Vocabulary, grammar, format, and any other of the conditions for proper communication are rules; people made them, and people follow them so they might be understood. Those who fail to do so do so at the risk of being unheard (or improperly understood).
This week, while reading Habermas, it became clear to me that the German philosopher gave much of the credit for the public sphere’s transformation to journalists and their respective medias (most traditionally, print).
The internet, in a much briefer period, has experienced many of the changes journalism experienced in seventeenth century Britain. It was once a semi-private medium, where people connected to bulletin board systems or to “chat rooms” (bourgeois salons) to discuss things and share information with like-minded individuals. It is now a place where people post private information and opinions at will on publicly-viewable sites.
One of the consequences of the internet’s development pattern is the lack of standards; this limits it as a “serious” medium, and is the primary reason “traditional” media remain competitive.
Take, for example, this blog. It is written for a graduate-level university course. Given the general nature of assignments, there could be some form of academic tone to these posts. (In my estimable professor’s defense, he has offered examples of what he’s looking for, and I am in the process of editing my posts to meet his standards…) However, there are no ruling standards for academic blog-posting; they seem to be in flux. Acronyms such as APA, MLA, and SPJ have little or no meaning here… unless they are voluntarily applied (or inflicted).
Of course, the ramblings of a graduate student are insignificant when compared to the journalistic integrity of a popular political blog. Who holds blogs like Huffington Post or Daily Beast accountable? Are they expected to self-police? Can they be trusted to police one another? There is more to credibility than a well-designed website.
These are things general citizens take for granted, as though everyone who ever wanted to write about politics all had a meeting and sat down to discuss citations and formatting.
Arguably, we have moved into a post-standard society; freedom of expression has moved beyond the scope of standardization, and any attempt to impose SPJ standards upon bloggers would be akin to herding cats.
However, without standards, norms, and common practices, the blogging world loses a lot of its credibility. If bloggers want to be taken seriously, perhaps they should (willingly) agree to standardization. There will never be one universal standard, but there isn’t one universal standard for any of the traditional academic or journalistic media, either.
It means something when someone denotes a formating or citations standard: this is how you check my information; this is how you verify my accuracy (beyond a link to Wikipedia…). Without set standards, everything is arbitrary.