Bloggers are crap, declares Blooker Prize judge
Winner 'a tiny island of talent in foam-flecked sea'
The Blooker Prize for books which began life as online ramblings has been won by My War: Killing Time in Iraq, by Colby Buzzell.
Buzzell began blogging during a 2004 combat tour in Iraq with the US Army, which he had joined at 26 after tiring of "doing data entry for twelve bucks an hour" and living on pot noodles. Life as a machine-gunner in the Sunni Triangle turned out to be more interesting, but not so great that Buzzell cared to repeat the experience.
Meanwhile, the blog swiftly drew massive media attention, and by the time it was shut down by the military brass after running for eight weeks Buzzell was being hotly pursued by publishers. My War came out in the States in 2005 and is still selling well in paperback. Buzzell now writes freelance for Esquire magazine, among others.
The Blooker Prize, which named My War as its winner this year, is sponsored by Lulu.com, the online publishing platform which offers aspiring writers an alternative route to recognition and revenue.
Rather than blogging, a user can write a conventional book and upload it to Lulu. Design and formatting are done automatically or by the author, keeping Lulu's costs down. When a customer decides to purchase such a book, a copy is printed and shipped to order. Provided that the author doesn't insist on a large payment per book, the per-copy cost is similar to bookshop retail prices.
Thus far the most successful Lulu books have tended to be highly-specialised non-fiction selling to a small audience willing to pay a high-ish price. The top ten sellers as of writing included three programming manuals, two web marketing books, a treatise on keeping a rare breed of dog, the "Ultimate Tattoo Guide"... you get the picture.
Of course, the lack of mass-appeal writing on Lulu may be due to conventional publishers trawling the site and snapping up any potential winners.
Still, at least Lulu content appeals to some. Blogging is arguably more inconsistent by far, with its undeniable gems sometimes hard to find amid piles of online dross.
Certainly, if the Blooker Prize is an attempt to boost the reputation of the blogosphere as a place where the top scribblers of tomorrow may be found, it has arguably backfired at least to some extent. Nick Cohen, a Guardian columnist recruited as Blooker judge, characterised all the blooks on the shortlist apart from Buzzell's as "dreadful and derivative".
"In journalism as in publishing," he wrote in the Guardian before the Blooker was even announced, "fine writers and commentators have broken through from the blogs to the mainstream...But, dear God, there are too few of them, far too few: tiny islands of talent in a roaring, foam-flecked sea."
It could be argued, of course, that the mainstream media's low opinion of Web 2.0 content in general is the result of two factors. First, paid writers/camerafolk/artists etc are terrified of having their livelihoods undercut by hordes of hobbyist creatives who work for nothing. Second, whenever a blogger, Lulu self-publisher, DIY YouTube auteur, etc shows any talent, he or she immediate gets snorked up by hungry content providers and becomes part of the establishment - like Buzzell.
Watch this space... ®
One more factor for the mainstream media's low opinion of web content: They have no idea about the Web and haven't got a clue where to look. Pay a visit to the eXile (exile.ru), and especially Gary Brecher, John Dolan and Mark Ames. They write extraordinarily well, frequently getting the drop on major news outlets; and making them look ridiculous.
There are plently of people doing good work out there - they just don't get recognised; The late Chris Lightfoot (http://ex-parrot.com/%7Echris/wwwitter/), The Walled City (http://mirrorshades.org/wc/), BSAG (http://www.rousette.org.uk/), the Old Grey Poet (http://oldgreypoet.wordpress.com/), Minerva (http://womanlyparts.blogspot.com/) and so on...
These people won't be recognised, by the Guardian for example, because the hacks at that paper don't care about the Web and don't know it. They think they are being 'hip' and maybe even 'groovy' when they run an article on a website like Samizdata because it's the 'in thing' at the moment - for a readership more out of touch than they are. Then they look as thick as the suited, bespectacled and bemused chaps who reported on The Movement in the sixties. You've just got to look at these people operating for a while, wonder, and then give up on them.
Who cares what he thinks?
It has already been mentioned that traditional journalists are notorious - at least, amoung those of us who read from multiple sources, check out facts for ourselves, etc. - for 'sensationalism, ignorance, bias, ...' (good list, Graham). What doesn't seem to get covered is the intent of bloggers vs. journalists.
Whenever someone talks about hundreds of crap bloggers out there, I always wonder "yes, and how many of them /care/ what you think?" Some members of the so-called blogosphere are writing as journalists, and no small number of them are doing a horrible job at it. A significant minority is doing well. However, outnumbering either of these groups are those with no pretensions to journalistic talent whatsoever. Most of the time they're using their blog as some bizarre cross between email, a message board, and an online diary. If they write about the news, it's to catch the attention of their friends/family/enemies/pets/aliens from the planet Xeno, and they usually include a link to a "real" article in their post.
Personally, I find your typical blog to be incredibly boring to read, and there are only about a dozen that I actually read on a regular basis myself - including friends and family, because my friends can be just as boring when they start rambling online as anyone else. However, that doesn't justify the repeated attempt to devalue what worth these people - yes, PEOPLE - get from their blogging. If you don't like it, don't read it.
Islands of talent in a foam-flecked sea...
Well I could make great arguments about the 'common's and the principles of web 2,0 (user interactivity as a concept is not new, merely rebranded - rebranding being the very essence of the whole web 2 phenomena) but I will simply resort to two arguments.
The first being that the web allows the rapid disseminaton of new information, for good or for ill, and the equally rapid analysis of such information by a wide variety of specialists - and yes, such specialists do exist out there. This is not a new thing. The minute the web became accessible to the general population, such thing were possible.
The second being that the argument put forth by nick cohen is a classic example of the mote and the beam. When 'proper' journalism is capable of producing high quality output 24/7 without any of the dross, sensationalism, ignorance, bias, deception, 'massaging' of statistics, twisting of events, ignoring of facts and outright lies promulgated by the vast majority of journalists, then they will be entirely justified in their criticism of the 'blogosphere'.
The simple facts are that I can pick up a copy of any major newspaper, pick a story and then go and find detailed analysis of that story on the web from a dozen experts (and a few hundred idiots, it has to be said, but how different is that from the print and TV media, really? Jack Thompson anyone?). I can find stories covered on the web that the major media simply ignore because, they say, it's not newsworthy, or for whatever other reasons they offer, yet at the same time they wonder why their audiences are disappearing. I can also find stories that don't deserve to appear in any shape or form in both print and on the web, yet unsurprisingly do appear in both.
The only difference between the print media and the web is that the low start-up costs of web publishing allow more people to get going. The signal to noise ratio is probably identical.