Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Increasing Power of the Blog

Yesterday I watched and listened to the webcast of the Nefesh B’Nefesh bloggers conference in Jerusalem. And as I said in an earlier post, I regret not being able to attend.

The beauty of this conference was the ability to meet, interact, and network with fellow bloggers - and exchange ideas face to face. Not least benefit of attending the conference was the opportunity to be present to see and hear former Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu speak.

That the former Prime Minister made time from his busy schedule drove home a point that is known to most bloggers - the importance and influence that blogs have on public opinion. Just as blogs in the secular world have done - Jewish blogs have become an alternative to much of the mainstream Jewish print and even electronic media. The almost instant immediacy of a blog post combined with the equally instant ability to respond in the comments section makes blogs an attractive alternative source for news and commentary. And that is diluting the influence of the mainstream Jewish media.

This was one of the points driven home by former Prime Minister Netanyahu. And the fact that he was there underscores it.

Blogs do have a tremendous power to inform and to influence. With that should come a responsibility of the blogger to – well - blog responsibly. This is one of my goals. Although I’m sure that some people would dispute that I ever achieve it. I admit that sometimes my emotions overcome my better judgment. But I hope that in the balance my posts are presented in an informative and responsible way - and that any impact I may have is positive.

I gained a lot from the few hours I spent watching - mostly listening - to the various speakers. It wasn’t so much in what they said, although that too was valuable. It was mostly because this event actually happened - and the implications of that. Jewish blogging is huge. Probably much bigger than I ever thought.

That said, I will reiterate what fellow blogger Gil Student said at the conference. It is something I have said myself and something that rabbinic leadership of all stripes would agree with as well. Not all blogs are worthy of being read. Some are quite destructive in various different ways. But the good outweighs the bad. And if one chooses wisely a lot can be gained by reading a blog like Gil’s blog, Hirhurim, Micha Berger’s blog, Aspaqlaria, Rabbi Yosef Bechhofer’s Torah blog, YGB and many others too numerous to mention. Hopefully mine as well.

One critique I have of the conference is that I don’t think opinion blogs were represented on the panel. Torah blogs like Gil’s were and so too were Israeli blogs. But there was little focus on how a blog can lead public opinion – for the better or for the worse - although it was mentioned in a general way as I said above.

My biggest regret is that I did not have an opportunity to pose some of the questions to former Prime Minister Netanyahu about the Israeli government policy on issues important to the religious public – issues that I frequently mention like state of funding Yeshivos that do not offer any secular education.

I don’t know that I would have gotten the chance anyway. But… he was there, I would have been there in the same room with a relatively small crowd. Who knows. It’s probably the closest I would have ever gotten to do that. What a missed opportunity!

Oh well. Maybe next year. If they schedule is made far enough in advance, maybe I’ll be able to go.

Congratulations to Nefesh B’Nefesh, Steven Leavitt of Webads and all the participants, backers, an organizers of this event. Job well done.