So it was that last year I decided to flex my writerly muscles and try something new: a column for this Web site. It would break up the routine, I'd get a byline, maybe I'd get some entertaining e-mail from readers, and then I'd go quietly about my business again, behind the scenes, where I belong.
Not quite. I did get the byline, and I did get the e-mail, but I did not simply fade back into the world of grammar and style. Instead--and forgive me if this sounds like a pulp-fiction book title--I was seduced by bloggers.
A blogger is a publisher of a Web log, or "blog." But what's a Web log? As one of my fellow editors recently put it, Web logging sounds like some form of virtual endangerment of the spotted owl. Not so, my friends.
Web logs give voice to people whom just a decade ago, you never would have heard from. There are war blogs, peace blogs, food blogs, crude blogs, humor blogs, culture blogs to occupy your day. Geek blogs, freak blogs, teen blogs, mean blogs, fanaticals and radicals who like to rant away. Worker bees and histories, punditry and poetry, diversity, adversity and spicy verbal play. Optimists, pessimists, enthusiasts and hobbyists, journalists and journal-ists with something big to say.
Blogging is a window on the world--at least for those of us with Web access.
Within two days of having the blog gauntlet thrown down, I had set up a Web site for free on Blogger.com. It would be an exercise in discipline, to force myself to publish something every day, and a test of my stick-to-itiveness: How long could I keep it up? The project is still in progress, but here's what I've discovered so far:
Blogging can be a catharsis. It's an outlet on so many levels, for the frustrated, the disenchanted, the amateur or professional writer, the wildly prolific, the grieving and suffering, the idealist, the outrageously creative, the bored, or the royally pissed off.
Blogging is a window on the world--at least for those of us with Web access. After publishing to my blog, I've had e-mail conversations with people in my own back yard, as well as with those as far away as Toronto, Greece, South Africa and Romania.
Blogging has not changed my life. But spend some time blog surfing, and you'll see that it has certainly changed the lives of some--whether it has inspired earth-shattering revelations or given people a profound sense of belonging.
By attempting to close the gaps left by the mass media, can blogging save the world?
Then comes the capital-P Pressure.
Blogging can be stressful. There are no nagging editors, and there are no real deadlines, but blog for a while, and eventually you gain an audience that has expectations that you're going to have something witty, profound, helpful or humorous to say on a regular basis.
If you don't update your blog, the e-mail starts trickling in: "What happened? Are you dead?"
Then you encounter the people who take blogging way too seriously. When I first signed on to blog, I was amazed at the civility and open-mindedness that seemingly pervaded the blogging community. Could it be? A place on the Internet--a whole subculture, even--where people have learned manners?
It went smoothly for a couple of months. Then I posted something that challenged some people's ideas about good vs. evil, and I was flamed-mailed from here to Timbuktu. No, the blogging community isn't quite a universal outpost of transcendent thinkers, although it can come close in many places.
Blogs are not merely vanity sites, despite what some journalists have written. Most people don't have the requisite energy or ego to be pursuing that potential audience of millions. There are those, however, who argue that blogging may signal the death of journalism as we know it.
Yet blogs aren't ready to replace professional news outlets, nor is it certain that they ever will--or should. Why must one replace the other? Professional newsrooms have their uses, blogs have theirs, and both are valid. News outlets reach more people; think of the millions of newsreaders who don't have Internet access. Professional news writing also includes an established system of checks and balances that blogs lack: standards for achieving truth, fairness, accuracy, balance and objectivity. Certain blog writers attempt to follow the same standards, but many don't, nor are they expected to. That's what makes them interesting.
News outlets don't always succeed in achieving those standards either, but that's where blogs can pick up the slack. If you read an article that you believe is lacking in perspective, you can turn to the blogging community to fill the holes. You can link to the article and contribute your own ideas. You can take the whole package and disseminate it to your blogging friends. Before you know it, you've got a list of comments, an e-mail dialogue, and cross-posting and -linking--all prompted by the one news article.
By attempting to close the gaps left by the mass media, can blogging save the world? I'm not convinced yet (sorry, bloggers). But as any good blogger would say: Give it time--you never know.
Jennifer Balderama is CNET News.com's copy chief; she publishes the Web log Nonsense Verse. Before heading up the copydesk, she was the associate editor of the Media section. When her head's not buried in a book, she can teach you a mean Charleston.