Tami, of Running with Tweezers, recently opined, on the basis of an angry restaurant owner, that bloggers simply weren’t being responsible enough. We were giving out too many thoughtless reviews, that we needed to act more like professional paid journalists, think before we speak. And while Tami may feel she’s doing the blogging world some good by  mouthing this idea, I tend to feel she’s done more harm than good.

What has happened is the barriers for publication have been falling markedly over the Internet years. First it was access to a bulletin board via modem. A few years later, the introduction of the world wide web again lowered the barrier to entry. A web site became part and parcel of owning an Internet account. Pages could be published by uploading them into personal space. This required a certain amount of technical skill. Barriers were lowered by tools such as html tidy, but people had to know how to use them to make pages.

Then came blogs. As a medium, they lower the barriers of publication even more than before. Almost anyone could set up and write a blog. When I started there were perhaps 25 active food blogs in the Atlanta, ones that had at least 10 articles on Atlanta restaurants. A bit over a year later, there are perhaps 45 blogs in the Atlanta area, talking about food (These counts are by rough examination of the Urban Spoon Leaderboard). It’s not one media outlet, powered by advertising, beholden to advertisers, telling everyone where to eat. It’s dozens of people on their own blogs, and hundreds counting the various web forums.

People have not gotten used to this stream of information, and in particular, to those people whose job it is to craft a media image, blogs create a real headache. They’re not that easy to manipulate. Many of us are eating as a hobby, not a profession. There are no palms to grease, no offers to be made. Opinions are wildly different, and people who have a way of attracting readership (via negative reviews, or so the theme goes) gather followings that restaurateurs obviously find threatening. That’s whats at the core of Tami’s message, and it’s a notion I don’t find comforting.

The history of central control of the media is not good. If you don’t believe me, read the royal hymns of Ur III sometime. As Bob Dise [1] says

The royal hymns of Ur III  portray the king as the ideal soldier and perfect military commander. He is exceptionally strong and brave; no one excels him in in handling all kinds of weapons. In every battle, he personally leads his troops into combat. The fame of his triumphs has spread across the world; it fills his enemies with terror. The king is also a superb and fearless hunter of dangerous animals. Rather than striking the beasts from ambush or trapping them with nets, he fights them face to face, and by slaying them he makes the land safe for the shepherds and their sheep.

The more tightly controlled the media are, the fewer the outlets, the more the function of the media are reduced to mere propaganda. Conversely, when the printing press was invented, it led to an explosion of literacy and rapid change. The print media environment, prior to the Internet revolution, was shrinking because of the expansion of centrally controlled radio and television. In the late 20th century, there were fewer newspaper outlets than ever before, a shrinkage occurring to this very day. The only change has in fact been the explosion of the Internet, bringing back both text and color in ways print media simply cannot match.

Restaurateurs of the older generation don’t like it. They would rather have to deal with the relatively compliant print, television and radio media and craft their image through favors and advertising.

Blogging by its nature is chaotic and a loud, varied voice. We’re not professionals and wishing that we would become pros misses a point. This is a hobby for me. I pay for this hobby out of my own pocket. Therefore what I say is an opinion, and hardly an edict.

Rather than blame bloggers for having a cacophony of voices, being amateurs, and calling us irresponsible, why not accept the variability and learn to read to the mean? One blogger says something? Read another. Average out the opinions and weight them internally. Figure out who can be trusted, who can be mostly trusted, who can’t be trusted. We’ve always had that kind of filter on our media (i.e.  do you take the Weekly World News seriously), and we need to learn how to do that kind of filtering day to day. This is not a new skill, but an old one to be relearned in an era where the alternative voice is found on blogs, and not the many small newspapers of the turn of the 20th century.

1. Professor Robert L. Dise, Jr, Ancient Empires before Alexander, Vol 1, Teaching Company, 2009, ISBN 1-59803-558-4, page 61.