Thursday, November 17, 2005

Perceptions of the Blogosphere

From Atrios (sorry about the long quote, but it's necessary in this case):
Copyright 2005 National Public Radio (R)
All Rights Reserved
National Public Radio (NPR)

SHOW: News & Notes with Ed Gordon 9:00 AM EST NPR

November 14, 2005 Monday


Some friends recently asked me why I hadn't set up a blog, you know, a personal Web site that a lot of folks these days use as a diary or to advocate a political viewpoint. I admit that I've entertained the thought of setting up a blog, usually when I'm ranting at TV newscasts or shouting about something I've seen in the day's newspaper. And as I get older, I realize that my opinions have gotten stronger, even if my journalistic experiences have become less varied.

Before I had children, I was the kind of run-and-gun journalist who lived for adventure--riots, earthquakes, forest fires, you name it. If it was jumping off within a thousand miles of me, I was there. But one of the biggest lessons I took away from the many years I've spent in newsrooms is this: Without editors, you are dead, specifically without a copy desk. You might as well be standing in your living room, ranting away, facts be damned.

That brings me back to my point about blogs. Not all blog readers know the difference between pure unfiltered, unedited opinion and good old-fashioned solidly reported news. Yes, I know that bloggers lately have been credited with everything from drumming up mainstream media interest in the overlooked plight of missing black and Latino women to exposing any number of government hacks and mischief-makers. But much of what appears on many blogs is speculation, however well-informed.

And as I read the growing numbers of blogs, it seems to me that the ones that have gained the most popularity in recent years, such as Daily Kos and Atrios, are big on promulgating the same kind of back-slapping, mutual admiration society, white-guy networking that drove me nuts back when I worked in newsrooms, same elite dynamic, different medium.

Some of these political blogs are funded by advertisers which, of course, means that they must, at least to some degree, answer not to ostensibly objective editors but rather to business entities that have a stake in whatever it is the blogger is saying. Thus the veneer of citizen journalist that has been bestowed upon the most successful bloggers is really a misnomer.

Then there is the amount of space that many bloggers spend on minutiae. Who cares where they went over the weekend or how their children did in the science fair and what movies they saw? I mean, if I don't have the time and patience to read such ephemera, I suspect that you don't, either. I certainly don't have the time to write such mundanities or the stomach for having the flotsam and jetsam of my life zapping around the globe, courtesy of the Web. The unfiltered me is fine for my living room, but I am loath to inflict her upon the world.

Don't get me wrong; I do read a few blogs, from Mark Anthony Neal's sober observations on fatherhood and black masculinity to James Wilcox's trenchant observations on politics and social life. At the same time, the proliferation of blogs troubles me. Which brings me to the final reason why I don't blog. Why write for free? Until the day comes when a deep-pocketed benefactor turns up to bankroll such a venture, I'll refrain. And should they emerge, they'd better be fronting an editor, too, an extra pair of eyeballs to keep me from ranting right into the Internet abyss.

GORDON: Amy Alexander is an author and media critic living in Maryland.

As an avid traveler in the ol' blogosphere, I think this woman is very confused about blogs. As far as her first point goes, the distinction in most blog posts between "pure unfiltered, unedited opinion and good old-fashioned solidly reported news" is pretty obvious. There's a link to the article they're posting on (that would be the "news"), followed usually by a block quote, and then after that the commentary. Anyone who can read and think at the same time can see the clear dividing line where the reporting ends and the commentary begins; frankly, most professional bloggers are pretty anal about keeping the two separate, as well as telling you when they're "speculating" (after all, most are academics and have it ingrained in them to maintain some measure of intellectual honesty). Furthermore, unlike with conventional media, readers can fact-check the information they're given almost instantly, be it searching the web for corroboration (it's called "googling," Ms. Alexander; try it sometime), or ( heaven forbid!) clicking on the link.

Her argument about the "back-slapping, mutual admiration society, white-guy networking" is similarly fallacious. I'll use DailyKos as the exemplum here, but my argument applies to many blogs, like MyDD and TPMCafe. Kos (who isn't white, by the way) doesn't do much of the frontpage posting on DailyKos. He is one of probably upwards of 10 people (many of whom aren't white and/or male) who contributes daily to the frontpage content, and disagreements on the site are both common and heated. Armando, for instance, is notorious for rocking the boat, but nearly everyone on Kos' blog (Kos included) is regularly faced with raucous opposition. A back-slapping, mutual admiration society it is not. Bloggers on different blogs also regularly disagree, even ones with the same broad political affiliation.

The advertising bit is false, quite simply because many blogs don't choose their advertisers. They use ad services that use software to scour the content and pick ads that suit the atmosphere of the blog. Furthermore, bloggers regularly disagree with groups that advertise on their site. There are plenty of Sherrod Brown haters on Kos, and every site with Dem party ads does a fair bit of criticizing Dems, sometimes obsessively so. I understand it's the same with the Repub ones. And how can she claim, on the one hand, that bloggers are unduly beholden to their contributors, and on the other that she doesn't want to do reporting for free (and after all, doesn't the mainstream media also depend on advertising revenues?)?

On to the "minutiae" rant. What the hell does this have to do with DailyKos and Atrios? All of a sudden we're off of political "newsy" blogs, and onto personal ones, which frankly are designed solely for keeping up with friends and family. And for that they are quite efficient. By slipping this into the middle of an argument about journalistic blogs, she is implying that this somehow applies to them (which it doesn't).

This woman is supposed to be some sort of expert?

No comments: