Editor’s Journal

Editor’s Journal

KEVIN FINNERAN

To Blog, or Not to Blog

“I’M HOME FROM HAVING A COLONOSCOPY—everything went fine, but I think I’ll let the drugs leave my system for a while longer before doing any serious blogging.”

—Instapundit (Glenn Reynolds) 12/5/05, 11:19 am.

To be fair, this is not a typical Glenn Reynolds opening, but when I decided to visit a few of the most popular blogs as a warm-up for writing this piece, this was the first line that I read. It also illustrates one of the most commonly heard criticisms of blogs: that they are self-centered and self-indulgent. Readers who do not like blogs wonder why anyone would be interested in reading half a dozen daily notes from a stranger on disparate subjects. Does anyone have that many stimulating or insightful thoughts?

What Reynolds as well as Andrew Sullivan, Mickey Kaus, Joshua Micha Marshall, and others with blog titles such as Wonkette and Political Animal do provide is an identifiable personal response to the news. Just as many New York Times readers want to know how Paul Krugman, Thomas Friedman, or David Brooks react to events, many blog readers like to have their information filtered by someone whose judgment they trust.

Readers also value the timeliness, brevity, and informal style of many blogs. Blogs can convey a sense of honesty and active involvement. Blog authors have no time for “recollection in tranquility” or the clever crafting of a George Will or Maureen Dowd. Blogs contain hot new thoughts, devoid of artifice and enriched with a heavy dose or irreverence.

Blogs are also independent and democratic. For those who are suspicious of the objectivity of corporate-controlled media, it is reassuring that no suits are looking over bloggers’ shoulders or asking them to consider the reaction of advertisers and stockholders. And with blogs, anyone can express an opinion without having to pass all the tests necessary to capture one of those exceedingly rare sinecures on a newspaper’s op-ed page.

Whether one likes them or not, blogs are lively and influential—and particularly attractive to generation 1.0. In a world in which time appears to be careening downhill, blogs sometimes seem to be the only form of publishing capable of keeping up. Knowing that millions of people are visiting these sites every day, sometimes several times a day, can be discouraging to someone who works at the 19th century pace of a quarterly journal.

On the other hand, blogs have some obvious liabilities. First, there are too many of them, and each of them has too many postings. Who has time to keep up? I am certain that many of them include something worth reading from time to time, but how much time should I have to spend clicking through the blogosphere and wading through the drivel and trivia to find these gems?

Although some bloggers had established reputations as scholars or journalists before they became bloggers, many arrived out of nowhere. When trying to sift through this avalanche of information and commentary, one has to stop to ask: “Who are these people? Why should I listen to them?”

For readers with enough time and dedication, it is possible to find a few bloggers worth listening to regularly. And if one finds a blogger who seems reliable, that blogger probably provides links to 30 or 40 fellow bloggers who are worth reading. By visiting all of those blogs, one can eventually find a handful of bloggers to follow. Still, keeping up with even a couple of blogs is time-consuming, and I can’t say that I’ve found any blog that I want to read every day, never mind a couple of times a day. Time is limited, and so is everyone’s supply of brilliant insights.

Of course, blog lovers do not mind wasting a little time because even a mediocre blog might be entertaining. But you are reading Issues in Science and Technology, and I have come to the painful realization that our readers are, demographically speaking, not among the most fun-loving quartiles. It appears that conducting research, writing books and articles, managing companies, working in Congress, or trying to influence policy takes its toll on your impish, fun-loving spirit. In fact, much of the irreverence found in blogs is probably aimed at you. Besides, even if you do enjoy a little anarchic fun now and then, you don’t have a lot of spare time to look for it.

With the pros and cons of blogging in mind, Issues is going to launch an experiment in its own form of blogging. Blogging 2.0 will be brief and timely, but it will come from experts who do not have the luxury of facile irreverence. Rather than having one person spout off on any and all topics, we will have a team of bloggers who will each focus on the areas they know best. Rather than writing numerous reports each day, our bloggers will post only once a week. There will be a fresh blog each day, but the blogger will differ from day to day during the week. The bloggers will have a recognizable point of view, but it will emerge from their knowledge rather than their attitude. They will be engaging writers, but they will win your attention with insights, not insults.

The bloggers will start appearing at www.issues.org sometime in January, when we launch a new Web site design. In addition to the blogs, the redesigned site will include a search engine that will make it easy to research a topic by first finding all relevant Issues articles, then all relevant National Academies publications, and then the rest of the online world. If the blogs are as addictive as we hope they will be, and the search engine fires on all cylinders, our hope is that Issues will be a gateway to science, technology, and health policy. It will be a place to catch a quick glance at the day’s policy news and debates or to settle in for a thorough exploration of a subject. Please click on over to sample these and some other new features on the site.