Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Here we go again

Oh dear. Another article about the inadequacies of the blogosphere as compared to the shining professional behaviour of the MSM, this time in a newspaper I usually respect, the Wall Street Journal. Mr. Rago, who is an assistant editorial features editor on that newspaper is fulminating about "the blog mob".

This is particularly odd because the Wall Street Journal has a daily summary of the best on the web, a mixture of news stories from main-stream sources and blogs, which it sends out to anyone who subscribes for free. Run by James Taranto, it is a very useful source for anyone who wants a quick round-up of interesting developments. Presumably, Joseph Rago would not approve of it.

What exactly is it Mr Rago objects to? Possibly that asinine Time Magazine "Person of the Year" award, which goes to all of us bloggers. Well, errm, no, not all of us, as Michelle Malkin points out, only the nice leftie-liberal ones who ... how shall I put it? … is butt-kiss allowed on this blog? ... well, anyway that is what they do to the nice liberal media and politicians while having a go at the right-wing ones. Not that they are not allowed to have a go at right-wing politicians, of course, but it would be good to see Time listing some of the blogs that actually held the media to account in the last year.

Then again, Mr Rago does not mention the asinine Time Magazine cover, so, maybe, he is not that bothered by it.
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.
Self-endeared? Is that a word, even in a hyphenated form? Furthermore, there is a certain lack of logic in that paragraph. On the one hand, we have journalism that requires journalists (by definition, I should have thought, but we also need to define "journalist"), who are "at least fitfully confronting the digital age".

Actually, they are desperately trying to run their own blogs, spending a lot of time praising each other. As for websites, most newspapers and news agencies to my certain knowledge are grappling with the issues of the digital age, with little success at the moment.

On the other hand, bloggers are merely scavengers on the giant body of the MSM, producing little reportage of their own. As we lurch into the second month of the scandal of AP using dubious sources, not checking them and clearly reporting propaganda rather than news from Iraq, we are entitled to ask about the extent of “reportage” in the MSM on important issues.

Anyway, Mr Rago really, really hates blogs that “are written by fools to be read by imbeciles” according to him, though the original quote, by Joseph Conrad, was about newspapers. Here are a few of his venomous comments:
“The way we write affects both style and substance. 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.

The right now is partially a function of technology, which makes instantaneity possible, and also a function of a culture that valorizes the up-to-the-minute above all else. But there is no inherent virtue to instantaneity. Traditional daily reporting--the news--already rushes ahead at a pretty good clip, breakneck even, and suffers for it. On the Internet all this is accelerated.

The blogs must be timely if they are to influence politics. This element--here's my opinion--is necessarily modified and partly determined by the right now. Instant response, with not even a day of delay, impairs rigor. It is also a coagulant for orthodoxies. We rarely encounter sustained or systematic blog thought--instead, panics and manias; endless rehearsings of arguments put forward elsewhere; and a tendency to substitute ideology for cognition. The participatory Internet, in combination with the hyperlink, which allows sites to interrelate, appears to encourage mobs and mob behavior.

This cross-referential and interactive arrangement, in theory, should allow for some resolution to divisive issues, with the market sorting out the vagaries of individual analysis. Not in practice. The Internet is very good at connecting and isolating people who are in agreement, not so good at engaging those who aren't. The petty interpolitical feuding mainly points out that someone is a liar or an idiot or both.

Because political blogs are predictable, they are excruciatingly boring. More acutely, they promote intellectual disingenuousness, with every constituency hostage to its assumptions and the party line. Thus the right-leaning blogs exhaustively pursue second-order distractions--John Kerry always providing useful material--while leaving underexamined more fundamental issues, say, Iraq. Conservatives have long taken it as self-evident that the press unfavorably distorts the war, which may be the case; but today that country is a vastation, and the unified field theory of media bias has not been altered one jot.
As it happens, I am not a fan of Henry James or of his style so not being able to write like him is not a tragedy. I do recognize self-serving and inaccurate waffle when I see it.

Any journalist who thinks that right-leaning blogs do not pursue fundamental issues like Iraq has not done his homework. Anyone who thinks that blogs and the blogosphere are solely about entertainment while the MSM is, with all its faults, about solid facts and information, lives in cloud-cuckoo land.

In fact, his writing is clearly a little bit short on reportage, though the style is not bad. Not brilliant, you understand, but not bad. H. L. Mencken, he ain't. But is his opinion right now.


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