The Austin Chronicle

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Blog to the Future

Where p2p might be taking journalism, or not

By Roger Gathman, March 15, 2002, Screens

SXSW Interactive Conference

P2P: Weblogs and Collaborative Media panel

Tuesday, March 12

The weblogging world is only a couple of years old, but there are already distinct stars in the blogging galaxy. Some of the biggest got together to discuss weblogging and media in Tuesday's session on P2P (peer-to-peer, for you newbies out there) journalism. Meg Hourihan, who was originally with the company that created Blogger, and Pyra, moderated. She looked, it must be said, notably less exhausted than she did last year, when Pyra was, unfortunately, nosediving. Independent contracting in San Francisco must be doing her good. Doc Searles, whose site (doc.weblogs.com) regularly accrues an amount of traffic that would make a midsize paper mag happy, provided the gravitas on the panel, and not just because he was the oldest member of it by about 20 years. Searles made a number of shrewd comments about weblogs crossing the threshold between vanity press and serious journalism. He confessed that, since 9/11, he has been more reticent about expressing his leftward tending views, purely from an ambient fear for his safety. It is part of the vulnerability of running a purely individual site. A man from Indymedia related a story that supported Searles' caution -- he reported that, in a recent demonstration in D.C., the police wouldn't honor Indymedia's press credentials, treating them essentially as protesters. Hourihan brought up the issue of trust and credibility. Cameron Marlowe, an MIT grad student who runs Blogdex, an index/directory of blogs, said that since his site tracks the popularity of blogs and the spread of information, via links, from one blog to the other, he has noticed that completely implausible stories, if they are interesting, spread as quickly or more quickly than veracious ones. Audience members were quick to point out that mainstream media has a trust issue, too; video manipulation and spin are as endemic in TV news and metro dailies as in the weblog world. The session ended with a discussion of censorship. Marlowe confessed to having stricken a "hate" site from his index, and was reproached by a member of the audience with a spirited sense of civil liberties. The crowd at this session was uniquely plugged in, with more than 90% of us running weblogs ourselves. Although there were traces of that embattled smugness endemic to any clique (mainstream media, meaning anything paper, was inevitably treated like a wholly corrupt entity whose salvation would come only through paying slavish attention to the suggestions of webloggers, and hopefully printing a few of their names in the paper for good measure), the session was conducted on a remarkably high intellectual plane.

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