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"Losing my faith in humanity ... one neocon at a time."

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Ankle-biters Beware

posted by Jazz at 9/28/2004 08:42:00 AM

NOTE: YOU ARE VIEWING AN ARCHIVED POST AT RUNNING SCARED'S OLD BLOG. PLEASE VISIT THE NEW BLOG HERE.

Blogs around the globe are all a'twitter this morning over Steven Levy's Newsweek editorial on blogging and his immediately infamous remarks. The term "ankle-biter" shall now surely take its place immediately below "pajamas" in the blogging lexicon. As with any other story, however, it's critical to examine the source: who is the person? What are their qualifications and background?

A colleague of mine looked at a snippet from Levy's article and immediately stated, "It's a fuse." I wasn't familiar with the term being used in this context and asked her to explain. "By fuse," she said, "I mean that this Levy is very likely a blogger himself, or at least an avid reader of blogs. He lit a fuse to see what sort of chain reaction explosion would result in the blogging community."

An interesting possibility, and if she is correct then Levy succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. The number of blogs commenting on his column, (mine included) is surely well into the hundreds within hours of the it going public, and will likely expand exponentially from there.

At any rate, it took exactly one try to find his web page, www.stevenlevy.com, and it seems that he is a senior editor at Newsweek. He's also published previous articles on blogging, such as this June entry in Wired magazine. He apparently started a blog on salon.com back in 2002 for research purposes, but I can't find it now. He's the author of a number of technology books. Fair enough... he's probably not another "geek in pajamas" at that. His critique has a number of the big hitting bloggers up in arms, of course, particularly Glenn Reynolds. But is Levy's criticism of blogging totally unwarranted? Let's examine some of his infamous comments:

[Bloggers'] "motives are often fiercely partisan. Name-calling and intolerance of opposing points of view have reached epidemic levels on Web logs. And when it comes to hammering away on a noisy subject that ultimately distracts from more important issues, the Blogosphere can make cable television look like a 1950s debating society... you'd think that Rathergate was bigger than Watergate, Iraq and Britney's putative wedding combined.

I celebrate the liberating tools that let people post their thoughts unfiltered. But as with many other utopian predictions about how the open nature of the Net will create arenas that transcend foibles of the physical world, our faults have followed us to cyberspace. We were promised a society of philosophers. But the Blogosphere is looking more and more like a nation of ankle-biters."

At first glance it seems hypercritical and a bit of a low shot. But reading the entire article, he seems to express, or at least touch on, some uneasy feelings I've had about big blogging for a while now. I'm a critical person by nature and can't help but evaluate written material when I see it.

There are two areas I look at when evaluating a political blog. First is the writer's raw mechanical ability with the language. How competent are they as a user of English as it is properly written? Beyond that, how much "flair" do they have for the turning of a pithy phrase? How quickly will they sink to the use of profanity when a reasoned argument would suit their purpose so much better?

Second is the issue of partisanship. A certain amount of partisanship can't be avoided in most cases, and is to be expected. A person's political leanings will determine what subjects they choose to bloviate on, and often the side they take on many issues. But a blog that is clearly so shrill and one-sided that it leaves no room for examination of criticism of their point of view is not going to be taken as a seriously credible resource on all matters.

How do I rate on this scale? Obviously I take a lot of liberties with the language that I wouldn't do professionally, but I at least make the effort to get the mechanics close to a comfortable level and run the spell checker through my material once. My partisanship is clearly as a moderate who disdains extremist views, and I'll give a lot more space to news critical of Bush than that which praises him. I'm far from the gold standard.

Some of the biggest hitting bloggers however, are a serious disappointment. Professional journalists who produce mainstream work of high quality seem to sink into the mire when blogging to the point that you wouldn't recognize their work if it showed up in Time Magazine. One example is Michelle Malkin of Fox. A very credible, professional writer, her blog has frequent typos, infusions of profanity, and sticks to a hard right wing perspective that suffers no room for criticism of conservative values.

Others run the range down to the level of Ace of Spades, who's posts are rife with vulgarity and riddled with incorrect spelling and usage on a daily basis. You could be tempted to think that Levy's "Rathergate" comment was directed straight at Ace, who talked about virtually nothing else for two solid weeks. A host of other large blogs run the gamut of quality in between.

Where is the cream of the crop found? There are still some real works of art out there for the politically minded blog aficionado. At the top of the stack are a few of the really well written, primarily non-partisan creations of professional journalists. The Buzz Machine by Jeff Jarvis, Joe Territo's blog, and Taegan Goddard's Political Wire rank up at the top. You'll rarely find grating mechanical errors in their writing, almost no sign of profanity except for occasional dramatic effect, and an open discussion of a number of issues that seem to attract readers and comments from both sides of the spectrum. Those, in my never so humble opinion, are the hallmarks of a quality, unbiased blog. Power Line and Instapundit are also very well written blogs, but their partisanship rating has begun to slide a bit to one side. While he only occasionally veers into the political arena, James Wolcott is possibly the most skilled writer blogging today. He makes my "quote of the day" post more often an any other author, and his ability to create gripping mental imagry is so great as to make me weep over my own puny efforts.

So there is still some wheat left to pick from the chaff. Sadly, the chaff to wheat ratio is quickly approaching the stratosphere.