The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Does reading blogs make you smart, or stupid? That's essentially the question to be answered in Steve Rubel's self-inflicted experiment to limit his entire news media intake this week to nothing but blogs:
I am doing this to prove to myself that the blogosphere has reached a critical juncture. My theory is that there are enough really smart, influential individuals out there who will essentially filter "all the news that's fit to blog." All I need to know about life I can learn from blogs...

My self-imposed info-hunger strike, however, does not mean that mass media is going away anytime soon. In fact, it will only become more relevant as blogs act like a media magnifying glass and perform essential "checks and balances" on news reported by the pros.
I've poo-pooed the idea of relying on blogs as your primary/only news source, mainly because most are, indeed, just another news filter. Unless they're written as primary or secondary news accounts--and relatively few are, and even then in limited venues (soldiers in Iraq, etc.)--I don't see much benefit from reading a blogger's account instead of directly to the news outlet article that's being referenced. To me, a blog might point you in the direction of a news item, and give you an opinionated twist on it, but you're not going to learn much about the story unless you actually click through to the originating article.

Which leads me to the most curious part of Rubel's exercise:
I will also not click any blog links to journalist-written stories or browse non-blog RSS feeds.
This is in keeping to limiting his consumption to blogosphere-only content, but it also raises an interesting point: How often do blog readers actually click through to the hyperlinked article that's referenced in a blog post? And should they?

Presumably, the blogger includes a hyperlink to the news item that's being riffed on for a reason. Is it to provide the reader the full story? Is it a citation, as proof that the blogger isn't just making up a story? And more importantly, in the context of the writer-reader relationship, does the blogger expect the reader to actually click through to the link(s) provided in a post, or should the reader "stay put" and just take in the blog post as the entire story and regard the links as optional perusal?

This is something I've often wondered about regarding blogs, and regarding my own blogging. Should I bother digging for links to incidental information in a post, when the odds of anyone actually clicking on those links seems to be miniscule? Do I do it more for my own reference? Is the appearance of a hyperlink in a post just a visual notation that, yes, the writer is focusing on some external source instead of pulling things out of the air, but it's not necessary to actually check what's on the other end of that hyperlink?

My own blog reading habits tend to fluctuation regarding this: Sometimes I'll click through to the hyperlinked article, sometimes I won't. It depends on my level of interest in both the subject and the blogger. I'd say that it's the blogger's job to make me want to look further into the matter that determines whether or not I should check out the links provided in the post.

And that's why I think this aspect of Rubel's "diet" is flawed. It might come down to definitions, but I think the purpose of a blog is not only to expose you to the ideas and opinions of the blogger, but also to point you to primary/secondary news items that inspired those ideas and opinions in the first place. Relying solely on the blogger's word seems unnecessarily limiting to me; if there's a hyperlink in the post, I look at it as an invitation to click through to read it. A blog's content doesn't materialize out of thin air; the story behind the blog story is provided for you, so you might as well make use of it. Rubel's approach almost contradicts the spirit of blog reading--to get both the blogger's opinion and other opinions at once.

So what will Rubel's blog-only reading yield? We'll have to see; he's started the insanity this morning. And yes, please, click on through!

(Via Poynter; yes, click through here too!)