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

Thursday, February 17, 2005

A Lonely Defense of the MSM

posted by Jazz at 2/17/2005 03:34:00 PM


It's not often that you'll see me taking up a dispute with one of the other authors here, but in an open exchange of ideas, it can happen. And today it shall. This ties in rather nicely with a couple of previous pieces I did on the importance of keeping some perspective on what we, as bloggers, do in comparison to the old, established media. (Here and here, for those who missed it.)

This reflection was spurred by the publication of Peggy Noonan's glowing praise of bloggers in her most recent column. Now Peggy Noonan is, in most all regards, a right wingnut writer who is adored by the neocon supporting bloggers. As such, it was no surprise that they were falling all over themselves to shower adoration on her comments. (For just a sampling of this, see Poliblogger, Captain Ed, Betsy Newmark, Dan Gilmore, Quandoblog, Michelle Malkin)

I also found our own Ron getting behind the article over at Middle Earth Journal.

To give credit where credit is due, Noonan makes some good points.
Blogging changes how business is done in American journalism. The MSM isn't over. It just can no longer pose as if it is The Guardian of Established Truth. The MSM is just another player now. A big one, but a player.
This much is true. I do agree that the blogosphere has become a "part" of journalism in our global society. It's a new part, but certainly a part, be that for better or worse in terms of the dissemination of information. Peggy also makes a couple of other good points. She talks about how bloggers use most, if not all, of the tools of conventional journalists to dig up more facts than any one group of reporters can find. She also notes the speed at which bloggers can report and spread information, and the freedom from limitations of article length, timing, etc. Plus, as she points out, blogs are free. And "that is a service."

But then she ties into the first of two or three areas where I think most of us are missing the point.
It is not true that there are no controls. It is not true that the blogosphere is the Wild West. What governs members of the blogosphere is what governs to some degree members of the MSM, and that is the desire for status and respect. In the blogosphere you lose both if you put forward as fact information that is incorrect, specious or cooked. You lose status and respect if your take on a story that is patently stupid. You lose status and respect if you are unprofessional or deliberately misleading. And once you've lost a sufficient amount of status and respect, none of the other bloggers link to you anymore or raise your name in their arguments. And you're over. The great correcting mechanism for people on the Web is people on the Web.
I'm sorry, but I have to throw the bullshit flag on this one in a very big way. Where is this governance of which she speaks? Posting outright lies will certainly get you kicked to the curb, but bloggers on both sides of the aisle participate in the promulgation of slanted, distorted, and specious postings that make "the other side" look bad all the time. The methods are, most certainly, those of attack dogs hunting for trophy game. You can always print a very tiny correction later if you feel so inclined, but if you are a popular blog on either end of the political spectrum, you're readers will keep coming back and cheering you on for "exposing the evil" of the other side. There really isn't much of a correcting mechanism in place that I've seen.

The level of partisanship and red/blue divide prejudice is insane. There are very few blogs that manage to straddle that divide and provide any sort of balanced coverage. (Some of the only exceptions that come to mind are The Moderate Voice and Centerfield, along with a few others.)

Second, though I've said it before, is the fact that Noonan is really not being very honest in saying that the MSM is now just a "player", albeit a big one, on the field in terms of true journalism. The MSM is far beyond being the 800 pound gorilla in this sense. If the traditional media sources were to suddenly disappear tonight, 99.9% of the political and news oriented blogs would dry up and blow away by tea time tomorrow like so many fall leaves. That's where almost all bloggers get their information to start with - they simply expand on it and amplify it from there. Without those sources, blogs would go back to being personal journals of daily life and recipe exchange sites.

The last point, however, which Noonan completely fails to address is that of quality. Quality in writing is something that I look for and attempt, with pathetic results, to emulate. I do try, when I have the time and patience, to put a lot of work into creating some well crafted posts where I will endeavor to make an eye catching turn of phrase. However, I can look at the very best of my work with no small amount of pride and then flip over to the shortest, most off the cuff paragraph of James Wolcott and realize that I will never rise to that level of excellence. It would be easy for me, as a "left leaning" blogger (so tagged since I oppose the Bush administration and the Iraq debacle) to take on right wing blogs for their shortcomings. But I won't do that. Go take a look at Atrios, Kos, or most of the other left side blogs. You'll find typos, misspellings, poor structure and misused words galore. They are still great blogs, and I read them daily. But it lacks the grace of a really well written piece of pros. You can blog 24/7 for years from your basement while wearing your pajamas and taking pictures of your cats, and you aren't going to rise to the level of the thoughtful, well crafted writing of Leonard Pitts. (Unless of course you were born with his sort of innate gift, in which case you are probably already a published author.)

My point is that there is a certain grace, style and substance to good writing. And, like it or not, it doesn't grow on trees in our back yards. It takes a natural talent combined with hard work and education, combined with years of honing your skills at the grindstone to reach that level of the craft. Not every blogger has it and, truth be told, the vast majority of us do not. (And yes, I am most certainly including myself in the category of "far below the benchmark" on this.) Putting away the "dreaded MSM" too fast in our eagerness to surpass them would be a tragic mistake.