Elaine asked for comments, particularly from "personal bloggers," about self-imposed ethics or guidelines. I suppose a "personal blogger" is a bit of a diarist and a bit of an essayist who is adapting this electronic publication medium to share her or his work with the public. The genius is in the adaptation. From quips and clips to full formed essays, from impassioned political pleas to rants and diatribes, personal blogs shout out or whisper personal reflections and concerns.
Web publishing, or "blogging" if we must call it that, brings to mind A.J. Liebling’s old saw, "Freedom of the press belongs to the man who owns one." Americans have a constitutionally protected right to freedom of expression. Exercising that right has often been difficult. The legal system sets some boundaries to free speech… shouting fire in a crowded theater is prohibited if there is no fire. Presumably shouting chocolate is protected regardless of the actual presence of the chocolate.
What began as a largely undifferentiated rush to pixelation, has over the years stratified into distinct blogging genres. "Personal bloggers" lack the attention span, discipline, and focus to develop consistent work in one of the more professional genres. "Political bloggers" write from a point of view generally informed by an ideology. "Tech sector bloggers" surface their own perspectives and share information on the information technology world. The "stand-alone journalist" has been described and is gaining some currency with those who no longer favor the catch-all label of "blogger." "Blawgers" emerged early as a professional sub-group writing about the legal system and the practice of law. We think Denise Howell invented the term.
Denise is a polymath. Her blog is personal and reflects interests that vary from motherhood to intellectual property, podcasting to California plein air painting. But Denise always maintains her professional poise. This doesn’t detract from the authenticity or personal aspect of her work because her professionalism is simply founded in an honesty and discretion that is fundamental to the ethical practice of law. Denise is a successful blogger because she blogs with a clear voice.
I wrote a little about Denise here because I wanted to elaborate the complexity of fitting bloggers neatly into genres. Those who fit best, blog worst in my estimation. But there is a breadth of talent and subject matter on the web that guarantees that every reader’s interest will be served.
Unlike dead tree publication, there is an immediacy and an adjacency in the world of blogs that permits meaningful and not so meaningful dialog. If I find something silly or offensive and I remark on that in my blog, it is possible for the person I’m criticizing to come straight back to me with a rebuttal or an explanation. (See my recent quick exchange with Shel Israel for an example of how daily low-thought output can sometimes offend the more thoughtful amongus). As a highly opinionated person whose socialization lacked a certain je ne sais quoi, I’ve often been guilty of ad hominem remarks and personal slams. My apologies haven’t always been well received. Perhaps the most important rule of blogging that I’ve had to work out for myself by observing others who practice it, is this:
I write in a small neighborhood and I intend to write here for the foreseeable future. It therefore behooves me to get to know my neighbors and treat them with civility and respect.
On the other hand, this doesn’t mean that we have to kowtow to the disingenuous, the graspingly ambitious, the intellectually dishonest, or others whose views conflict with our own.