The Digital Journalist
A Modest Proposal

by Ron Steinman

"Silent? Ah, he is silent! He can keep silence well. That man's silence is wonderful to listen to."
- Thomas Hardy

"For words divide and rend; But silence is most notable till the end."
- Algernon Charles Swinburne

Only a few years ago there were 23 blogs on the Internet. Then silence was truly golden. Now writing a Web log - 'blogging - is gaining more prominence by the second. The cacophony from blogs and bloggers is blowing out our eardrums. They are starting to blind our eyes with their wearisome fog of words. Blogging is turning journalism on its head. Whether this is from fear of the new and unknown, a belated respect for the infinitesimal scoops so far produced by bloggers, or even jealousy by some journalists because of the unlimited space at the blogger's command, the way we perceive journalism and journalists is rapidly changing.

Many blogs deal only in gossip. Others dwell on the self, as each writer inflicts on the unsuspecting world his or her personal frustrations. Those who consider themselves serious rant against what they call the old media, what we know as the mainstream media, often referred to as MSM. Bloggers believe print and broadcasting are dinosaurs. That does not mean, despite the many problems the press faces today, that mainstream media should disappear and be replaced by an inferior means of getting the news. Do not forget: Bloggers only react to news. They do not collect it. It takes organized journalism to do that. Though journalism is in trouble, blogging and the new media, meaning Web sites, citizen participation, and increased transparency, will not solve journalism's ills. This piece is not about how to save the journalism we grew up with, and lived with for a lifetime. That will happen or not, as journalism adapts to a changing world and cleans its own house without too much outside help. Instead, this is about a grand opportunity I now offer for those who call the blogosphere home. Yes, bloggers can really do us a service. They can do something extraordinary.

So, before bloggers bury the journalism we know, I have a modest proposal for them in the hope that those who care will take a deep breath before they blithely inter the past.

I am suggesting a moratorium on all blogs for 24 hours. This is not a cease-and-desist order. That would be my optimum desire. I know that it is impractical because it would be impossible to enforce. I know better than to impose my will on this new society which mistakes anarchy for democracy. A moratorium, by the way, is a simple concept. It is a period during which all agree to delay, postpone, or stop a specific activity. That should not be too hard, should it? I am asking for 24 hours of silence. I am asking that the cult of blogging police itself with a moment of silence.

The reason for this proposal is not very complex. It is my personal response to most blogs, which I find long-winded, turgid, impossible to read, self-indulgent, and self-absorbed. Writers of Web logs do not seem to realize there is a problem with infinite space. Infinite space is not a blessing. By itself, it does not grant or bestow infinite wisdom. Much of the time, I do not understand a word of what many bloggers write, nor do I care. I also wonder where bloggers get the time to amass everything they pour out onto the digital page. There seems to be a harmful effect at work that only discipline, whether self-imposed or in the hands of a good editor, can treat and then cure. Bloggers live in a rarefied atmosphere where most of us do not dare to dwell. Aside from their arrogance, I would find it difficult to live with myself knowing I was always right, and more importantly, that I had few, if any flaws.

I will not attempt to impose my will on them as they work to impose their will on me, but here is the way my proposal would work. Every blogger - either for 24 hours everywhere, or in defined regions of the world, perhaps over several days, as if rolling across time zones - would limit their blogging for one whole day. Twenty-four hours of silence will be good for all concerned. Bloggers can rest, refuel, clean their thought tanks, and have a meal with family, take in a concert, see a movie, and reacquaint themselves with their children. Spring is here. Hey, bloggers can smell the flowers, revel in the glorious awakening of nature, and maybe dance a jig.

Blogging may never be the same again. It is not as though this will take much to accomplish. I say down with the din and up with silence. The sound of silence will be awesome. Our eyesight might survive another day. We will benefit from the resultant peace before our brains turn to pulp.

Then, when the agreed moratorium is over, I have a further suggestion. I would compel everyone who writes a blog, whether daily or weekly, to limit themselves to 750 words (the usual length of an old media newspaper column), with a maximum of 1,000 words. Some bloggers might discover that fewer words will help clarify what they write. More, as many bloggers believe, is not better. Using as few words as possible will give us a better chance to understand what the blogger has to say. Talking about being succinct, the next time you read a blog, think back to 1999 when there were only 23 known blogs in existence. Small, once thought to be beautiful, can be beautiful again. And being concise is surely as beautiful as is the silence that sometimes may accompany it.

Do I believe anyone will comply with my proposal? I do not. The din is too loud.

© Ron Steinman

Ron Steinman, a regular contributor to The Digital Journalist, is an award-winning producer of television news and documentaries. He was NBC's bureau chief in Saigon during the Vietnam War. He is also an author and freelance documentarian through his company, Douglas/Steinman Productions. Buy Ron Steinman's book: Inside Television's First War.