Sizing up blogs

Yesterday, in connection with the The Week Opinion Awards, I attended a worthwhile forum on blogging and the media. The participants were Ana Marie Cox (Wonkette), Ariana Huffington, Peter Beinart, David Brooks, and Sir Simon Jenkins. Walter Issacson served as moderator. Below, I discuss some of the concerns presented about blogs, and my reaction to them. Note that no one raised the issue of bloggers as a lynch mob. Jenkins raised the issue of lack of editors, but that’s been thoroughly discussed here and elsewhere, so I won’t address it today.
1. Issacson wondered whether only partisan shouters can be heard anymore. He was talking about the media in general. Jenkins applied the question explicitly to blogs when he compared them to bar room screamers.
Partisan shouters may have the edge on some cable news talk shows, but I don’t believe they have it in the blogosphere. Many centrists bloggers do extremely well — Andrew Sullivan, Mickey Kaus, and Jeff Jarvis, just to name a few. Glenn Reynolds may not exactly be a centrist, but he’s not predictably conservative, and he’s certainly not a screamer.
2. On a related note, Cox complained that bloggers aren’t getting to the bottom of stories that don’t have a partisan angle. Thus, she said, blogs aren’t really getting to the truth.
The problem here (if it is a problem) may be that just about every story has a partisan angle these days. But, while many blogs focus on those stories that are most near-and-dear to partisans, the blogosphere as a whole doesn’t ignore other important stories. Think about blog coverage of Ukraine and the tsunami. Or check out Instapundit and follow his links to science stories, for example.
As to “getting to the truth,” Huffington made an excellent point, namely that bloggers are better at this than the MSM because they are more tenacious and have a longer attention span.
3. Beinhart worries that the demand for speed in the blogosphere prevents even the most intelligent bloggers from saying things that people will remember. Thus, he wonders whether blogging is the best use of these people’s time.
This is a good point. The other day, I looked at an op-ed piece I wrote in 1995. Although I’m happy with the quality of most of the long pieces I write on Power Line, I had to admit that nothing I have ever posted combines originality of thought and close-reasoning as well as that op-ed. How could it be otherwise; I worked for more than a week on the op-ed?
Nonetheless, there are several answers to Beinart. First, bloggers are not necessarily as fast as he assumes. I may write a ten paragraph piece in an hour, but usually I’ve been thinking about the matter for a day or two. Often, in fact, I have been blogging about it in bite size pieces. The longer piece is the culmination of an extended thinking/writing process. Second, doesn’t Beinart’s criticism apply to nearly all columnists? How many op-ed columns say things that people will remember? Third, as Cox pointed out, most bloggers had trouble getting their thoughts presented to the public at all until they started blogging. In that sense, blogging is an excellent use of their time. Finally, and in that connection, the best bloggers will gain access to other vehicles through which to present more analytical pieces.
4. Beinart also noted that bloggers face a trade-off — they gain independence from not being part of the media establishment, but they lose by not being part of the conversation within that establishment. Thus, bloggers are more inclined vigorously to attack the work of an establishment figure (a good thing in the abstract), but less likely to understand where that figure really is coming from.
An interesting point. Now that I’m starting to meet MSM types, I wonder whether I’ll be able to take on their ideas as powerfully as I have in the past. I haven’t met E.J. Dionne, but now I know conservative pundits who tell me he’s a great guy. Will I become less forceful in my criticism of his views?
I hope not. Bloggers who fall into this trap will lose their audience. The best bloggers solve Beinart’s dilemma by “conversing” with their adversaries through a fair reading of their work and related pieces. If they have done this, they can attack in good conscience, as long as the attack isn’t personal.
5. Brooks stated that those in power still don’t read blogs and that blogs aren’t part of the conversation of elected officials. He make it clear, however, that he still think blogs are important.
Actually, we have it on good authority that at least one U.S. Senator reads our blog regularly, and that others know about it and read it occasionally. It was reported that John Thune spoke to his fellow Republican Senators at a retreat about the importance of blogs in his South Dakota Senate race. And I imagine that, given his fund raising ability, the Daily Kos comes up in the conversation of at least some leftist Senators. As time goes on, blogs will become more and more a part of conversations in official Washington.


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