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Sunday, 17 December 2006

David Milofsky chronicles a blogging debacle that happened recently in the U.S. Apparently "Lee Siegel, a senior editor at The New Republic, has been suspended by the magazine for using a "sock puppet" or Internet alias to respond to critics on his web-log". A 'sock puppet' apparently is an anonymous e-mail address, used so that you can't be identified.

In response, Siegel said: "...it never occurred to me ... that I was doing something wrong. Anonymity is a universal convention of the blogosphere, and the wicked expedience is that you can speak without consequences. What was wrong is that I did it ... as a senior editor of the magazine."

It's true that anonymity is a right, in the blogoshpere. My own online persona is a mask over my true identity (and I'm going to keep it that way). Milofsky, who writes for The Denver Post, mentions another online spat between a blogger (Edward Champion — see link on this page) and a literary pundit (Lev Grossman, book critic of Time magazine). He then goes on to indulge in some musings on the nature of the blogosphere and, particularly, the "larger questions about blogs, truth, and the Internet".

Buyer beware, is a good maxim to follow when dealing online. Nevertheless, Milofsky points to a type of post that he labels "blogofascism" (coined by Siegel) and "freewheeling". The blogosphere, he says is "the Wild West of journalism".

Certainly Champion is now well-known for his sharp tongue. He seems like an intelligent man and he's certainly passionate about what he does. It's that passion, ("bloggers are more subjective ... about their literary passions" says Champion), that will help bloggers to win in the end.

"Do you think we need more 'emotion' and novelistic 'empathy' in journalism?" I recently asked a journalist by e-mail. "How strongly do you feel this?"

Her reply? "Very strongly. Those who claim to be uniformly "objective" should be sued for false advertising." Polls regularly rate journalists pretty low, although not as low as politicians or used-car salesmen.

But there are moves to right the wrongs. Robert Cox says that he wants to credential bloggers. How?

Members would have to take an online course offered by the Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank, covering legal issues related to blogging.

Members also could seek credentialed status by undergoing training or demonstrating other work as professional journalists. They also must agree to the organisation's ethical standards and adopt formal editorial and corrections policies.

Interesting. I'll certainly be looking into it as soon as I finish this post.

For myself, I do believe that there is rather too much acrimony online. Rather than read Return of the Reluctant (Edward Champion's blog) I tend toward the more sedate tone of Matilda (run by Melbourne-based litblogger Perry Middlemiss). But that's just a personal preference.

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