Tuesday, August 09, 2005
The Big Dog
WHO KNOWS? There's a good piece in the Christian Science Monitor this morning about blogging. Columnist Dante Chinni cuts through some of the mainstream media's paranoia and the blogosphere's growing self-importance to arrive at some common sense. He begins by limning the paranoia:
"The latest, and perhaps gravest, challenge to the journalistic establishment is the blog," Richard Posner wrote last week in The New York Times Book Review. Actually Mr. Posner wrote about a lot of challenges the media faced, but gave blogs a lot of space as he spelled out their advantages. They bring expertise. They bring flair and opinion. They bring more checks and balances than the mainstream media.
"It's as if the Associated Press or Reuters had millions of reporters, many of them experts, all working with no salary for free newspapers that carried no advertising," he explained.
Ah, yes, in the future news will be bountiful and free with no advertising. Can't beat that. If they throw in complimentary ice cream we've really got something here.
It' not just the MSM that views things this way. I suspect a lot of bloggers are also persuaded that they make up a kind of anarchic Reuters. Mr. Chinni has some cold water to toss on such delusions:
But if you really look closely, all this "and in the future ..." talk seems a bit far-fetched for a number of reasons.
For all the bloggers' victories (like raising questions about memos in CBS's Bush/National Guard story) there are numerous failures (gossiping about John Kerry's affair that never happened or how the presidential election was rigged in Ohio). And most bloggers simply don't have time or staff to, say, launch an investigation into the internal workings of the Department of State. Getting leaks and tips is one thing, digging for the fuller story is quite another.
An excellent if obvious point, as is his conclusion:
For all the fretting, blogging ultimately is bound to be less a replacement for the traditional media than a complement. The fact is, journalism's most critical responsibilities in a democratic society - seeking, reporting, and analyzing news and holding people accountable - aren't easy to fulfill.
People rightly point out that the media often fail at those tasks. It's just hard to see how making it a volunteer position or a part-time job could improve the situation.
But there's more to it than volunteerism versus professionalism. One important question, it seems to me, is what blogging would look like if the mainstream media really did slide into the sea, as some seem to hope for and others confidently predict.
Well, here's an image to chew on. It would most likely bear a strong resemblance to radical feminist scholarship, in which all the supposed authorizing footnotes are just links to other dreary screeds written by other angry drabs relying on the same gossamer and fraudulent sources. In other words, three-card monte camouflaged as fact-based research.
Analysis cannot occur in any legitimate fashion without a base of facts. These are provided to the blogosphere by the mainstream media -- the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the network news organizations and dozens of other media outlets around the world. The reason the MSM evinces the irrational hostility it does to the blogosphere is that they correctly understand that bloggers are parasites. The linking capability on which all bloggers depend is the means by which the parasite attaches to the host. And without the host there is no source of nourishment.
I'm not downplaying the importance of the role bloggers can play. Blogs can be effective at fact-checking the hypothetical facts which have been gathered by the host. They can improve on the quality of analysis provided by those who are so close to the story or the actors that their judgment becomes blurred, biased, or myopic. In short, they can be useful parasites.
Still, it is folly to dream of the blogosphere replacing or even reducing the importance of the mainstream media. They're the big dog and will remain so. If some of them plunge into oblivion because they can't abide the new infestation of parasites, that doesn't mean the MSM is going away. It means that if the New York Times or the L.A. Times fail, they will be replaced by other mainstream media that do a better job of accumulating and reporting the facts.
How, then, should bloggers view the blogosphere? To each his own, of course, but I see it as a gigantic Letters to the Editor department. There's no shortage of column inches for letter writers, and so our letters can be a lot harder to ignore, but we still need them more than they need us, and we would be wise not to forget it.