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Don’t Kill the Blogger

I probably shouldn’t be doing this. I take my vitamins every day, go to the gym and eat healthy. I avoid second-hand smoke, wear my seatbelt and stay out of dark alleys at night. But here I am blogging. Tempting fate. Risking my life.

Bloggers — OK, maybe not once-in-a-blue-moon posters like me, but real, serious bloggers — are living on the edge,suggests Matt Richtel. It’s harrowing having to come up with all those ideas and translate them into words. The hunger for cyber scoops robs bloggers of sleep. The endless hunt for eyeballs is a merciless slog.

The consequences can be dire: Two bloggers have died of heart attacks recently and a third had a close call. Three out of — I don’t know, 14 million or so. You do the numbers.

And Then There Was Cash

Blogging sure isn’t what it started out to be. In the beginning, blogs were personal journals posted online as something of a lark. You could blog about anything, and your audience would likely be a handful of friends you clued in plus a handful of strangers who stumbled upon your page. You didn’t expect to draw crowds.

The idea of considering a blog any form of journalism was laughable. Anyone who thought to make money at it was flat-out dreaming.

It didn’t take long for blogging to evolve into the vital, almost respectable, occupation it is today. It’s kind of amazing to me, in fact, that its upward trajectory took it from fun to fatal so quickly. From happy chronicler to stressed-out scribe in just a few years. Damn — it takes some firefighters and cops decades to wear down.

Now I’m not saying blogging is easy, and I’m not denying the energy-sapping demands it can place on those who blog with the best. Still, there are plenty of Type A types out there who can become workaholics in just about any occupation. If you don’t have enough sense to turn off your computer and take a hike or go to bed, you’re asking for trouble. Blogs don’t kill — people do.

Off With His Head!

I’m glad the subject came up, though, because I find it stimulating to read the opinions of others, and sometimes I get a kick out of vehemently disagreeing with them. It would be a sterile and boring world if people couldn’t wildly speculate over just about anything.

In fact, speculation over the possibility that blogging kills writers isn’t much different from speculation over the possibility that software updates kill iPods — except for the obvious difference in gravity between the two. However, some people think that the iPod-killing hypothesis shouldn’t be allowed to see the light of day.

I don’t fault The New York Times for publishing Matt Richtel’s ruminations on the health dangers of blogging, even though it would be an understatement to say they’re unsubstantiated.

Nor should James Daley (or his publishers) be castigated for raising questions aboutiPods and software. In a column that’s clearly an expression of his opinion, Daley suggests that some iPods might be damaged — in some cases, beyond repair — by software updates from Apple. Sure, there’s the implication that the company has built in a limit to the device’s life span in order to keep fans buying more. Whether it’s a wild and crazy idea or not is beside the point. The point is that Daley is entitled to his conjectures.

He admits he has “no idea whether any damage caused by new software updates is deliberate.” He doesn’t claim there’s evidence of evildoing on Apple’s part. He says “there certainly seems to be a growing body of evidence to suggest that these updates do play a part in the troubles of older iPod models (italics mine).”

Further, he makes it clear that the “evidence” he’s referring to is anecdotal — based on his experiences, those of friends, and information gleaned from forum boards online.

Daley drew plenty of heat for his musings, though, withgkent pronouncing that “when someone is given the opportunity to publish opinions he/she should feel the need to write with integrity, and have an honest factual basis for opinions.”

Leaving aside the question of whether Daley is dishonest and lacks integrity, when did facts become prerequisites for opinions? I’m beginning to feel a conspiracy theory sprouting deep in my gut. gkent and his or her ilk want to destroy the blogosphere!

My Dog Ate My Common Sense

The fact is, even academics and other supposedly rigorous types often present opinions that are a few miles wide of fact.

Take, for example, the Aussie doc who recently warned the world thatcell phones might kill more people than cigarettes do. He got to have his say — and rightly so — even though his report might fail to stand up under hard scrutiny, if you ask me.

I’m not quite sure who wrotethe following description of the work of Vini G. Khurana, MBBS, BSc(Med), PhD, FRACS, but if it wasn’t the author himself, he surely must have seen it, right? If it’s not correct, he surely would have clarified it, right?

“The Web-based publication of the following independent e-paper on March 20, 2008, follows 15 months of objective research by the author, involving the critical review of scores of sources in the recent medical and scientific literature, in addition to Press reports and Internet content.”

Press reports?

Internet content??

How do sources like “press reports” and “Internet content” get to rub shoulders with “recent medical and scientific literature”? Remember, this guy is predicting that cell phones will kill more people than cigarettes.

There’s something lacking in terms of scientific rigor here, right from the get-go. No self-respecting middle-school teacher would accept “Internet content” as a source for a term paper, yet Khurana is apparently using it to forecast the end of the world as we know it.

Still, he’s entitled to have his opinion — fact-based or otherwise — and he gets to have his say. That’s as it should be.

When we stop publishing opinions because they might be ill-conceived, we’re venturing onto a slick slope. There are very few unassailable facts that someone couldn’t poke a few holes into.

So, if you think somebody’s opinion is a load of dung, be happy you live in a cyber world where everyone’s free to add to the pile — and you’re free to bawl about it if you don’t agree.

And be careful when you update your old iPod — don’t say you weren’t warned.

Click here to e-mail Mick Brady.

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