Thursday, March 09, 2006

Blogging Issues

I happen to be interested in blogging issues and what blogs are good for, particularly political blogs. Over the last two years, it's been interesting to watch the opinions of the mainstream media swing back and forth on its opinions of blogs in general. One of the better blogs is The Huffington Post but it was very funny in its first weeks as celebrated writers, journalists and personalities tried to figure out what they were supposed to do with this new thing (those who figured it out stayed around). John Aravois of Americablog has a few words on the subject:
If the NYT is going to do a look at blogs, then it needs to go beyond the obvious. The obvious is that there is a perception out there that bloggers are all young inexperienced angry children who work in their pajamas, and they're dangerous dangerous DANGEROUS people to be around. You could write about that perception, but then you'd be writing about a preconception that's incorrect and about something we already know.

In fact, the more interesting story, is that many of the most well-known bloggers on the left and right are lawyers (not that that's a good thing, but you know, does put you a step above some crazy kid) and have other advanced degrees and experience. Markos is a lawyer and former military. Atrios has a PhD in Economics. As for my blog, I've got a law degree and a masters in foreign service from Georgetown, worked in the Senate, the Children's Defense Fund, and the World Bank. Joe in DC has a law degree and was the political director at Handgun Control. Chris in Paris is an international high tech consultant in Europe. We're people with real world experience that kind of kicks ass. And suffice it to say, all of us have far left our 20s behind us.

John has more to say so check it out. Some of the media coverage of blogs is getting better but I'm amazed at the generalities I hear on TV. Do some of these reporters know how to find the better blogs? If you were writing about American newspapers, would you only write about the worst ones?

Once or twice, I've had the feeling that people are judging blogs based on their comments section; but we've had messsage boards for at least twenty years and those could be just as wild as what we see now in the comments on blogs. I like the comments section simply because this is where democracy can be found these days. How many Americans really feel their voice is being heard? And it isn't always the wild west on the threads. A number of comments sections are civil and carry on productive discussions. An example of a discussion at its best can often be found on some of the long threads of The Oil Drum.

A good, highly readable discussion of some aspects of blogs (though mildly academic) can be found at Bark at the Hole. I've been following Kelly's thoughts on the issue for the past six weeks. Here's a couple of paragraphs:

Journalists and academics share a prepublication peer review process for their articles. For journalists, this role falls upon the hierarchy of editors and often the publisher-owner. For academics, this role falls to colleagues, anonymous reviewers of article submissions, and editors of journals. Ideally, reviewers and editors perform a modicum of fact-checking and critique the logic of the analyses. Editors refuse to publish articles that fail to meet certain standards of fact and analysis quality. Journalists whose articles are rejected have little recourse unless they are independent contractors; academics, in contrast, may resubmit to less selective journals or settle for just a conference presentation.

Bloggers, as well as authors of books in the “Non-Fiction” aisle, have a minimal to non-existent prepublication peer review. Most blogs are single-author or collaborative affairs, deferring to no specialist whose role it is to check facts and ponder analyses prior to publication. Nonfiction book publishers, as recent events evince, similarly do not do so.

Kelly makes some good points and while I don't agree with everything, it's good material for discussion. There is definitely something to be said for editors and peer review but that system broke down during the first three years of the Bush Administration in the mainstream media. That's partly why the blogs took off in the first place. It's true that blogs can be vehicles for all kinds of false assertions, including unfounded rumors, but mass, unsourced e-mailings perfected that some time ago. But arguments and facts do matter in the blogosphere, particularly on the moderate to liberal side, and those arguments and facts are checkable; they can be confirmed which is a requirement of any rational discussion. Eriposte of The Left Coaster is a great example of someone who chases down facts; and there are many others. And already, editors are indeed appearing on blogs; Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo has become a blog editor just as much as he is an experienced journalist.

I suppose blogging as a subject is a little exotic, but blogs could help resuscitate our democracy, which is not running on all cylinders at the moment. Here's some more posts at Bark at the Hole on many legitimate issues that bloggers should be concerned about. I hope the series continues.

I think the credibility of bloggers is very important but I believe the first priority of bloggers continues to be democracy and the need for many voices to be heard. I am a little worried about groupthink and there's plenty of it on the right and left but I hope some patient voices hang around who truly do have things to say that can lead to even more useful discussions and I'm glad to say that the survey I did of blogs continues to yield pleasant surprises.



Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

When the commercial media do their forays into the blogosphere, they invariably look at the same handful of bloggers. No need to mention most of those bloggers' names because you know them as well as I do.

I will mention Wonkette, who for a couple of years got more air time, I swear, than some TV network employees, albeit not on the same network or any kind of regular schedule. Not that her blog was that evocative, but she's a she, is young, blonde and has just enough edge to make for a fairly interesting talk show segment.

I will also mention Atrios, who occasionally does an interesting post. But the best I can tell, he's kind of bored with blogging and winging it, having gained a following wildly out of proportion to anything he's had to say in a year or two. So, he tosses in one- or two-liners, or cops out with multiple open threads, and lets the restless natives take it from there. Which, of course, they do in incredible numbers.

The facts of all are OK; the blogosphere being such a huge and ever-expanding universe and all. But the commercial media's narrow-view reports rankle, because breadth and diversity are the essence of the medium, and that's precisely what's being given short shrift, a passing mention at most on the way to introducing Glenn Reynolds, Juan Cole, Josh Marshall or Arianna.

Well, those are big names with big followings, all right. But the are countless other good bloggers with much smaller followings. Collectively, the sense they make of things contributes to buzz and momentum that's sensed by the political world and, increasingly, the business world. Their collective impact isn't always immediately and accurately perceived, but it's not beside the point, either.

Without sour grapes or envy (honest), I'd like to see major media survey the wider scope of bloggers, maybe showcasing some of the worthwhile but lesser-known players.

I'd like to see someone in the major media broach the question for readers and commenters, "With so many worthwhile blogs out there, with such rich variety, why do so many visitors prefer to be the 277th commenter on a topic at DailyKos or the 121st at Eschaton, rather than one of a dozen or two at the Brand-X Blog?"

8:59 PM  
Anonymous Craig said...

S.W., the media coverage of the blogs pretty much has the same problem of coverage of commentators and analysts: the coverage is more about what is sexy or showy rather than what is well thought through. How does one account for Ann Coulter who has absolutely nothing useful to say to the point that even most conservatives must roll their eyes? And if the media finds somebody on the left, that person is either like Michael Kinsley who three out of four times is so far up in his ivory tower that conservatives are gleeful to hear his boring analysis, or the media finds someone who's merely controversial (and hardly talked about until some conservative discovers the person).

You're right about Atrios. I continue to read him but I sometimes go days at a time without checking his blog; I just assume he's busy with media matters when he gets into a dry period. (I visited Wonkette's site only three or four times and gave up when I realized what a waste of time it was.)

As for the comment sections, the point of them mystify me totally when they go higher than a hundred; on the other hand, Atrios keeps a few trolls busy contemplating their navels so they don't bother the rest of us. The best comment sections frequently run from two to sixty comments; some real discussions can take place.

5:26 PM  

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