Sunday, May 22, 2005
Blogging - Ad Nauseum
Blogosphere 'News Item': Andrew Coyne has removed all comments from his blog.
Caveat: Although there are rumours floating about the blogosphere that Andrew Coyne is being sued, the only hard facts that I can find to explain the disappearance of his comments are in Andrew Coyne's own post which state that he has suspended comments for personal reasons only and which I am accepting at face value.
It's very easy for any serious political blogger to understand why Andrew has decided to suspend comments on his blog. Notwithstanding the risks of government interference and intimidation associated with any form of journalism, the blogger's dilemma of self-regulation versus completely unrestricted free speech (ie. responsibilty for all comments - not just his own) should be just as important a consideration as any concern for officially sanctioned censorship. Successful journalism is invariably a function of credibility and integrity, regardless of the audience.
As a blogging newbie, I have quickly realized that it's a double-edged sword. A lesser-known blogger looks wistfully at the attention someone of Andrew Coyne's stature attracts and is likely to succumb to the lure of 'quantity' in the quest for recognition and approbation. All too often however, quantity and quality are mutually exclusive and this is certainly true of journalism in general and blogging in particular.
As Andrew explained in his post of May 22, he does not "like to be in the censorship business, or picking and choosing which comments to allow and which to reject, and (he doesn't) have the time to monitor hundreds of comments every day".
It is only natural that anyone who takes the time to formulate an opinion, then seek out a forum in which it may be heard, will be frustrated if he is rejected or ignored. But it is equally natural and reasonable that while every person is entitled to their opinion, it is the journalist's responsibility to ensure that whatever the message, it be communicated as clearly and effectively as possible to as wide an audience as possible.
Of course, the mainstream media has always found it necessary to be selective in their choice of opinions to be published and what's more, people understand this and accept it. Although this process may well be subjective according to the editor's or publisher's whim, it is a mistake to call this censorship. Real censorship can only be accomplished by official suasion or government fiat.
The perception persists that because an individual takes it upon him/herself to provide a forum for the expression of various opinion, that anybody can then use this forum to say anything about anyone under the guise of freedom of expression.
Because blogging is still in its infancy, for the most part done on an ad hoc basis and generally with extremely limited resources, part of its attraction is the expectation that it's the blogger's duty to ensure that every voice be heard. But I beg to differ. The amount of time and energy required to gain some measure of satisfaction with what is produced, is far in excess of what anyone ever imagines. Blogs are only public forums if their owners make it so - and it's only fair that the authors be allowed to have the final word on whether they choose to provide legitimacy to particular comments or not.
Just as spam has been the greatest obstacle to utilizing e-mail to its full potential, irresponsible and thoughtless commenting immediately detracts from and may even destroy the credibility of blogging, which I believe is arguably the greatest opportunity for freedom of expression civilization has ever known. Yet at the same time, this is the greatest challenge of the serious blogger - how to communicate a message effectively and to as wide an audience as possible without it being drowned in an ocean of irrelevant, unintelligible and/or mindless babble.
Inevitably, legal challenges will question the right of bloggers to publish their opinions and their readers' comments. Unquestionably, courts will rule that bloggers are responsible for the content of their blogs. It is imperative therefore that serious bloggers be proactive in dealing with these issues. To hold others up to scrutiny while refusing to acknowledge our own responsibilities is simply hypocritical.
I commend Andrew on confronting this issue and sincerely believe that his credibility and reputation will only be enhanced as a result of his decision. Hopefully, he will be able to quickly find a solution to his concerns, once again facilitating the expression of opinions which might otherwise go unheard.