Blogging makes the big time

The New York Times Magazine had a lengthy cover story Sunday about blogging and politics. Bloggers are getting a lot of attention these days because they got involved in both political conventions and because of the take-down of Dan Rather and CBS News over the bogus memos about the president’s National Guard Duty.

I guess you could argue blogging has “arrived” with this kind of recognition in “mainstream media.” But I can already hear the shrieks in the conservative blogs because every blogger discussed at any length in the piece is a liberal blogger. “I rest my case! Nothin’ but liberal media!”

Right and left politics aside, what I find most interesting about the whole blogging kerfuffle is…

…the degree to which the “old media”—and not just CBS—has failed to recognize the power of the “new media” and what it is about the new media that gives it, occasionally, some real power.

It seems to me that the reason the memo flap worked is because the conservative bloggers were able to draw upon a huge network of people and put together bits and pieces of their knowledge to make the case that the memos were queer. The blogs had readers who knew everything there is to know about typewriters. They had IBM Selectric experts saying the memos couldn’t be done on those machines. So they were able to draw upon a vast network of expertise and then use the linkage among blogs to amplify the message. And it all happened very quickly.

To me the whole Rather fiasco is an illustration of how the elder gentlemen and ladies that are in charge of “old media” are pretty clueless about the Net. There’s a real age gap out there and the older boomer generation is too often out of touch with the communications qualities and potential of the net. The senior citizens…oops!, I mean senior managers at CBS don’t seem to get it.

Frankly, I find something pretty similar at ACS. There seems to be an age gap between the staff above, say, 45 or certainly 50 (that includes me) and the 20- and 30-somethings when it comes to their grasp of the power and the characteristics of the internet. This may not be true in all cases, but in my experience the younger people have a deeper intuitive sense that the net can do things qualitatively different from what traditional communication media do. But, as with most organizations, it’s upper age people that hold the decision-making positions. I think we’re tapping into some of that savvy in the Futuring and Innovation Center with the Springboard projects run by people like David Neff, Adam Pellegrini, and Lisa “M” Brown.

I think the ACS can harness the power of its networking potential better if we follow the explorations of people who have a feel for it. The ACS has always used the power of volunteer and community networks to accomplish its purposes. We haven’t fully coupled the power of our traditional networks with the networking power to the internet—yet. I think some of our up-and-coming young leaders can give us that boost.

Okay, FISpace claims to be a “blog” so what about it? Well, I think one of the reasons blogs have taken off is that they are channels of communication not governed by the usual gatekeepers and protocols of authority. For instance, many power-bloggers are journalists who couldn’t say what they really think on their jobs so they started blogs.

I think the same thing—the desire for a channel where people can exchange their true opinions without fear of repercussion—is desirable in all organizations. In the ACS I have been, over the years, part of any number of “discussion groups” on Lotus Notes. Mostly what you get is a resounding silence. People don’t post. I’ve wondered if they had no brains or no opinions. I don’t think that’s the case. Or they say “we have no time,” but I don’t buy that entirely either. I think, in the workplace, people keep their butts down. Why put an idea in writing that goes against the grain and risks reprimand?

So for me, FISpace is an effort to start a side channel where some communication can take place that you wouldn’t ordinarily see in written internal communication. I know it’s there; I get an earful when I talk to people at the coffeepot or in the hallway during a meeting break. I’d like to see more of that diversity and frankness here. Whether blogs will work inside companies—and inside ACS—remains to be seen.