Please Don’t Turn Blogging into TV

17 Sep ’06

There’s an interesting debate ponging around the ‘sphere over whether bloggers should video blog. And so a few words, at least partly intended to be taken seriously, but entirely calculated to provoke the debate.

In a word, no. Please don’t turn blogging into TV.

I moved to the internet in part to flee what TV had become. I didn’t want to be informed by the likes of Anderson Cooper; he of the rubber boots, gusty places and immovable hair; I have nothing to learn from chirpy announcers with the 5 top stories of the day. I wanted to be provoked. And the internet was where the minds were. I want to read Frank Rich and Slate and The New York Times and The Washington Post and The Nation and The Huffington Post and Matt Drudge and Bourque. I want to read Nick Carr and Jeff Jarvis and Michael Geist and Jeff Pulver and Tim Lee and Andrew Coyne and Mathew Ingram and Mark Evans, and Stuart MacDonald (if darn it he would blog a little more). I want to wrestle with what they think.

People certainly want video – the YouTube-ization of media is in full swing, and it’s a remarkable thing that people have the opportunity to produce their own video and choose from a dramatically expanding array of video. But video is almost always passive entertainment. I’m not arguing that it can’t be emotionally powerful, or that it can’t sometimes powerfully inform. I do think, though, that that for the most part it’s about brief engagements with simple ideas and pretty things. I think we now know everything we need to about video’s power to marginalize, simplify and dumb-down intelligent discourse; the mass market audience’s inclination to lazily channel-surf instead of actively engage in the content will inevitably infect video-ized blogging as surely as it infected TV.

To me, the real question for bloggers, then, is this: who do you want as your audience? Do you want to entertain, or do you want to inform? Do you want to perform, or do you want to engage? Do you want to wrestle with big ideas and your ability to present them? Or do you want a more emotional, passing and perhaps artistically creative engagement with your audience?

There is certainly room for experimentation, lots of it, and I hope people dive in – the past is not the future, and perhaps new forms of media will emerge that will more successfully bridge the divide between passively and actively consumed information and entertainment. (And indeed there are artists like zefrank who can more effectively than others bridge those two worlds – but that is an exceptionally rare talent.) But I believe that even if that happens, the audience that prefers to be intellectually challenged will stay with print.

It’s where the minds are.

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