Thursday, March 03, 2005

BlogoSpheres of Influence

Some say 2003 was the "year of the blog," but I would counter that blogs have gained a great deal of important notoriety as of late. Renaissance Men started in late 2004, for example. Case in point.

But seriously, from Dan Rather to Eason Jordan or Jeff Gannon, blogs have rapidly tackled issues that some wonder whether or not the Old Media would have ever caught. Of course, in all of the aforementioned examples, it was blogs attacking journalists in the Old Media camp, and a lot of commentators have pointed to a war between bloggers and traditional journalists. I disagree with such analyses wholeheartedly. (For an interesting hypothetical take that assumes blogs are much more powerful than Old Media, see this 8 minute flash movie. Disclaimer: It's pretty far-fetched, and I personally disagree with a lot of what is said.)

It just so happens that last week, I was interviewed by a journalism student at Northwestern University because of my contributions here at Renaissance Men. I was asked several questions about why I read blogs and why I myself contribute to a blog. During the interview, I concentrated on the distinct nature of blogs: they are interconnected, independently published, and often very timely. Blogs afford a great new medium whereby commentators can link to their primary and secondary sources so their readers have access to the exact same source material. Commenting systems, in the ideal, function as a way to keep bloggers honest because anyone can contribute feedback and offer instantaneous criticism. Of course, one has to be careful when reading blogs: you obviously can't trust everything some wacko posts on the Internet. (Note: link not to actual wacko post but a debunking).

David Adesnik, of Oxblog (an inspiration for Renaissancemen) coincidentially had a similar interview around the same time as me. One quote that caught my eye was the following:

Is amateurism in the blogosphere dangerous to public discussion?
Absolutely not. If anything, it has been a breath of fresh air. Bloggers have brought a new spirit of critical thinking back to a journalistic profession that has begun to resemble a monastic order.

Although the word 'amateurism' bears a connotation of ignorance, bloggers tend to be highly-educated professionals in other fields of endeavor. Moreover, journalism isn't like medicine. Although only trained professionals should dispense medication, any informed individual can dispense valid opinions. (Emphasis mine)

It is here that David gets to one of the greatest aspects of blogs; blogs represent democracy and engaged citizenry in their great potential. William Powers, who spoke at the Atlantic "Real State of the Union" referred to blogs as a vital part of a cacaphonous new media landscape that is part of the 21st century yet reminiscient of America's 19th century media. Blogs allow independent, motivated, and smart people an avenue through which they can publish their ideas at essentially zero cost. Assuredly, we have to always keep in mind that blogs will always have their own unique problems of credibility (although this is somewhat mitigated by source linking), but the Old Media should definitely embrace this new form of journalism and commentary as something positive. I know blogs can be extremely beneficial from personal experience because I know I have learned such a great deal from regularly reading the amazing Social Security analyses of Kevin Drum and Matthew Yglesias, I can explain why the new AIDS virus scare is really all about crystal-meth abuse thanks to Andrew Sullivan, and I generally feel like I have a lot more context and information for the whole multitude of topics I read in the paper everyday as a result of blogs.

As Howard Kurtz quotes in his Media Notes column,
Charlie Madigan, who writes a blog for the Chicago Tribune, had this message for his Old Media colleagues: "Shut up with your whining and appreciate the fact that, after generations of stagnation, something new has arrived. . . . Conventional journalism seems aghast that a whole collection of independent voices from all sides of the political spectrum are popping up now to pick and smear and slander and point accusing fingers, wreck careers, cast aspersions and introduce something besides a century-old sense of entitled hierarchy to the formula for news presentation."

Conventional journalists don't need to be scared of bloggers taking over their jobs: bloggers don't have the necessary resources or infrastructure for most real reporting. Blogging will almost indefinitely be confined to commentary and analysis, but of a much more wonkier and perhaps ultimately more informative type than the editorial pages of newspapers.

However, print media is facing declining subscribership numbers. The Washington Post (or as the 'Sphere has come to call it, WaPo), surprisingly only has a circulation of about 666,000. Some say declining newspaper subscribership is due to blogs stealing readers away from newspapers, but such a conclusion seems really shaky to me. Blogs drive a great deal of web access of newspapers due to their linking, and I can't really see how that would discourage subscribership (in fact, I would expect the opposite.) True, people can read the paper online, but it's nowhere near as convenient as having it in print form.

I think blogs appeal to the inner wonk inside all of us, and that inner wonk would certainly want to have a newspaper subscription (or a TNR and Atlantic one for that!), but a news format such as 24 hour cable TV caters to the infantile tendencies within us: people love to watch partisan hacks debate on Fox News because it's a sound-byte laden screaming match with all the sophistication of a football game. And, why would you want something as mind-numbing as that, when you could actually learn a thing or two from blogs? (i.e. How to use Political Theory to pick up chicks!)


At 2:23 AM, Blogger Jessica said...

In the paragraph after you quote David Adesnik, you have an extra word 'an' right before 'blogs' in the sentence beginning with 'Assuredly.'

just so you know :)

At 10:37 AM, Blogger Chris said...

Jessica- Thanks for the typo catch. It is now fixed. Much appreciated.

At 3:46 PM, Blogger Chris said...

1 point to blogosphere, -1 point to Mainstream Media.(And usually Cohen writes good stuff. Oh well)


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