Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Happy Canada Day, and a Boing Boing Cautionary Tale!

Happy Canada Day to my immense Canadian readership (Hi Daniel! Hi Julie! Hi Vish!) and to Jeff Wall who doesn't read me, but he's The Artworld Famous Canadian as well as an immense artist.
I have no idea what Canadians do on their national holidays - eat poutine, pour maple syrup over pancakes, drink Canadian beer, listen to Celine Dion Skinny Puppy, watch Keanu Reeves Pamela Anderson?
I know that some Canadians, even on their national holiday, they fight for free speech, against censorship, want free copyrights and all that, like the resident Canadian at Boing Boing.

[Note to my French readers: Boing Boing is the blog Liberation freely pilfers from when they put weird news on their front page. Shows the level of serious journalism they have at Libe nowadays].

Now the funny thing is there's some kind of internal "unpublishing" going on at Boing Boing over some totally incomprehensible matter (they erased the contributions of someone they don't like, the someone raised a stir, both parties pretend the other knows why/ah no I have no idea what's going on, and all that).

As most internet wars and debates, it's rather funny. Like, you know, being "de-friended" on Facebook or Myspace about something posted on a blog that had nothing to do with the "de-friender" (or is it "the un-friender"?). As far as pettiness goes it's amusing. I think.
Yours truly learned about that Boing Boing story last night by logging on the LAT website (in passing, Zell-decimated LAT, don't you have better news to inform readers about than bloggers wars? Even if it's the most famous blog in the English-speaking hemisphere?).

So far the comments at Boing Boing on the topics clock past 500, and it's only mid-afternoon! Whatever Boing Boing do it's their problem, but I don't think they handled the thing well. It looks like a personal issue, they don't explain exactly what, so everyone is dying to know, and they refuse to explain further by arguing they don't want to embarrass the person in question. It's nice, but since so far they are mostly embarrassing themselves, I think they should offer a bit more info (such as "she did something too unethical in this or that matter and we feel we no longer can endorse/support her work, and yes maybe we made a mistake by deleting her posts about a year ago") and maybe update their post rather than have moderators chime in a few times in the hundred comments posted below their vague explanaition.

So what's the real problem? Not so much the bickering, secrecy and bad handling of the matter. Everyone will have forgotten it in a couple of months anyway. The real problem is that after a certain level of success, it becomes impossible for any enterprise, however friendly and sympathetic it may be, to keep on existing by the same rules (or absence thereof) one previously obeyed in more amateurish times.
Yes, Web 2.0 has deeply upset the news landscape (and much more!), old/traditional media going through a horrid transition in the meantime.
Yes it's cool, everyone with/out credentials like yours truly can now publish and disseminate to the world at large whatever opinions, ideas, erroneous facts, myth, gossip, stories and beliefs they want. Without obeying any of Journalism 101 rules and guidelines, since blogs are initially just personal soapboxes. But you cannot have your cake and it eat, be proud of being a "citizen-journalist" (whatever that means) and disregard safeguards long-established for a reason.
When you do, you end up being the NYT and the Jayson Blair story, not that the NYT didn't recover from it. In their particular case, Boing Boing bloggers mishandled something that looks like a personal matter blown out of context; because they acted like a bunch of amateurish friends having a fight, and forgetting they acted in public while having that fight.

In the end it's not the bottom/the truth of the story that is so important, not whether Boing Boing bloggers were fair or not, honest or not, but how the way they acted made them look . It made them look as opaque, swift and vague as the corporations they routinely critique on their pages, a reminder that now the joyous time is over when Boing Boing was the cool debunker of censorship, valiantly fighting corporate greed it once was (and is still striving to be).
Boing Boing, It's time to grow up*.
Being a big blog with lots of advertisement, tons of readers, and linked everywhere brings in responsibility, I should think, even in dealing with a one-year-after-the-fact, attention-seeking other blogger fact. So get your act together, and even if it hurts like hell, publish a reasonable explanation, with more information and details, about why/how you did what you did, and be classy and elegant about it. Offer Violet Blue a right to respond on your pages.

*I couldn't resist writing this phrase. Try to pronounce it in Darth Vader's voice, you'll understand my bubbly delight!

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