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Thursday, March 17, 2005

Blogging as the 19th-Century Yellow Press Reborn

I think that this column is pretty interesting. It doesn't really apply to me, as I am but a tiny, tiny fish in the sea of bloggers (Instapundit gets more hits in like half an hour than I've ever got total), but I think it's quite accurate on the way that the blogosphere is evolving.

Bloggers badly want to believe their time has come. CNN made its reputation by covering the Gulf War, and I am sure someone has declared that the bloggers’ recent career-wrecking achievements—discrediting CBS News’ National Guard documents, forcing CNN to oust Eason Jordan, outing the weirdo Gannon—amount to their new new-media equivalent of Operation Desert Storm.

But just as CNN was never really able to reinvent itself to be indispensable for anything except covering wars and tsunamis, one can imagine the blogs settling in forever at their present level of almost wholly media-on-media impact. For now, bloggers are a second-tier journalistic species. They are remoras. The Times and CNN and CBS News are the whales and sharks to which Instapundit, Kausfiles, and Kos attach themselves for their free rides. (Remoras evolved special sucking disks; bloggers have modems.) If the sharks and whales were to go extinct, what would the blogging remoras do? Evolve into actual reporters? Let a hundred I. F. Stones bloom.

This is, I think, quite true. What I like about blogs is the hearing of original views and thoughts, especially from sources like lawyers, economists, scientists and other sorts of specialists who, usually, only come make it into the mainstream media through being quoted, a process that sets them at a distance. And yet the biggest blogs are nothing more than media recycling jobs (like this post! Although I'm not big), taking what is reported and adding a personal spin to it, or even just providing the reader with a sort of indexing service, pointing them in the direction of stuff that the author thinks is interesting. Totally fresh material is not really the forte of the major blogs, which are more about building communities of like-minded people (LGF, Daily Kos, and Redstate), serving as a meta-media digest (Instapundit), running a super-fast gossip column (Wonkette), or as technologically shiny outlets for people who are, at heart, very good old school pundits (Kevin Drum, Andrew Sullivan).

That's probably why I don't really read most of the big blogs, because they aren't really all that different from other sources of media. What I do like in the blog world are those little things that couldn't happen outside of blogs, like Abu Aardvark's discussions of the Arab media or Razib Khan's scientifically-focussed discussions of everything from genetics to Islam, or the bloggers whose interests are more diffuse than those of the heavily American media/politics angle of the big boys; people like Johnathan Edelstein, Randy McDonald, and Abiola Lapite. I try to do this as well, but I must admit that I've gotten very lazy recently and in trying to do a couple of posts a day over recent weeks I've settled into an easy groove of just doing digest-type stuff, linking on elsewhere, with the occassional decent post. If you go back to the archives from when I first started doing this I did much more substantial work, proper book reviews and the like, but I wasn't updating so frequently. I guess part of the problem is that you start to get worried about how many hits you are getting, and so you try to post a lot to get hits, but that's ultimately less satisfying that taking the time to do something better.

Journalism is reverting to a very old-school status quo, when most coverage was as partisan as today’s New York Post’s. In the middle of the nineteenth century, New York City had a population of 500,000 but more than a dozen daily papers and countless weeklies, most of them small-scale, idiosyncratic reflections of their editors and owners, chockablock with summaries of stories nicked from other publications—in other words, very bloglike. Back then, too, papers and magazines depended overwhelmingly on revenue from selling copies to readers, not from ads. The advertising tail did not yet wag the media dog. These days, as I gleefully strip away more and more advertising from my life—by means of HBO, a digital video recorder, and satellite radio—state-of-the-art early-21st-century media thus begins to look still more mid-nineteenth.

The big media behemoth will continue on because there's a demand for it. It won't be as large as before but most people who aren't total news/politics/culture junkies are probably not willing to take the time sifting through the literally millions of blogs that are out there to find what they want. The evening news, the local papers, and major newsmagazines already provide a pretty efficient way of getting information. The purpose blogs serve is that they can provide an outlet for people to find analysis of information from a particular perspective they want to hear, or they can provide links on to information, stories, and sources they might not have known about or might have missed. But blogging isn't reinventing the wheel, and its not "the new punk".

|| RPH || 5:23 AM || |