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October 23, 2003

"Blogging is About Making and Changing Minds."

Weblogging is an inconclusive act-- which is different from having no conclusions or firm conclusions.

Doc Searls said something important in his weblog the other day. He spoke of three approaches:

One is the “cool” approach of traditional journalism… One is the “hot” approach of talk radio, which has since expanded to TV sports networks and now Fox TV. The third is the engaged approach of weblogging. What we’re doing here may be partisan in many cases, but it is also inconclusive.

“Partisan but also inconclusive.” What does that mean? I think he’s saying that the writings of the best webloggers are animated by their opinions, but not automated by them. Is this because webloggers are smarter, holier, cooler than others in the chattering classes? Alas, no. It’s only because they’re writers using a nimble modern tool, the weblog, the way it apparently wants to be used. They favor a style of expression—social scientists call it opinion formation—that is interactive with other weblogs and other things on the Web.

Doc calls it the engaged approach. One could propose a rule: when you wish to speak here, you do it by commenting on something else. Then you go get the something else and show it to us. If we want to “check” your interpretation with references, we will. This system of checks (and balances) is strong. It can withstand partisanship. But it remains nimbler.

So while a good weblogger is constantly engaged with opinion, Doc says: don’t get married. Wedded to your views, that is. Because the next link can not only change your mind, it can add wiring, add memory. Which then forces you to restate your views to see if they survive the new understanding. This is how good weblogs work. For the writers, for the readers, “blogging is about making and changing minds.”

Sure, weblogs are good for making statements, big and small. But they also force re-statement. Yes, they’re opinion forming. But they are equally good at unforming opinion, breaking it down, stretching it out, re-building it around new stuff. Come to some conclusions? Put them in your weblog, man, but just remember: it doesn’t want to conclude.

People trying to explain their attraction to the weblog form say it’s conversational, two way, personal, a medium for the individual voice— plus interactive with our untold wealth in information, and fun. All true. Doc adds something: weblogging is an inconclusive act— and that’s attractive, part of the fun.

The cool, neutral, professional style in journalism says: get both sides and decide for yourself. The hotter, more partisan press says: Decide for yourself—which side?—then go get information. The weblog doesn’t want to be either of these, but it checks and it balances both.

Posted by Jay Rosen at October 23, 2003 12:55 AM