Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Blogging: Not In My Backyard?

"Riveted" is the only word with which I can describe the way I read, clicking from page 1 through to page 10, Emily Gould's tell-all article "Exposed" from the May 25, 2008 issue of the New York Times Magazine. I don't even remember the waves of web browsing I rode to get there- maybe a link from PopSugar, via Entertainment Weekly, via 815 Sentences About Lost? I lost track. It was the cover story, but somehow I missed it when it published these (almost exactly) two years ago. Gould is undeniably a talented writer, and her ruthlessly honest recounting of the personal and professional turmoil she experienced in her tumble down from faux-stardom as Gawker gossip blogger was magnetizing: in dishing brashly on her and others' lives, Gould wrote often vicious aspersions of vulnerable media figures while simultaneously assuming she deserved shielding from the online voyeurs she catered to.

But those reasons aren't what really propelled me to read the piece from first sentence- "Back in 2006, when I was 24, my life was cozy and safe."- to last- "I still think about closing the door to my online life and locking [the negative comments] out, but then I think of everything else I’d be locking out, and I leave [my blog] open." I think Gould's frank examination of modern society's absorption of technology like a dishrag mopping up spilled milk touches on a key concept too often overlooked: the eradication of writers' privacy.

Privacy issues borne by the Internet's highly-connective nature have centered on Facebook and other social media tools. But what about the destruction of the protective barrier between writer and reader? Anyone writing on a digital platform arguably exposes themselves to the judgement of a vast, unknown audience. I have no way of taking a name-tagged head count of who even reads these posts, just as the physicians who compose research articles for the journal websites published by the company I work for have no control over the medical community's response to their work. Gossip bloggers like Emily Gould, and her manifold counterparts on Gawker-kindred sites from Jezebel to Philebrity to TMZ- subject themselves to the brutality of the public's backlash, as Gould experienced and admitted was justified.

But what about bloggers, and online journalists, and authors maintaining homepages, who are just trying to adapt their craft to the new medium? These people haven't sacrified integrity, as Gould and other bloggers at times have, for page hits. Yet appraisal comes with the territory of writing online, doesn't it? From the aggravation of a flooded inbox- which New York Times essayist Ben Yagoda writes about in The Perils of 'Contact Me'- to nasty comments on blog posts- scrapbook hobbyist and mom Jillian Deiling Cassity responded directly on her blog Scrappy Jilly to one such antagonizer- perils abound for even the most innocent of online writers.

To be heard, writers in 2010 need to migrate to an online platform. But that means the danger of encountering the dark underside of the Internet, even when such animosity is unprompted. One commenter on Gould's article wrote:
"I ask myself why, in a world where we are so aware of the greater picture around us, a certain small-minded blog culture is so thriving? Is it just a need for entertainment? For connectedness? In part, I see it as a need to create a small and manageable focus in a world where there are such incomprehensible and insensible happenings occurring."

I agree. And I also think the potential for anonymity on the Internet emboldens both the bloggers and the responders who slander, whereas the honorable, ethical writers trying to carve a path for themselves through the brambles of the current state of publishing are doing just the opposite: highlighting their bylines in hopes of discovery. The paradox is when these phenomena overlap, and the good guys get hurt.

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