Russell Shaw on the blogosphere:
…Catholics bloggers are having an impact, though one admittedly not measurable by election results.
That’s not entirely good or entirely bad, but a mix of both. On the one hand, blogging is a potent tool for expressing the responsible public opinion in the Church that’s been endorsed at the highest levels from Pope Pius XII to Pope John Paul II.
If anyone thinks public opinion doesn’t belong in the Catholic Church, he or she will find the papal magisterium on the other side of the argument. As a matter of fact, in the last major document of his pontificate, Pope John Paul II echoed Pope Pius in declaring that if public opinion were absent from Catholic life, "something would be missing from the life of the Church."
On the other hand, no one even slightly familiar with the blogosphere can help being aware that it’s the kingdom of the gossips, the ideologues, the cranks and the no-holds-barred venters of spleen — a place in cyberspace where opinion, rumor, ad hominem nastiness and unfettered ego-tripping are par for the course.
Web logs are an extraordinary medium for the instantaneous exchange of views and information among activists. Their speed, outreach and unofficial character give them their influence. But the blogs lack the checks and balances of traditional journalism and manifest a kind of congenital unreliability. Like great spinners of yarns, bloggers tell fascinating tales that sometimes even turn out to be true. But the best rule of thumb when consulting a blog is: reader, beware.
My guess is that the longterm positive influence of blogs in the Catholic sector will be to hasten the breakdown of walls of bureaucratic concealment and encourage a significant opening-up in governance and administration — and communication — as a measure of enlightened accommodation to changing times.
If so, that will be consistent with something the Vatican said several years ago in a document on the Church and the Internet. It spoke of new media — now including blogs — as potentially effective means of "realizing in a concrete manner" the Church’s fundamental nature as a community of faith.
Not surprisingly blogs are just like people, being that they are written by people. Whatever faults we can find in people we can certainly find in the blogosphere.
Though I think the caveat of "reader beware" applies to all forms of communication. The vaunted checks and balances of the Main Stream Media are largely exaggerated. A biased editor is color blind when checking biased reporting that conforms to their own biases. Each week we are treated to major blunders in the press that if corrected appear not on the front page, but buried somewhere else. When stories are misreported I usually find out about them via the same blogs that reported them in the first place.
The major mistake most writers make when talking about the blogosphere is writing about it as if it was some cohesive whole. Just as in the print media there are vehicles such as the NYT, the Post, Village Voice, Gossip magazines, Tabloids, Community papers, etc. Blogs have added many other categories that sometimes adhere to other models such as straight journalism or other variants such as diarists and linkers. Great "spinners of yarns" that sometimes tell stories actually true is just as applicable to the MSM with its Jayson Blair’s or the MSM as a whole when it came to the deplorable coverage of Hurricane Katrina that largely turned out to be mythical.
A healthy skepticism is important when evaluating all sources. Blogs generally don’t have a normal editor, but I know from my own experience that I have plenty of editors also known as readers. Besides helping out my grammar and spelling there are plenty of unpaid fact checkers out there willing to give correction when I have written in error.
Now I am not dumping on Russell Shaw who I really do like as a writer. What he writes in this article contains good analysis of what types of effects the Catholic blogosphere has and can achieve. It just annoys me seeing once again a comparison of the blogosphere to traditional journalism and its supposed checks and balances.