The Outer Reaches of the Blogosphere Online Diaries Are Vain, Silly and Essential
Published Jul 01, 2003The revolution is not being televised, nor is it being printed in magazines or newspapers. The revolution is appearing at the edge of the web, on the last pages before the end of the internet. These sites are known as weblogs, and they are changing journalism, one post at a time. Blogs, as these pages have come to be known, are online diaries for the perpetually opinionated. Hosted by sites like Pita and Blogger, a blog allows its creator to post all manner of commentaries online, whether it's an essay on terrorism or a critique of the latest summer blockbuster. A blog is like a stripped-down version of a 90s-era vanity site, shunning vacation photos in favour of passionate socio-political criticism.
More a modest rebellion than a full-scale revolution, the proliferation of weblogs is a heartening development in these times of increasingly concentrated media ownership. Blogs allow any writer with internet access the chance to seize the means of production, providing a potentially vast audience for the unmediated musings of the Everyman. In this environment, scribes are freed from the shackles of commercial publication, where the interests and biases of advertisers and editors often distort the message.
Given the free-to-all nature of blogging, there is a tremendous amount of drivel being cranked out by navel-gazers in the thrall of their own "celebrity." While the bullshit-to-quality ratio among bloggers is high, the consistent virtuosity of a small group of music-oriented pages keeps me coming back for more. Indeed, once you enter the blogosphere, it is hard to escape, especially if you're interested in the future of music criticism.
Many of the world's best music journalists have jumped on the blogwagon this year, drawn to the medium by its editorial freedom and peer-to-peer immediacy. While freelancers often have to wait several months before their articles make it to print, blogs allow them to vent their spleens right away, a necessary development in this age of one-hit wonders and nanofads.
Blogs also circumvent the economic imperatives that underlie the magazine industry, wherein marketers often place ads with the expectation of editorial content. Given that there are virtually no commercial interests at play in the blogosphere, critics can write about whatever they like, thereby fostering genres and labels outside the advertorial loop. Such is the case with UK garage rap, a form currently blowing up on London's pirate radio stations, but that has been virtually ignored by mainstream publications.
UK garage has been astutely documented by Simon Reynolds, whose February scene report in the Village Voice was augmented by a list of discursive footnotes on his blog. The Brit's site (www.blissout.blogspot.com) is the central node in the online community of music journalists; he's the critic whom others refer to as blogging's avatar. Given his incisive analysis of English street music, it's appropriate that Reynolds thrives in the blogosphere, a community that bears a striking resemblance to pirate radio. Like the pirates, bloggers like Matthew Ingram (www.hollowearth.org/blog.html) and Marcello Carlin (www.cookham.blogspot.com) operate outside the orthodox music industry while still impacting it.
Carlin, in particular, is a treasure. He routinely cranks out long pieces on new releases, like his meticulous 2,200-word disembowelling of the latest White Stripes album, Elephant. Given as much space as he needed, Carlin couched Elephant within its historical context, making shrewd references to Graham Greene, Charlie Mingus and Britney Spears, among others; next to his review, any other critique of the record seemed cursory.
What's more, these critics link to each other's blogs on their own pages, creating a hive of critical discourse with a built-in peer review system. The circle of blogs forming around Blissout is a fine example of collaborative media, one that blurs the lines between journalists and readers until all that remains is a group of informed listeners.
Back out in the wider world of the web, corporations are finally getting hip to the blogging phenomenon. Because most sites are organised around a central theme (e.g., film criticism), companies can strike a narrow target audience with banner ads. Taking that notion a step further, Dr. Pepper recently recruited key influence bloggers to help promote a new beverage.
Bloggers, too, are cashing in, as demonstrated by Andrew Smith, a political commentator who recently netted $79,000 in reader donations during a pledge week. With all this money flying around, will the nascent blogging revolt be sucked into the whirling blades of the capitalist blender? That would be a shame, but whatever it costs, I'll always be willing to pony up for Carlin's two cents' worth.