Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Those Nasty Blobheads

If there is one thing that can be relied on to unite the entire political blogosphere -- right, left, and center -- it's blog-bashing by the MSM.

First, the bashing:

Blogs are very important these days. Even Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has one. The invention of the Web log, we are told, is as transformative as Gutenberg's press, and has shoved journalism into a reformation, perhaps a revolution.

The ascendancy of Internet technology did bring with it innovations. Information is more conveniently disseminated, and there's more of it, because anybody can chip in. There's more "choice"--and in a sense, more democracy. Folks on the WWW, conservatives especially, boast about how the alternative media corrodes the "MSM," for mainstream media, a term redolent with unfairness and elitism.

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.

More success is met in purveying opinion and comment. Some critics reproach the blogs for the coarsening and increasing volatility of political life. Blogs, they say, tend to disinhibit. Maybe so. But politics weren't much rarefied when Andrew Jackson was president, either. The larger problem with blogs, it seems to me, is quality. Most of them are pretty awful. Many, even some with large followings, are downright appalling.

Every conceivable belief is on the scene, but the collective prose, by and large, is homogeneous: A tone of careless informality prevails; posts oscillate between the uselessly brief and the uselessly logorrheic; complexity and complication are eschewed; the humor is cringe-making, with irony present only in its conspicuous absence; arguments are solipsistic; writers traffic more in pronouncement than persuasion . . .

Some of the response from the right:

Ace of Spades:

... [I]t's tough to get a job in the MSM, and those who make the cut have reason to feel like they've accomplished something. But when some nobody comes along and generates far larger audiences than they do without the MSM credential, they feel their Big Damn Accomplishment is greatly diminished. Hence, these constant cri di couers of "I'm relevant! I'm better! I still count! You here me, Mom and Dad! I'm still somebody!"

That's cri de coeur to you, buddy.

Gaius finds the perfect comeback in the words of an 18th century French nobleman:

We are less hurt by the contempt of fools than by the lukewarm approval of men of intelligence.

Luc de Clapiers de Vauvenargues (1715-1747)

Bob Owen tells Rago, Look, buddy, when your articles get 3,000 visits a day, then maybe you'll have a leg to stand on.

... I must wonder: How many people check the Wall Street Journal web site several times each day specifically to see what Mr. Rago is going to say?

For all of the things he may or may not have right in his op-ed, I think I detect a touch of jealousy.

Dan Riehl concludes that Strunk and White is not Mr. Rago's favorite style guide:

I suppose one could forgive The Wall Street Journal's Joseph Rago for his incredibly small-minded view of blogs given that he's just out of Dartmouth and perhaps still looking to impress. But, heck, the blogosphere's job is neither to forgive, nor to forget. But I digress.

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.

Heavens, what imagery, one day Mr. Rago should consider doing a screenplay for Jaws 17, or whatever the number is now. I imagine that bit of fiction would be better received than his current one seems to have been.

The loquacious formulations of late Henry James, for instance, owe in part to his arthritis, which made longhand impossible, and instead he dictated his writing to a secretary. In this aspect, journalism as practiced via blog appears to be a change for the worse. That is, the inferiority of the medium is rooted in its new, distinctive literary form. Its closest analogue might be the (poorly kept) diary or commonplace book, or the note scrawled to oneself on the back of an envelope--though these things are not meant for public consumption. The reason for a blog's being is: Here's my opinion, right now.

It occurs to me that Mr. Rago hasn't yet come to appreciate the fact that people today read what they choose to read. Short of his graduate adviser or an over-indulgent parent, can you honestly read that paragraph above and think that any one would read Mr. Rago voluntarily, except perhaps out of unconditional love? Good heavens, Rago -- don't write like you're already on the dusty back shelf at the book mart so much before your time! -- you'll get there, eventually.

...from the left:

Echidne of the Snakes points out that the blogosphere fills gaps the media does not, will not, and doesn't want to, cover:

Are the blogs successful simply because "free markets always reward mediocrity"? (What on earth made a conservative write something like that?) I believe that at least part of the success of blogs is in the gaps they fill. There are points of view and opinions which the traditional media will not touch. For example, if you want to read about feminism what do you find in the mainstream media? Articles about feminazism, political correctness, the war against boys, the opt-out revolution of career women and so on. With the exception of a few magazines, not much which would give feminism any positive credit and not much which shows some study of the field. For those you have to turn to blogs.

Shakespeare's Sister wonders why Rago spilled so much ink on bloggers if he believes we are fools and imbeciles:

So then, the Blob is comprised of fools and imbeciles congregating around poorly constructed and uninteresting outposts of little significance. Hardly worthy, it would seem, of the Wall Street Journal's assistant editorial features editor dedicating 1,000 words to it. But maybe it was important to clarify for significant and serious people outside the Blob how balmy the Blob and all its people are. Well, done and dusted. Now I expect we Blobbians will be left in peace to our silly pursuits, without the providers of information to significant and serious people commenting on our mad, mad, mad, mad Blob again.

Until next week.

Booman is quite taken with the notion of being a remora fish, but:

... I just wish the belly I was riding on would act more like a shark and less like a lemming. And, one more thing. When Rago says that the media 'made itself vulnerable by playing on its reputed accuracy and disinterest to pursue adversarial agendas', I think he has completely misdiagnosed the problem. When all your sources are bullshit artists, you need to be more adversarial, not less. And if this is difficult, and I know it is, that does not give you an excuse to act disinterested about the truthfulness of your reporting. If Donald Rumsfeld says the moon is made of roquefort cheese, you need to call him on his crap. If you don't, then bloggers are going to call both you and Rumsfeld a liar. And it's just too bad that that makes you uncomfortable.

A lot of the blogger response to Rago pointed out that he and other MSM journalists are paid to work on one story for weeks and are given all the financial and logistical support they need to do so. I will quote one such response, at Gun-Toting Liberal:

... [H]e leaves out the fact that we are doing OUR "reporting" on a tight budget. We cannot afford to have English majors on our payrolls to reorganize our sentences and correct our construction of paragraphs like Mr. Rago and his MSM buddies do. I'm fairly positive I could enjoy a hearty laugh at some of Mr. Rago's first drafts before the Editor got to them to rearrange them to be grammatically "perfect." Just imagine how tremendously EXCELLENT some of these blogs would be in every sense of the word, were they to enjoy some of the tools and advantages our MSM bretheren enjoy.

If we had the money to travel at will and do this full-time, it would be we bloggers breaking the new[s] reports right alongside of the MSM; competing even more spiritedly with them for customer base. With professional editors added into the mix, we would BE the "MSM"; only a wonderfully, proudly, biased version of it. Feeling the heat, Mr. Rago? I know you are, Sir.

... and from the center:

Pete Abel, writing at The Moderate Voice, calls Rago on his "checks and balances" argument:

... Mr. Rago notes that "democracy does not work well, so to speak, without checks and balances." I have yet to find a greater, more robust sphere of checks and balances than the blogosphere's, a place where my own assumptions and beliefs have been (more than once) challenged and as a result (more than once) modified.

It's also quite peculiar to read Rago lecturing the blogosphere that "Democracy does not work very well without checks and balances," given that, as a right-winger, he so staunchly supports the Bush Doctrine of unlimited and unchecked presidential power.

And no, Dr. Taylor -- it's not just you.

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