David Carr's column today is partly about a plan masterminded by Ad Age columnist Simon Dumenco to create, quote, a "Council on Ethical Blogging and Aggregation," which will ostensibly serve as a sort of trade group or (nonbinding) credentialing organization for best practices in the blogosphere. Well-intended, and a bad idea.
Who has signed on to be on this "Council" of elders who shall instruct bloggers on proper blogging? The editors of several websites, and—most importantly—famous bloggers like... New York Magazine editor Adam Moss, Esquire editor David Granger and Atlantic editor James Bennett.
The day that I ask the editor of Esquire for a seal of approval on my blogging is the day that I sign a fabulously lucrative contract to write for Esquire.com. And you, Adam Moss—no. No.
Look, what Dumenco is trying to do is simply to codify "how to blog without being a huge prick" guidelines that all decent online writers already know. Give credit to sources of information, link back, don't blockquote to a ridiculous degree (you guys at The Atlantic might want to double check on that one), etc. Everyone who cares about not being a prick already does these things, or tries to do them, and, if notified of not doing them, should correct them. The people who don't do these things are either jerks or just run worthless content recycling mills, like The Huffington Post, which is the place that pissed off Dumenco in the first place. (No disrespect to the actual writers buried deep inside the HuffPo mothership.) In other words, for the writers who care about this issue, such a group is unnecessary; for writers who don't care about this issue, such a group will have no influence. Therefore such a group is worthless.
And there is a more fundamental problem. This sort of top-down, expert-heavy, credential-credulous media structure is exactly what blogging has so brilliantly been destroying for more than a decade. The internet is where the upstarts are on equal footing with the experts. There are few barriers to publication. And there is no need to seek the approval of a committee of elite writers and editors in order to be respected. If there are grievances over these types of editorial blogging issues, there is already a system in place to deal with them: someone writes a pissy diatribe, someone else writes a pissy diatribe in response, and everyone argues over who's right and who's wrong. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis: This is what makes the media blogosphere go. Ceding this discussion to some committee of self-ordained experts would be a bore. Come on, already-famous editors. You guys used to be... well, if not cool exactly, at least, you know, with it.
Many of the people who now want to sit on the Blog Judgment Committee started out as upstarts themselves. So they are self-aware enough to know, deep down, that this sort of endeavor is doomed to fail, simply because it presumes that the upstarts of tomorrow will fall in line. That's not how this blog thing works. There are massive media corporations that make billions of dollars. Then there are newspapers to police them. Then there is Gawker, to mock the newspapers. Then there are the blogs that mock Gawker. Then there are the Tumblrs that mock the bloggers. And so on and so on. Like the human body, it cleans itself of waste. It's a wondrous self-policing system.