Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Bloggers beware!

An assistant editorial features editor at the Wall Street Journal doesn’t like you. Surprisingly, his paper decided to give him space to vent. (I guess there was no serious news that could have used the space in the paper.)

The blogs are not as significant as their self-endeared curators would like to think. Journalism requires journalists, who are at least fitfully confronting the digital age. The bloggers, for their part, produce minimal reportage. Instead, they ride along with the MSM like remora fish on the bellies of sharks, picking at the scraps.
Like most of the jeremiads by professional journalists the piece is redolent of smug hypocrisy. It is guilty of most of the charges it levels at bloggers. It applauds rigor but trades only in generalities. It bemoans the low standards of the blogosphere but defends the MSM establishment as “not wholly imperfect.” Bloggers “traffic more in pronouncement than persuasion” he pronounces and trusts that the reader will take his word for it because he provides neither specifics nor sustained argument.

That is the first point that stands out. His argument rings true, because the blogosphere is a big place. It is easy to come up with a list of blogs that are guilty of all the sins he enumerates. It is just as easy to come up with a list that defies his generalizations. So his fervent declarations are both true and false. Hardly the sort of rigorous, careful writing that Mr. Rago claims to champion.

Second, it is easy enough to find examples in the MSM of the sins he pretends are restricted to bloggers.

Instant response, with not even a day of delay, impairs rigor. It is also a coagulant for orthodoxies. We rarely encounter sustained or systematic blog thought--instead, panics and manias; endless rehearsings of arguments put forward elsewhere; and a tendency to substitute ideology for cognition. The participatory Internet, in combination with the hyperlink, which allows sites to interrelate, appears to encourage mobs and mob behavior.
Mr. Rago apparently does not spend much time reading the MSM he defends. If he does, how could he miss the “panics and manias” that sweep through his professional brethren? Look at the coverage of Barak Obama, or the Foley scandal, or the early stories on the Durham rape hoax.

Let’s note, as well, that in the last case it was bloggers and other web-participants who ran rings around the prestige press. The MSMers fell for the hoax hook, line, and sinker and used their megaphone to encourage a gross miscarriage of justice.

It is also worth pondering why Mr. Rago chose to go after bloggers for their love of opinion over fact. Did he miss the story about Time magazine and its reinvention? Why does Time’s decision to become more blog-like pass without notice?

Finally, there is this statement that is so laughable that only a permanent resident of the MSM echo chamber could make it:

The technology of ink on paper is highly advanced, and has over centuries accumulated a major institutional culture that screens editorially for originality, expertise and seriousness.

Originality? Newspapers across the country are filled with columns by Ellen Goodman, Maureen Dowd, George Will, and Tony Kornheiser. When was the last time any of them said something original? Expertise? A reporter’s primary expertise is writing down what experts tell him. On the internet, we can cut out the middleman. Seriousness? Depends on what he means. Journalists take themselves seriously. On the other hand, they can be pretty cavalier about little things like facts. Just look at how most of the profession went into the tank for Mary Mapes and her “fake but accurate” documents.

These “journalists versus bloggers” grudge matches are old and tiresome. The blogosphere is here. The MSM cannot expect to wall it off from their readers. I wish some big brains in the media would take a hard look at what it means instead of bemoaning the fact that change happened.

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