Monday, April 24, 2006

More Blog Envy

This time not from me. Susie Madrak writes about the mainstream media's envy of blogs:

While waiting for my clothes to dry, I did something I do much less often these days: Read the Sunday Inquirer - on paper. The front page of the Currents section (the former News & Views, I think) is themed "Can we live without newspapers?" and includes the piece Jeff Jarvis did on the norgs conference, something from Hugh Hewitt and from Rick Stengel, CEO of the National Constitution Center.

Inside was this snippy little piece from staffer right-wing hack Jonathan Last.

If I were his editor, I would have made him rewrite it. (But then, I always was conscientious that way.)

But the biggest evil of blogs is that first flaw, blogging's original sin: the discounting of news-gathering in favor of news analysis. Bloggers are forever telling us how easy journalism is, yet very few of them have ever really practiced it. Sure, they may have written opinion pieces that compare favorably to the work of Molly Ivins or Ann Coulter, but opinion writing is a tiny - and let's be honest, inconsequential - corner of the journalism world. Real journalism - the practice of adding to the store of public knowledge by reporting news - is a difficult, thankless, and often unpleasant task. Bloggers want no part of it. Everyone wants E.J. Dionne's job; no one wants to be Michael Dobbs.

There is really no excuse for this kind of "straw man" silliness, and part of the problem is that Last makes no distinction whatsoever between the left and right blogosphere. This is akin to confusing professional wrestling with the Olympic event.

Susie is a wonderful writer, isn't she? That's why it's quite funny when she discusses the second alleged problem with the blogs: lack of quality writing:

Plus, it's such lazy, half-assed writing. (Maybe his laundramat has wifi, too. Maybe he had one eye out for an open dryer as he wrote this extended pout.) "Bloggers are forever telling us how easy journalism is"? Which bloggers, Mr. Last? How many? When? Can you find any on the left side of the top-ranked blogsphere who say journalism is easy? (I know I've pointed out how a story should be done on many occasions - but then again, I'm an award-winning journalist with 20 years' experience.)

Another worry is that, as a medium, the blog does not value well-crafted writing. Except for Mark Steyn and James Lileks, it's hard to pick out even three beautiful writers from the millions of bloggers.

And here's where we figure it out. Mark Steyn? James Lileks? (Yes, that James Lileks.)

Don't get out and around the liberal blogosphere too often, do you, Jonathan? (Which bolsters my perpetual argument about the sheer laziness of reporters. It's been a few years since conservative blogs truly dominated the landscape, and yet some journalists are still referring to the same old bookmarks. See, once you're in their Rolodex, virtual or otherwise, that's it.)

Heh. But I actually understand why many in the traditional media might feel a teeny bit peeved about the blogs. Wouldn't you if you had gone to school for years first and then written for several more years on small-town happenings at a minimum salary, in order to finally reach your dream job and for what? To find the audience drift away to read untrained and opinionated amateurs who don't even bother to write properly? It must be tough.

Though not as tough as Last makes it seem. Blogs are not in the business of reporting news. Most are intimately dependent on someone else doing that reporting well so that there is good evidence for whatever argument the blogger engages in. The only aspect of traditional journalism that blogs really threaten are opinion columns. Perhaps that is the real thorn in the side of these journalists. I've read that writing opinion columns used to be the plummy job at the end of the line. Now every Dick, Harry and Echidne is doing what was supposed to be the crowning glory of a journalist's career. And they are doing it for free! You know, we must be a little crazy.

But even in this subfield the official opinion columnists are needed, the ones who are paid for writing. Whom could I tear to pieces here if David Brooks wasn't a paid hack for the New York Times? And would there be any joy in Mudville if we couldn't cheer when Ann Coulter strikes out? Or whom would I worship if Katha Pollitt and Molly Ivins were silenced?

No, I don't believe Mr. Last's arguments. The blogs could equally well be argued to bring more readers to mainstream writers and reporters, especially because we provide places for people to discuss the news and events of the day. I hope, of course, that we bloggers keep the professionals on their toes and make them work even harder. That's good for the society in general and very enjoyable to watch, too.

How long we can have that influence is unclear. There are dark forces at work under the seemingly placid surface of the internet, attempts to make this free-wheeling place a market where those who have the most money decide whom you can read. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance, so find out what to do by reading this post.