Writers Can Get Caught in Web

By Jason Menard

Dave, Dave, Dave. You broke two of the cardinal rules of the Information Age: Don’t do anything that you’re not willing to stand behind for years to come; and just because everyone CAN blog, doesn’t mean everyone SHOULD blog.

Too often people think that a strike of the delete key is enough to erase one’s activities from the electronic world. Some think that their thoughts and actions can simply get lost in the vastness of the Internet world — unfortunately, we’ve seen time and time again that nothing is every truly gone.

Dave Burghardt, son of former Liberal MP Jack and a now-former campaign worker for Glen Pearson’s Liberal bid for the London North-Centre riding, is suffering the political fallout from blogging. And while he’s apologized for his self-professed indiscretions and ill-chosen words, the fact is that if he wasn’t going to stand behind what he wrote in the first place, he never should have committed his thoughts to ink – or cyber ink as the case may be.

Simply put, everyone and their mother can blog, but that doesn’t mean everyone should. Most people can write a sentence, but that doesn’t mean they’re qualified to write for a newspaper, does it? So why should the standard be any less on-line? There are a very few responsible bloggers who take their craft seriously. There are a number of quality reporters and opinion columnist who ascribe to the basic tenets of journalism. They provide fair and balanced reports, or informed commentary, based on facts. They avoid libelous situations and stand by their actions.

Then there are the stream-of-conscious bloggers who feel their life story is fodder for the masses. For these people, their self-inflated view that their life is of interest to all generally runs out of gas. These blogs get abandoned once the novelty – or notoriety – wears off.

But these are innocent, mindless blogs. Fluff, as you would have it. Unfortunately, there is a segment of our society who believes in the anonymity of the Internet. They believe that their effects posting – either behind their own name, or through a pseudonym — only exists in Cyberspace and can’t be traced back to their every day lives. But, as Burghardt has discovered, these things can come back to bite you – hard.

It’s a safe assumption to say that nothing is every permanently deleted on the Internet. I’m sure there are ways known to people who are smarter than I am, but for the most part it’s safe to say that anything that ventures into the World Wide Web can be retrieved for years to come. And that’s not a bad thing.

Bloggers need to treat their forum with the same respect that people who write for publications do. They need to understand that their text will have the same permanency that someone who is dealing in newsprint and ink has. In fact, in some cases, those who write on the Web have a longer reach and more permanence than those who write for local publications. While an article that exists only in print may be kept in an archive, only to be discovered when someone blows off the dust from the storage box, those pieces that appear on the Internet can be searched for by people all around the world, in real time, whenever they choose.

Articles can be copied and posted on others’ Web sites. They can be linked to or mirrored. They can be quoted, referenced, or acknowledged on literally thousands of other sites without the original author’s knowledge or permission.

So it’s clear that a simple delete of the files just won’t cut it.

Blogging is still in its infancy. And, in fact, many of those with an on-line presence who deal in the creation of opinions pieces avoid labelling themselves with the term Blogger due to its negative connotations. However, as this forum of expression continues to grow, so too will the understanding that one must stand behind each and every comment one makes.

On-line or in print, a responsible opinion writer will adhere to strict journalistic principles of truth and fact-checking. The writer should be aware of libel issues and avoid writing anything that could be considered to contravene the laws of this country. And that takes research, understanding, and knowledge. Most importantly, you have to realize that your commentary today can resonate for years to come. I am proud to say that I stand behind each and every piece I’ve written over the past decade – and I can do so in confidence because I’ve taken extreme care to write what I believe, based on facts, knowledge, and opinion.

One’s opinion may change over time – which is the natural effect of growing older. But if you’re going to venture into the world of on-line commentary, make sure that you understand its permanency. If you want to write hate literature, or any other sort of commentary that you feel may affect you negatively in the future, then be smart about it and use pencil and paper – or maybe even an Etch-a-Sketch. That way, when you erase it, it’s permanent.

If you choose to write things that you feel will cause you embarrassment in the future, resist the lure of positing on-line. After all, if you play with fire, you’re likely to get burned. Ask Dave Burghardt about that.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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