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‘Viral defence blogging’ and other deep thoughts from a converted sceptic

Written by Neil Waghorn

To the news that Defence IQ has announced its intention to award a ‘top blogging award’ to recognise a burgeoning defence blogging community, I responded with an unhealthy amount of scepticism. For my sins (of which there are many), I was summarily tasked with writing my own blog post assessing their advantages.

Anyone moving from an academic setting into one of defence journalism – as I am – will immediately highlight the ‘credibility’ issue in blog journalism. I mean, let’s face it, there is the whole accuracy conundrum that can lead to hours of debate about whether there are actually any hard facts in these things. Then there’s the issue of actually citing blogs as a [gulp] reference. The fact that a random guy in West Virginia can blog with apparent authority about any topic is enough to make anybody wary of blogs’ accuracy (and at times, the sanity of the blogger, but that’s a separate issue and I’ve been warned off by my editor at the risk of physical injury).

I suppose I have to admit that, in my deliberate attempt to find glaring examples of my being right . . . I may have stumbled on the counter to my argument. Paradoxically, the fact a random guy in West Virginia can blog, or post a comment on a blog, is where blogs redeem themselves and become an invaluable resource. The ground zero, nitty gritty value of blog posts, as I am now beginning to see, is their ability to highlight opinions and articles from around the globe and bring them together in a coherent manner – and to seemingly do it organically. In doing so they offer other bloggers and discriminating readers a level of information they may not have ever been aware of – or been unable (or too lazy) to find. An example, you ask? Why, certainly. Try the weekly roundups of regional news by Robert Beckhusen on the blog ‘War is Boring’.

This universal ability to comment on posts makes the blogs a little bit more reliable (insert author’s grudging tone here). The blogging community has become a self editing community of the type that Wikipedia aspires to become. If a user writes a blog that includes factual errors or mere speculation, other users cum moderators will comment openly, if not sometimes aggressively, in order to pull the thread closer to the ‘fact’ side of the fence. This constant and real-time feedback ensures that the collective wisdom overcomes the errors. I’ll throw out a caveat lector at this point, however: that collective wisdom may not be ideal as it may prevent the challenging of established ideas. It is worth remembering that collective wisdom once said that the Earth was flat (an early kind of peer pressure I’m sure – backed up with the threat of excommunication, of course). If a blog does not have a following then it would be important to be wary as the posts may not have been vetted by the online community… and the blog post may just be a [ahem] rant. Of which the internet is full, figuratively speaking. If you’re brave, check out ‘Karlbak’ at Blogspot.

The ability for users to post comments on people’s blogs, for me, is where blogging gets interesting and the benefits become apparent. Once the inevitable spam selling you some sort of pills to enlarge whatever, has been ignored (an interesting side effect of the internets) you are left with raw feedback from users, potentially crossing time zones, and religious and language barriers, giving you an insight into their opinions and interests. This allows a blog writer to tailor to his audience and interact with them, building up a relationship of sorts.

With the potential slow death spiral of the printed press as the world moves increasingly towards internet based media (reference the paywall for The Times online), internet blogs may gradually move to the forefront as a primary source of relevant and real-time news. Blogs (indeed, the act of blogging) may evolve into a kind of nouveau online newspaper industry. With blogging now marching into the front lines of internet news, the issue of respectability within an academic concept may slowly dissipate. They will become accepted due to the very unique front-line news they offer.

Let’s face it, many blogs fail to hit the mark in accuracy or even loose cogency. Even still, many are downright appalling. But without appearing to grovel, I should say that I do see the day when those news and current events blogs hanging out in the wings will some day soon take centre stage. They quite simply offer another effective means for readers to gather information and opinion from a variety of sources from all across the world. As to the value of blogging, I’m convinced of its potential but I haven’t completely lost my wariness regarding their accuracy. That said, a healthy dose of scepticism isn’t necessarily unhealthy. Indeed, the online community may have broken the super injunction story, but it was a hard copy print newspaper that gave us that footballer’s name (which you can be darn sure I’m not going to mention here – it’s still only my first week on the job here).


2 responses to “‘Viral defence blogging’ and other deep thoughts from a converted sceptic

  1. Pingback: Get Your Facts Right | Press Your Words

  2. Sandy Wade May 29, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    This is an interesting, and insightful, analysis of Osama as a political figure – I count his “pseudo-military” activities as a perverse and criminal form of politcs – as (nearly) all terrorism is. I say nearly all because there is a brand of terorism out there which kills and then fails to say who did it or why. This is not even a perverse form of politics – just criminal. This issue of terrorism is important to the future of Al Qaeda. The wisdom of Al Qaeda was that only terrorism was strong enough to defeat the likes of Mubarak. What the Arab Spring has proved to all in the Islamic world is that Al Qaeda were peddling a false doctrine – people power is stronger than terrorism in bringing about change. What is the lesson for the West? Support to an indigenous social agenda that effectively addresses the social, educational and development issues of the people in the Islamic world will have a far greater, more effective and long term anti-terrorist effect than any amount of support to police and military forces – by no means all of which are seen as “forces for good” in their own states.

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