Sunday, March 05, 2006

Thoughts on Blog

Interesting article in the Financial Times on blogging. The piece makes a couple of points.

1. Blogs will not make the MSM media obsolete. There will always be a need for a common narrative and for the kind of investigation that is more typical of traditional journalism than it is of blogs. One prominent blogger says of blogs:
"Where is the reporting? Where is the reliability? The rah-rah blogosphere crowd are apparently ready to live in a world without war reporting, without investigative reporting, without nearly any of the things we depend on newspapers for. The world of blogs is like an entire newspaper composed of op-eds and letters and wire service feeds."

I think that's a fair statement, but I think it's also a mistake to say that the significance of blogs is that they will replace the mainstream media. The MSM v. blogosphere story line is just wrong. Bloggers and the MSM have a symbiotic relationship. Bloggers keep the MSM honest, but they also spread interest in what the MSM is doing. The paper publishes a story that some bloggers don't like. They attack it. The other side responds. All sorts of "opinion leaders" (remember Poli Sci 101?) are now talking about what was in the paper.

The article says that "to make it in blogging seems to mean making it out of blogging. Yes and no. Because blogging is something that anyone can get into, there is likely to be some movement of people from blogs (which they can start) to other forms of expression (for which blogs can be a means of entry). But it works the other ways as well. All the MSM outlets are starting blogs. Some people like Glenn Reynolds, Micky Kaus and Andrew Sullivan blog as much, or more, than they do anything else.

Blogs in the US reflect no significant movement. The article compares blogs to the emergence of the alternative press in the '60s which is now largely moribund. (See The Shepherd Express) In any event, it argues, the alternative press reflected something "real" that was happening in the streets and the blogosphere does not:

The present round of chiselling may feel exciting and radically new - but blogging in the US is not reflective of the kind of deep social and political change that lay behind the alternative press in the 1960s.

This is just wrong. The conservative blogs reflect the continuing intellectual vitality of the conservative movement and its disaffection from the MSM. The liberal blogs may contribute to therejuvenationn of what has become an intellectually dead left and, believe it or not, they don't like the MSM either. The article presumes that "social and political change" is limited to undermining the establishment. But blogs are contributing to a broadening of the political discussion and that is a real change as well.

Good bloggers aren't really regular joes. The article quotes Ana Marie Cox, known in the blogoshere as "Wonkette:"

When people talk about the liberation of the armchair pajamas media, they tend to turn a blind eye to the fact that the voices with the loudest volume in the blogosphere definitely belong to people who have experience writing. They don't have to be experienced journalists necessarily, but they write - part of their professional life is to communicate clearly in written words.

And not every blogger can be a Tom Paine. "People may want a democratic media," says Cox, "but they don't want to be bored. They also want to be entertained and they want to feel like they've learned something. They want ideas expressed with some measure of clarity."

That is true. The article cites traffic statistics suggesting that very few blogs have any kind of traffic. That reflects the fact that writing is hard and is not a talent that everyone has. But this doesn't change the fact that the blogosphere is giving good "citizen-writers" an outlet they would not have had.

The blogosphere encourages superficiality. Blogging prefers the snappy soundbite to the thoughtful thumbsucker:

The point is, any writer of talent needs the time and peace to produce work that has a chance of enduring. ...

... And that, in the end, is the dismal fate of blogging: it renders the word even more evanescent than journalism; yoked, as bloggers are, to the unending cycle of news and the need to post four or five times a day, five days a week, 50 weeks of the year, blogging is the closest literary culture has come to instant obsolescence.

That's true. It is a danger that must be intentionally acknowledged. But does it really distinguish blogging from traditional journalism?

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