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Blogging and Writing: Different and yet the same

Recently, the topic of the similarities and differences of writing professionally and blogging came up again.

Traditionally, the media (should) be responsible for what they put out merely because they are voicing information, opinions, facts and research out to an

impressionable public. Journalists were used to inform. Today, they are also used to influence and sway – hence the importance of journalistic responsibility and

integrity, that of the media to its readers and the people who pay to inform and be informed.

Contrast this with blogs – weblogs (private or otherwise) penned by individuals and some syndicated to garner wider readership. Some write about their

day-to-day activities, such as work and their relationships. Some voice out opinions on current issues. Some even disseminate information to friends and

acquaintances from all over, who read their blogs. They are characterised as informal, and as such, are believed largely to be unreliable because they are from one

person, after all. And yet, their contents can result in the same results: to influence and sway its audience.

Contrast this yet again with diaries – the traditional personal logs of individuals in a secret place nobody ever sees and to even take a peek is a breach of privacy.

Millions in the world for centuries have kept diaries and accounts of their lives. Some more interesting ones have been published with permission and they have found

their way to influence and sway those who purchase and read them. Most of the time (I assume), these never reach the eyes of the unintended because in here, you

write things you don’t want people to know you think or do. As such, you can write anything you want, are responsible to nobody because this diary is for your eyes

only.

The question now is: How is journalistic responsibility defined today in light of such widely available publishing resources? The reach of your chosen media? The

subject of your piece (fiction, biographical etc)? Or simply the fact that you have put pen to paper (hence covering in effect all writers, including diarists).

Let’s talk about reach. If as a journo, your article is published in a printed Gen Y newspaper which sells only 1,000 copies a day, which works out roughly say

about 1, 200 readers per day, you are still tied by professional ethics to publish only the facts and only after much research.

If as a blogger, your article is published on a publicly available Internet blogtal and is further disseminated through syndication engines all over the world, chances

are you’d get, oh, about 30 readers at any given time. Depends on how interesting your blog is, of course. Take commercially syndicated blogs such as Jeff Ooi’s,

which are treated as factual commentaries because he has proven himself capable of writing sound political observations. As such, he has to be responsible for what

he says, whether or not he’s being paid to do so, because he gets hundreds, perhaps thousands of readers a day. He has earned this privilege. You can’t say ‘don’t

believe what Jeff says because he’s just a blogger’ because what he writes about is also based on sound observation of facts and trends. And you can trust that by

looking at his following.

One thing to note is that blogs do reflect the blogger’s mind and mindset. Some more literally than others. As such, if a would-be terrorist blogs about his intent to

blow up a building and we are given a day by day account of his destructive plans, do the authorities sit back and say, nah he’s just a blogger? If they do react, can

the blogger then say ‘hey, I was just kidding?’. If his writings inspire just three others to follow his fanatical beliefs and produce disastrous results, can he then claim

not to be responsible?

Will you accept that it’s his blog, therefore he can say whatever he wishes?

Tone this down a few notches and we cover most blogs in our blogosphere. People rant and rave, in effect sharing with friends, family and the chance anonymous

visitor, their joys and woes of what life has dished out for each of them. This is the wonder of blogging, that we are allowed trespass into thousands of once private

realms, perhaps some more honest than others. Some of these writings resonate with us and we agree. Some rub us the wrong way and we use Haloscan to

comment.

It is like placing a large, prominently placed two-way window into our bedrooms right where people pass on the street all the time, inviting looks into our private

domain. Some will like what they see, some won’t. If you have deliberately placed something offensive in your bedroom, such as perhaps a display of leather outfits

and S&M gear, you will of course outrage the decencies of some passers-by. But hell, it’s your bedroom – you put what you want in there. Then again, you also

placed that large window there. You can’t just imbibe in kinky S&M activity as you wish because people are looking. Authorities may be knocking on your door

soon asking you to put some shades on because you are outraging public decency – even in privacy of your own home. Remove the window and you can do what

you like, anytime you like.

Let’s now talk about how subject matter can also impact the responsibility of the author, and in this instance, how about someone who is actually putting that

window in say, a house that is empty. He or she then fills it with props, setting up a fictional bedroom which is to be the scene of a murder. One day, passersby

witness this heinous crime and the authorities come storming, only to discover that this is all a ruse.You have done nothing but put on a play. What is your crime? That

you deceived the 100 people were standing outside your window, oggling? The millions of people reached by news trucks which have arrived and telecasted your

‘crime’ to the world, from this joke you started?

What, you can’t put on a skit in your own house? No, not when you have that big window in your room, they say. Or at least inform passersby (by putting up a

sign that says FICTIONAL MURDER IN PROGRESS, perhaps) so that they don’t alert the police because what do you expect when people look in and suddenly

see someone trying to, say, drown another? Why? Because of that big shop window you have overlooking the street – that’s why. You can skit all you like without

trying to influence or shock anyone with these voyeuristic riggings.

With the Net and blogging, the interpretation of journalistic (or perhaps we should call it author-istic – if there’s such a word?) responsibility has to be redefined, at least in the minds of those who write anything that’s to be seen and read in public. The web is Free For All domain, and with the right tools, anyone can set up a professional (or at least professional-looking) platform through which one can misinform. Just look at parody sites like thefakenews.com (some have more ostensible names). You need to take what you write seriously, even though half your audience may not – simply because SOMEONE else is reading. Otherwise, why blog? Might as well return to our perfumated diaries with their ornate, quaint locks!

So what is accountability when it comes to writing professionally and blogging? Three factors govern it, as far as I can see:

1. Whether you are being paid to do it or not

2. Whether you have a large enough audience that makes having to be accountable for what you say important

3. If the subject matter you are commenting on is a constant: politics, current affairs et al and not your personal affairs and/or fictitious meanderings.

As I have mentioned to a fellow blogger, it is really where you want to go with your blog that determines your accountability. People like Jeff Ooi and Oon Teoh did not get where they are today by shooting their mouths off all the time, earning themselves their paid gigs and solid reputations as ombudsmen of Malaysian politics and technology. They managed their writing, their thoughts and so the payback is they HAVE to be accountable for what they write.

If you don’t really care where your blog ends up and it is just an outlet to vent, then of course, your limited audience of five or ten will understand and take it with a pinch of salt. They are but your friends and family, with the occasional passer by, after all.

As such, accountability and being responsible for what you write is governed by your ambitions for your blog. I

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