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On this week's Reliable Sources Howard Kurtz had a brief (i.e. typically superficial) discussion with Politico's Ben Smith on journalists, Twitter, and blogging.
Kurtz did not address a question that i've been pondering for some time: why did journalists flock to the new technology of Twitter when they spend years denouncing the slightly less new technology of weblogs? I find the question especially interesting because Twitter seems to have all the bad aspects of blogging and none of its strengths. Smith offers two reasons why he tweets so much despite being paid to blog: Twitter is faster and it is now the dominant medium of online political “conversation”.
KURTZ: We're back with Politico's Ben Smith. And Ben, you're a pretty prolific blogger, but you told "Adweek" that writing on Twitter, as so many of us in the news racket do, is sort of draining the life from the blog. Explain.
SMITH: Well, I mean, I love writing my blog, and plan to keep doing it. But in 2008, during the presidential election, the quickest way you could find out a new piece of information was often to hit "refresh" on my blog or on Mark Anvander's (ph) blog, or on somebody else's blog, because we were working kind of directly from, say, the event we were at. We were typing the notes up faster, we were getting information faster than anybody else, and putting it online. So, you know, it was incredibly intense, but incredibly fun, because you just had the sense people were hitting "refresh" on your blog to find out what had just happened and what was going to happen next.
KURTZ: And now?
SMITH: And now that is on Twitter, the sort of central conversation about what just happened, what's happening next, what did somebody say, what's the response? That's either being reported on Twitter or actually just being tweeted by the players themselves. And so I think --
KURTZ: So if the blog is where you earn your paycheck, and on Twitter you're basically giving it away for free to your 50,000 followers, why tweet so much?
SMITH: Well, I mean, because it's where the action is, because it's where -- you know, politics hopefully (ph) is this conversation, fundamentally. And Twitter isn't just this place where you're kind of having this conversation with your fellow reporters, or this sort of side conversation. It's become, I think, kind of the central conversation, and so you just sort of have to be there.
Speed is an established measure for score-keeping among journalists. I'm not sure that it means much to the “political conversation” in the country at large (See It's Only a Game). Nonetheless, I can see how a reporter can get caught up in the “urge to be first” among his peers. And by that standard, tweeting beats blogging hands down.
Not every reporter thinks Smith's game is worth playing. After he won a Pulitizer at the New York Times, David Halberstam left the paper to go to work for Harper's magazine. There, he was overworked, underpaid, and liberated.
The real tyranny of journalism has always been the lack of time and lack of space to break away from the pack. And then suddenly we were working for Harper's and we had six weeks on a piece! Six thousand words if need be! And emancipation from all those dopey rules which inhibit real reporting.
(Willie Morris, New York Days)
I've argued before that the blogosphere (and enterprising, aspiring reporters) were wrong to take speed as the primary advantage blogs had over the MSM. (See here and here).
I wrote this about the decline of blogging and I think it helps explain why the MSM is happy to see the “conversation” shift to Twitter.
All in all, this is good news for the MSM. They may shrink in size and profitability, but they will still control the narrative. Both posts note that Twitter and Facebook have dented the growth in blog readership. Neither of these present the same challenge to the MSM as blogs. Snarky tweets about MoDo or Howard Kurtz are quick and easy but they don't change many minds. They are just background noise.
Blogs, especially the long-form blogging that Den Beste did or that Neo-neocon still does, has the potential to break the MSM's monopoly on "explanation space". That's what KC Johnson did in the Duke lacrosse case, what Powerline did in Rathergate, and what 2d Amendment bloggers have been doing for years.
Blogging was a direct attack on MSM hegemony at both the micro (fisking) and macro levels (explanation space). I just don't see Twitter as the same threat. It is a flood of unmemorable chatter that is easy to ignore. Blogging had the potential to break the power of the MSM guild. Bloggers, at their best, presented arguments. Arguments can both change minds on the immediate subject and undermine the credibilty of those establishment pundits who present weak cases on a regular basis. (Yes, i'm looking at you Brooks and Frum).
At a minimum, blogging brought a lot of outsiders to the pundit/editor game. Twitter seems more useful as a way for insiders like Kurtz to extent their brand and magnify their voice.
It is one of those quirks of history. One new thing is revolutionary. The next new thing consolidated the position of the powers that be.
UPDATE: Don Surber (Thanks for the link!) has the line of the day: "Just like Goliath preferred the Army of ADHD Kids over the Army of Davids."