Again, what is a blog for? One of the reasons I am asking is that I was challenge in a private correspondence by the claim that blogs are 'publications' and should therefore be held up for scrutiny and criticism in the same way as any other publication. Instinctively, I objected on many grounds (including some which probably wouldn't stand close scrutiny). One argument I made was that there must be a distinction between, say, a PR practitioner musing about the discipline and a 14-year-old girl's My Space posts about her love for dolphins. Not so, said my correspondent; both chose to put their thoughts on public display and both should be open to an equal standard of criticism.
Now I don't think I am the only person who would react quite strongly to a middle-aged man criticising either the spelling or the sentiments of a 14-year-old but there is a logic to the argument. My response, and it is wide open to challenge, begins to suggest that permissible engagement and criticism is connected to the perceived purpose and function of the blog.
Take Mediations which I can visualise as beng some sort of social event where I know some of the guests quite well, but it is also open to complete strangers who come and go at will. Whether I like it or not, I am wearing one of those horrible name badges on a piece of ribbon things which inescapably says University of Sunderland, and I should bear that in mind all the time. Over the course of the evening I move from group to group, changing topic and tone as appropriate. Once in a while I may chance upon someone I don't know, or I know only by reputation, or simply don't like the look of. Our conversation maybe warm or frosty; I may put my arguments diplomatically, tactfully or quite forcefully, but hopefully I will remain polite.
All the time I will be aware that I am holding these conversations in a public place, that I can be overhears, or that within a circle that is made up mostly of friends there are people I don't know, and who may have different views than mine. If it is like most of the social events I intend, I will probably say something I will later wish I hadn't, but generally I would be well advised to keep my most frank and personal opinions for another time.
What I won't do is march over to a complete stranger and launch an attack on his dress sense, choice of partner or his less than perfect elocution. Although the next day I might be scathing in my comments on a student's essay I won't assail a fellow guest for their misplaced grammar in a conversation that wasn't really addressed to me. It wouldn't be very good manners, would it?
To take quite a leap forward, it occurs to me that some public relations people need to take a little time to think about the function of blogs. All good practitoners are adept at segmenting people into publics (stakeholders); perhaps some of those who are critical of the blogosphere need to try and do something similar.
Yes, all postings on all platforms maybe similar on one most fundamental level, but a key understanding for a PR practitioner is to appreciate that different publics demand different channels, modes and styles of communcation.
One of the impacts of the internet and of social media, particularly weblogs, is to vastly multiply the number of interelated and overlapping publics that a practitioner may want to - or have to - engage with. Practitioners have an obligation to try and understand these changes.