scott Bennett, technology writer Doug Bedell, sports writer David McNabb, and cartoonist Bill DeOre. Insightful commentary, news items not published in the Snooze, discussions of hot-button issues like the Wright Amendment, and unedited interviews with Dallas Mayor Laura Miller, Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell, and others make this blog a winner. Why doesn’t Fort Worth have one?
- Kind of like the Dallas Observer itself, “Unfair Park” (www.dallasobserver.com/blogs/) boasts of updates on news and investigative stories, carps about DMN content, recommends cool music, and publishes D-like reports on chichi society crowd parties. Staffer Robert Wilonsky is frighteningly prolific – about half the entries are his. (My husband gives him “mad props” for breaking the details of the lineup of this years’ Austin City Limits music festival – hope he and Robert enjoy the 100-degree-plus September heat).
- Fort Worth Weekly – Doesn’t have a blog yet! Hmm, Gayle, when does the Cowtown cyber-chronicling begin?
Tracy Everbach is a journalism professor at the University of North Texas. She can be reached at TracyEverbach@hotmail.com.