What Constitutes Credibility in Blogging?

Jeff Jarvis links to an article which shows that some bloggers do reap material rewards if they’re considered able to give publicity

So some bloggers receive attention from commercial interests. Not the worst thing – I’m glad someone is getting attention for something – but it does make one wonder whether some bloggers openly try to cultivate that attention.

I don’t think they can be blamed for wanting an audience generally. I mean, I want that, and I don’t sit around thinking about being rich and famous, although I do joke about it. The reason for wanting an audience is perhaps more basic than wealth or honor – it’s really about getting certain ideas, or a certain way of conducting a conversation, out there.

One can see that the repetitive character of our media and education comes from a passivity intrinsic to populism. Populism has a “live and let live” character in peacetime that is itself an extreme: in times of war or in times its timidity is challenged, a far uglier side which can be considered “fascist” comes about which is, of course, another extreme.

In any case, I bring this up because if you wonder how it is that people can watch the news saying the same thing over and over, many times not even in different ways, or if you wonder why politicians’ talking points are the same, it’s because of that “live and let live” mentality – education requires work, one has to say “I don’t know this” and then make a real effort to know it. Identifying “this,” though, might mean one has to look beyond what one is presented. In a world where popular opinion is everything – the market is indeed democratic – to “look beyond” is not a simple task, and few of us can even conceive of where deeper questions would lie.

The point is, wanting an audience can be something more than needing attention. It could be about saying “this is my world, and I want to make sure my views are well-represented before I go.”

If that’s the case, a blogger may make money, but endorsements have to come wholly from his own experience. If he’s selling something to you, it’s more of a product recommendation from first-hand experience. He cannot exist as a salesman in any sense, although that will inevitably happen. People do have to go to conferences and meet others and we all get awestruck. And taking gifts and donations isn’t the worst thing. Openness is the cure-all in the case where one stands for something, but is human.

But I suspect that what’s problematic about these bloggers – and I’m not condemning them, Jarvis I think has the situation exactly correct, they’re fans and it’s nice to see networks cater to someone – is that without a clear set of ideas or some sort of “rule” guiding them, they can endanger their voice and all of ours.

If the only people who blogged were cheap viagara salesmen and people who needed my credit card number to help reclaim their fortune in a foreign country, then I might, being a good blogger who wrote solidly and thoughtfully, change the perception of blogging.

I might also not achieve that, and be buried with a medium that was only as good as the majority of users.

Look, generally speaking, I think one, as a blogger, has to be open but also has to be aware that one’s voice is oneself. It is possible to sell it away, and that sale happens not by getting stuff, but by not questioning oneself at all. It doesn’t look to me like it is possible, when moving from almost nothing to a heck-of-a-lot of something, to keep credibility because of one’s own lack of confidence.

Aristotle has a virtue that Sachs terms “greatness of soul” – the question is whether one loves honor appropriately, and the greater the soul the more one can handle being fawned over, etc. It is a moral virtue that concerns the public wholly, and if this society weren’t wholly private, I would feel more comfortable with bloggers taking “bribes” and still being smart about it, since I would know that being schmoozed alone couldn’t affect someone.

In my case, I don’t know how it would affect me, and I don’t trust myself, for I would probably worship the person who gave me a free DVD of anything. So I’m glad to not have the question come up at all.

1 Comment

  1. Does making money, from something that is still amateurish and most don’t make money from, make you a sell out? I know that’s a very crude distillation of your argument, or at least my perception of the argument, but is that right? And if so, who cares?

    I see what your saying about the the public in a wholly private society, and what that connotes to our world of blogging and selling. Rather, I see the concern about the confluence of media – advertising and endorsements – and the “freedom” of thought on the internet. Can we trust a person who is being paid to endorse a product? Or can we trust their opinion if they are receiving compensation for that opinion? I would say that the moment they are paid for an “opinion” maybe it’s no longer an opinion. So, I guess, I am asking – or am I asserting – if money taints opinion and thought?

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