Saturday, July 30, 2005

Corante on Journalist Bloggers. Posner Too!

Thanks to MaryAnn Johanson for pointing out this thought-provoking piece by Bob Cauthorn in Corante on why the MSM (that's bloggerese for "Mainstream Media") doesn't get it when it comes to the blogosphere. As with most entrenched institutions, whether business, academic, governmental, religious, or the archetypal mother-in-law, most media bigwigs are concerned with holding on to and expanding the authority they are accustomed to having. Any established institution is by its very nature a conservative institution, and regardless of its formal or informal reasons for being, it will include self-preservation at the top of its agenda. There are some good examples of that principle regarding musicians' unions and classical symphonies given in Mozart in the Jungle, which I swear I am almost done with (fewer than 10 pages to go). Comments on MITJ to follow after adequate reflection.

Some excerpts from the Corante post:

Memo to mainstream media: You don't get to blog. You have a publishing apparatus. So you don't get to blog. You have a broadcasting apparatus. So you don't get to blog. In case you missed this the point while you were reading up on youth slang, I'll repeat it for emphasis. You. Do. Not. Get. To. Blog.

The DNA of blogging is a complicated matter that touches on being outside voices and taking personal control of the media. But at minimum the DNA of blogging has to do with distributing the conversation. Contrary to that, the DNA of mainstream media – to date – is all about dominating the conversation. Bloggers are, for all intents and purposes, the pamphleteers of the 1700s all decked out in modern livery. Some are crazy. Some are geniuses. Some are vile. Some are heroic. Some boring. Some cooler than cool. In other words, they're us. Like those pamphleteers, at this point blogging tends to be more about opinions than facts. Also like those pamphleteers, bloggers are in the process of laying the groundwork for very important journalism going forth from here.

This last part about the pamphleteers and stuff ties in with Ron Chernow's biography of Alexander Hamilton, which I have been listening to on audiobook for the last six (?) months. (Again, almost done... It's 36 1/2 hours unabridged on 22 cassettes.) I wonder what the founders would have picked as their blognames -- probably a lot of Greek and Roman references -- Oh, wait! Those are what they picked as their blognames. (Skip to page five of the Von Drehle article for the part pertinent to this paragraph, but then go back and read the whole thing because it's real good.) (BTW, does anyone know of a chart or something that shows what Colonial Era writers used what pseudonyms and when?) Note that I don't even question that they would have been all over the Internet and would have been among its most active proponents. Can you imagine the trolling wars in the comments sections of the Adams and Jefferson homepages? What if Abigail had been able to build remembertheladies dot com from scratch? Not to mention Sally Hemmings' LiveJournal. The other day when I was looking through the TTLB ecosystem list to see who my Flippery Fish neighbors were, I noticed Thomas Jefferson's LiveJournal. It seems the noted Virginian was involved in a freak time travelling accident and wound up in the 21st Century, and is therefore able to offer his perspectives via the Web.

Back to the Corante piece, this time from the comments left by Bob Krumm:

The reverse is also true. Bloggers do not get to be journalists. That's not to say that at a certain level a blogger can't evolve (or devolve, as the case may be) into a journalist. However, to do so means that he leaves behind the freedom of the blog: the freedom to be partial, the freedom to be wrong, and the freedom to engage interactively in conjecture and analysis.

It's the interaction that makes a blog a blog. Everyone comes to the web an equal and anonymous voice. The power of position is gone. The blog reduces each individual to the power of his arguments alone. The blog's leveling effect can leave the media superstar intellectually naked as it elevates the homeless bum into a philosophical genius.

Makes you feel kind of proud of the blogosphere we inhabit, doesn't it? Now, for this important message about Britney Spears's pregnancy...

Update, 10:05 PM, 7/30/05: Richard Posner writes in the NYT (registration required) about the evolution of traditional media as it contends with the Web and blogging:

The charge by mainstream journalists that blogging lacks checks and balances is obtuse. The blogosphere has more checks and balances than the conventional media; only they are different. The model is Friedrich Hayek's classic analysis of how the economic market pools enormous quantities of information efficiently despite its decentralized character, its lack of a master coordinator or regulator, and the very limited knowledge possessed by each of its participants.

In effect, the blogosphere is a collective enterprise - not 12 million separate enterprises, but one enterprise with 12 million reporters, feature writers and editorialists, yet with almost no costs. 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.

A few years ago, I read Judge Posner's 2002 book Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline. It's very interesting, and you all ought to read it, but in some ways it's already out of date. Part of his concern (I hope I am not summarizing incorrectly) was centered around the recent tendency of professional academics to narrowly specialize, get tenure, and then think that they since they knew a lot about one thing, that their opinions on anything else should have equal validity, even if they knew not of what they spoke. The news industry is always on the lookout for someone who sounds like they know what they are talking about, and so the vicious circle began to spin. This book was written before the Blogosphere really took off, so I'd like to see him put out a revised edition that incorporates the impact of the thousands and thousands of would-be public intellectuals (like ourselves) who now have global soapboxes. I'm going to add the blog that Posner shares with economist Gary Becker (whose trading card I have in my desk drawer) to the blogroll.

Update: 8/3/05: Jack Shafer at Slate takes Posner to task.


Anonymous Glenn Brown said...

I think the statement that MSM cannot blog is a little inaccurate - people like Mickey Kaus and Andrew Sullivan certainly can be considered Mainstream. Here in Illinois Eric Zorn and Rich Miller are also representatives of mainstream media who are also considered members in good standing.

However, if what he is talking about is Hey! Lets have a chicago tribune weblog! that has the same boring news only in weblog format then I would agree.

9:23 AM  
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