Blog credibility thread: ChinablogsWritten by Julen Madariaga on March 5th, 2009
Ever since I opened this blog the problem of credibility has been in the back of my mind. These days, the comments of a tenacious part-time troll, as well as some recent events that shook the Chinosphere have brought back the subject to the top of my agenda.
It is well known that Chinablogs* (defined as blogs about China in English) are only a tiny part of the Chinese internet, and their readership is insignificant compared to their Chinese counterparts. But it would be a mistake to dismiss them as irrelevant. For some time already, especially after last year’s events - Tibet revolts and the Olympic torch saga were a turning point - readers from all sides have questioned the media’s impartiality regarding Chinese politics. Just or not, the fact is that these accusations have cast a doubt, and many have turned to blogs to try to find an independent point of view.
Some things make me suspect that the influence of Chinablogs in shaping the World opinion about China is more significant than their size might suggest. The famous #cde affair, where a well known entrepreneur and blogger in China caused the RMB/dollar exchange to move after a post on his blog, forcing the Chinese government to issue an official notice, confirmed this idea. Also, the world media are sending some of their best writers to China, not to become correspondents as used to be the case, but to open a blog and speak about what they see outside their window - among other things. Blog sceptics might want to look at this Boston Globe article to see just how influential blogs can become.
And here is where my question comes in: what legitimates Chinabloggers to give opinions about this country, its politics, economy and other fields that affect the well being of billions of people? Where does our credibility lie? Are we misrepresenting ourselves as experts in China without any serious basis?
My take: Intelligent bloggers or intelligent readers?
Although there are exceptions, the majority of blogs commenting on Chinese economy and politics are not written by specialists with credentials in the field. In the same way as the majority of newspaper articles commenting on a wide array of subjects are written by journalists, not by experts.
It is precisely one of the missions of a journalist - and, I suppose, of a blogger too- to collect complex information, digest it and come up with a product that the general public cares to read and understand. Most of the news worth commenting cover many different fields of knowledge so, even if they wanted to, specialists in one single field would be ill-prepared to write a good opinion article on current affairs.
There is a difference, however, between newspaper editorials and blog posts. The former are supported by an author and a company’s reputation, built over many years, and they have to follow certain rules of the trade. Bloggers are not subject to these restrictions, and, understandably, some readers are expressing doubts about their credibility.
Especially in China, where there’s a permanent imbalance in the market of experts - demand growing faster than supply- and it is enough to be a vocal writer to grab a slice of the cake and position oneself as a pontifying guru. Perhaps the best example is this recent fashion of predicting where and when the crisis is going, and how it will affect the Chinese political system. Forgetting to specify that it is just a guess or, in the best of cases, an educated “feeling”.
So it makes sense for an outside observer to maintain some healthy skepticism when looking into the multiple English-speaking sources coming out of China, and to avoid taking credentials at face value in a field where they are all too easily earned. And it makes sense to keep an eye on the ongoing discussion on the internet, where nothing is taken for granted and every idea has to hold its own.
I am convinced that a reader with common sense can get a more accurate picture of the current events in China reading blogs than by any other means. Here is why:
- Precisely because there are no other credentials, a blog post has to stand on its own. It has to offer solid arguments and links to support itself.
- Links can be immediately checked; arguments immediately overturned. A post is subject to the scrutiny of thousands of readers who have a special interest in the field. Errors rarely go unnoticed.
- China is too big a country to include in one discipline, and there is no such a thing as “China studies” that can cover the full range of cultural, political, historical, and other intelligence necessary to understand the country. Only the discussion among diverse sources with experience in the country cancome close to reflecting the real situation.
- Chinablogs are the only place where people with diverse professional backgrounds, with different experiences on the ground and sometimes with radically opposed political views discuss China affairs openly and (most of the times) peacefully.
- The blog has freed us of the tyranny of lifelong experts. No diplomas, contacts or years of experience can help you if you publish nonsense. On the internet, nobody knows you are a dog, but you are quick to become one if you write like one.
- A reader of blogs typically switches among more different sources and is able to compare far more different points of view more than a reader of any other medium.
That’s all for the moment, sorry for the longish post. Feel free to discuss here -and not in other posts- all aspects regarding credibility. Trolls are welcome as long as they stay on topic. The objective is to speak in general of Chinablogs, not necessarily about ULN (but feel free as well if you wish to discuss this passionating subject)
UPDATE: *Re “Chinablog”. A commentator pointed out- rightly- that the definition of this term is ambiguous. I am afraid it cannot be otherwise, the term “blog” itself not having a clearly defined meaning. I want to clarify that, for the purpose of this post, I am counting as “Chinablogs” all the websites that participate in the online discussion about China using blogging methods (pingbacks, comments, links) to interact with each other. Some are based in China and some are not, see my blogroll for examples. Note that not all of them would necessarily agree to call themselves “blogs”.
And if you are still not tired of reading, some boring info after the fold.