Tuesday, May 11, 2004

The Maiden Voyage of the H.M.S. Blog

The blog. It's the in thing on the internet this year, following such previous net phenomena as online magazines, dot-coms, "All Your Base Are Belong To Us," and Mr. T webcomics. It is, as the articles say, the net's only significant contribution to journalism, and as a vehicle for talented nonprofessional journalists to find an audience.

It's also a symbol of the failure of the internet.

When the internet was invented in the '90s -- it was created years before, of course, but it wasn't until later that it had an image, a function, assigned to it by the press and public -- we often heard that it was going to compete with the mainstream media and perhaps even supplant it. People would publish and read books on the internet; movies and TV shows would be created for the internet; internet journalists would constantly scoop their hidebound hat-wearing newspaper cousins; internet-based businesses would take over the world and we'd all be way happier being ruled by people who didn't wear socks to work. Production companies like Icebox.com were founded based on the idea that the internet would free creative people to do their work without network/studio interference; online magazines were founded to give us the news that Big Media (tm) wouldn't talk about. It was to be the biggest media revolution since television.

Of course we know that didn't happen. What happened instead? The internet was established as a place where people go to talk about the mainstream media. Instead of direct-to-internet shows, we got newsgroups and message boards for talking about TV shows. Instead of online journalism, we got online versions of print journals. And most of all, we got the blog, which is basically a way for people like me to offer our thoughts about the mainstream media. Without Old Media, there would be no blogosphere; hell, without the New York Times to beat up on, half the political blogs would be out of business. (The most popular and bizarre political blogger, Andrew Sullivan, built a whole new reputation out of incessant Times-bashing.) And an arts blog, which I suppose is what this blog is, is entirely about Old Media; I'm not going to be spending much time discussing anything made with FlashPlayer or, for that matter, Mr. T webcomics. (Though I do love those Mr. T Webcomics.)

So I'm ambiguous about blogs. They're valuable, I know that. There are a lot of great people doing blogs who would otherwise never have gotten an opportunity to reach a wide audience, and we should all be grateful for that. On the other hand, the blog has helped to weaken the usenet newsgroup, which was my favourite form of internet discussion; there are a few strong usenet groups left, but most of them now consist primarily of spammers and people who post in block capitals. And as someone who contributed a few articles to Salon (now unworthy of a link) when it looked like online articles might become a way to make a living, I have to say I miss doing old-fashioned, stolid, over-edited freelance writing. But that's nothing new.

Anyway, with that out of the way, welcome to the blog. The mission statement of this blog -- and an explanation of the title -- will arrive in my next post.

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