J-School: Educating Independent Journalists

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Diversity in the Blogosphere: What it Means and Why It Matters

Posted by chanders on May 26, 2005

A few months ago, the blogosphere saw what could be called its first diversity tempest. Spurred on by this post from Rebecca MacKinnon, a number of thoughtful bloggers spent about a month furiously debating why the blogosphere is so male and white.

MacKinnon heps run a project at Harvard called Global Voices Online. From its mission statement:

Global Voices is an international effort to diversify the conversation taking place online by involving speakers from around the world, and developing tools, institutions and relationships to help make these voices heard.

Reading the debate, which quickly and unfortunately descended into a somewhat defensive back-and-forth about "affirmative action" and "political correctness" online, I started thinking once again about how far the whole blog concept has fallen from Subcommandante Marcos’ and Indymedia’s original hopes about what the internet would do to to communications:

In this sense, the world of contemporary news is a world that exists for the VIP’s– the very important people. Their everyday lives are what is important: if they get married, if they divorce, if they eat, what clothes they wear, or what if they clothes they take off– these major movie stars and big politicians. But common people only appear for a moment– when they kill someone, or when they die. For the communication giants and the neoliberal powers, the others, the excluded, only exist when they are dead, or when they are in jail or court.

Does anyone actually think that the blogosphere has done very much to change this? Most of the time, what I seem to find on blogs are just as bad as what it was that Marcos was railing against in 1998. Blogs may be open to a theoretical diversity of voices, but the vast majority of them are not only written by white men, but they’re still concerned with the VIP’s– insidce the Hollywood / Washington beltway, still drawing on the mainstream media for their cues about whats important and whats not.

Of course, this problem– and attempts to remedy it are as old as the hills. Just remember the Kerner Report, which back in 1967 wrote:

"By and large, news organizations have failed to communicate to both their black and white audiences a sense of the problems America faces and the sources of potential solutions. The media report and write from the standpoint of a white man’s world. The ills of the ghetto, the difficulties of life there, the Negro’s burning sense of grievance, are seldom conveyed. Slights and indignities are part of the Negro’s daily life, and many of them come from what he now calls “the white press”—a press that repeatedly, if unconsciously, reflects the biases, the paternalism, the indifference of white America."

The report made a pretty big impression, on the media if not America as a whole. Every year, RTNDA and ASNE release reports documenting diversity in the newsroom.  But are we paradoxically moving backwards in the blogosphere, under the guise of complete diversity, access, and freedom?

I wonder if there’s a way to somehow "operationalize Marcos"– turn his critique into a set of measurements through which to analyze the content of the blogosphere, or at least the top 100 blogs in the blogosphere?

3 Responses to “Diversity in the Blogosphere: What it Means and Why It Matters”

  1. Martha said

    I’m new to “blog world” and I’m sure your take on it is correct. But to add my 5 cents, I don’t go to the type of blogs you’re talking about (the ones focused on the mainstream). The Common Ills got me excited about blogs. Yes, every morning there is at least one post on the NYT, but the afternoon is Democracy Now and throughout the day the information comes from a variety of sources. Thursdays are Indymedia roundup. Sundays are what’s being covered and reported outside the U.S. The Progressive, The Nation, Ms., In These Times, Clamor, CounterPunch, The Black Commentator and Left Turn all get spotlighted there. That’s why I respond to The Common Ills. If I was seeing the blogs you’re talking about (and I don’t doubt you), I wouldn’t visit any.
    But I love C.I. and I love all the blogs that have sprung up from The Common Ills: Betty, Rebecca, Folding Star, the gang at The Third Estate Sunday Review.
    I can’t talk about a lot of other blogs besides those (and the link to the 1998 piece won’t pull up for me) because few I’ve visited have held my attention. (I found you via C.I.’s link to CounterRecruiter and CounterRecruiter’s link to Indypendent — which has been spotlighted at The Common Ills — and then on to your school site.) But I can say that the goals you hoped for are alive at other sites. They may not be the bloggers everyone talks about, but they are out there and they have a following.

  2. Martha said

    I forgot to mention Kat! Kat’s Korner. She does that at The Common Ills, music reviews. And after months of that, she just started her own site last week. I love Kat she makes me laugh and gets me caught up in her love of music.
    I’ll also note Isaiah who doesn’t blog but does the comic strip at The Common Ills every Sunday and at least 1 other time during the week. And Ruth who regularly lets us know how awful NPR’s Morning Edition is and why. There are a lot of other people who contribute at The Common Ills (shout outs to Liang, Keesha and KeShawn and Rob & Kara) but it’s too many to list them all.
    Also, since the post is on diversity, I’m African-American.

  3. Martha said

    I forgot to mention Kat! Kat’s Korner. She does that at The Common Ills, music reviews. And after months of that, she just started her own site last week. I love Kat she makes me laugh and gets me caught up in her love of music.
    I’ll also note Isaiah who doesn’t blog but does the comic strip at The Common Ills every Sunday and at least 1 other time during the week. And Ruth who regularly lets us know how awful NPR’s Morning Edition is and why. There are a lot of other people who contribute at The Common Ills (shout outs to Liang, Keesha and KeShawn and Rob & Kara) but it’s too many to list them all.
    Also, since the post is on diversity, I’m African-American.

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