or: Credibility and experience in blogging 

The Black Hole of White Canyon, January 1, 2007.

Blogging has irrevocably changed the face of writing about outdoor adventure, in almost all respects for the better.  The chief problem today, perhaps different from days previous in scale only, is how to allot proper credence amongst the sea of voices.

As a global society we’ve outgrown the cliche of being unable to trust anything on the internet, and if/when I return to teaching I’ll need to take a more nuanced approach to internet citation (though I will loath APA forever).  There’s no parallel to academic citation when discussion trips and gear, and with its grassroots mechanics blogging merely highlights the conventions by which credibility has been driven in outdoor writing for centuries: personal reputation.  Not entirely unlike academia, the authority of an individual casts a strong aura over their work; yet very unlike academia, in outdoor writing and now blogging, little other ground for authority exists.

Cleanup after the first Rim Ride Moab.

The problem here is that it is pretty easy to look a lot cooler and more experienced on the internet then you actually are, be it through intentional or unintentional filtering of content, or via the mundane bias of distance and unfamiliarity.  I know nothing about the places Joery hikes, skis and rafts, but he writes well, takes great photos, and his stuff generally seems pretty gnar to me so I listen when he speaks because I generally assume he has some pretty serious wilderness chops.  Guitar Ted, on the other hand, lives in Iowa (where I’ve also lived and ridden) and writes with wild hyperbole about the difficulties of trails in an obscure corner of Texas, so I don’t take what he has to say about equipment for technical mountain biking very seriously.  Andrew Badenoch is still putting his bike together weeks after his trip was supposed to start, one of several reason I give him a less than 20% of finishing said trip.  I could be quite mistaken about all of these things, and indeed about anything I write here.  Often I worry that the internet has me thinking I’m cooler than I in reality am.

On the face of it Hendrik’s formula of no trip reports equals no credibility seems both correct and straightforward.  There are ample reasons, both historic and recent, to take Roman’s word for just about anything packrafting.  On the other hand, geographic prejudice need not rule credibility completely, and there is a lot to be said for the union of passion in practice and keen powers of observation, though the utter absence of the former makes me suspicious.  You can’t understand it if you haven’t been there yourself, at least a little.

Craters 2012.

In total, I’d like to see more mindfulness abroad in the outdoor blogging world precisely because it holds so much potential of a sort particularly dear to my heart.  The potential to bypass lowest-common-denominator magazine editorship, promote as-it-happens adventure storytelling, and bring together international perspectives in a way never before possible.

As I pointed out a while back, if a blog seems more motivated in selling things and an image than inspiring action, view it with skepticism.

If a blogger seems to have little experience relevant to topics discussed, doubt is in order.

If a reviewer’s mastery of the gear discussed is in doubt, or their review output is especially high, view it with suspicion.

Most importantly, look for growth.  The great advantage of blogging as a medium is the journey which the reader is able to accompany.  Opinions unchanged over years of practice is a sure sign of someone not paying attention.