Banging on the blogosphere Posted by: McQ
on Friday, December 30, 2005
A much discussed article in the blogsophere is that by Kathleen Parker on Townhall.com concerning her perceptions of the ‘sphere. It’s a pretty damning rant and my first reaction was a knee-jerk “she doesn’t know what she’s talking about”. But after reading some of the reactions by other bloggers, some angry, some reflective, some contemplative and some analytical, I’ve calmed down and decided to be a little reflective myself.
My conclusion is that my knee-jerk reaction had some merit. She has identified a very small segment of what constitutes the blogsophere and then painted the entire entity with an unfairly large brush.
Oh, she has indeed caught and described that segment well, but to pretend it represents the majority is, well, not very good journalism.
Bloggers persist no matter their contributions or quality, though most would have little to occupy their time were the mainstream media to disappear tomorrow. Some bloggers do their own reporting, but most rely on mainstream reporters to do the heavy lifting. Some bloggers also offer superb commentary, but most babble, buzz and blurt like caffeinated adolescents competing for the Ritalin generation's inevitable senior superlative: Most Obsessive-Compulsive.
She’s mainly talking about what are commonly identified as “political blogs”. Now it might have been nice had she at least made such an identification and confined her comments to that segment of the genre. Instead it is the general term “bloggers” she uses, which identifies the whole, not the segment with which she seems upset.
My point? Well per Technorati there are 14 million blogs published every day. That’s 14,000,000 with lots of zeros. Again, note the focus of Parker’s comment. Those who comment on the MSM. Those are the political blogs ... a relatively small portion of that number (and certainly not the majority).
If, as comScore Media Metrix, reports in their August 2005 study, the blogosphere is broken into 7 nonexclusive blog groups (political, hipster lifestyle, tech, blogs authored by women, media, personal and business are the categories in order of descending popularity) then the portion of blogs which give Parker heartburn are very small indeed.
Definitely a problem of a broad brush. Unfortunately that broad brush is what has many in the ‘sphere riled up. I don’t necessarily dispute her point that a good number and perhaps a majority of political blogs do indeed “babble, buzz and blurt like caffeinated adolescents”, but unless she’s wandered through at least 7 million of the 14 million blogs out there, I’m less than convinced she can authoritatively make that statement about the blogosphere.
Understanding that Parker is in reality aiming her remarks at a particular segment and not the whole of the blogosphere makes it easier to then analyze the rest of her tirade:
Even so, they hold the same megaphone as the adults and enjoy perceived credibility owing to membership in the larger world of blog grown-ups. These effete and often clever baby "bloggies" are rich in time and toys, but bereft of adult supervision. Spoiled and undisciplined, they have grabbed the mike and seized the stage, a privilege granted not by years in the trenches, but by virtue of a three-pronged plug and the miracle of WiFi.
Obviously Parker likens the “babblers”, “blurters” and “buzzers” to children and their blogs as toys. Her problem isn’t with the bloggers who use the "megaphone" responsibly, but with the “bloggies” (one assumes a diminutive of “bloggers”) who share the stage with the bloggers but don’t exercise the same responsible conduct in their presentation that the “adults” do.
OK. I can go with that characterization, but it’s much to cutsey for my taste. Why not just come out and say “there are some political bloggers who are irresponsible in their commentary and hurt the credibility of political blogs as a whole through their behavior”?
It’s not like bloggers aren’t aware of that. Nor that they necessarily disagree. But bloggers who’ve been doing this for a while also understand that those blogs don’t last very long. Readers of a serious nature aren’t going to patronize them. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a segment of the ‘sphere in which that which she condemns won’t continue to exist, but just as no one of any intellect considers grocery store tabloids to be serious newspapers, these blogs aren’t taken seriously either.
They play tag team with hyperlinks ("I'll say you're important if you'll say I'm important) and shriek "Gotcha!" when they catch some weary wage earner in a mistake or oversight. Plenty smart but lacking in wisdom, they possess the power of a forum, but neither the maturity nor humility that years of experience impose.
Each time I wander into blogdom, I'm reminded of the savage children stranded on an island in William Golding's "Lord of the Flies." Without adult supervision, they organize themselves into rival tribes, learn to hunt and kill, and eventually become murderous barbarians in the absence of a civilizing structure.
In the past, Q and O has commented on the tendency of some in the blogosphere to gloat a bit. But the most important stories in which the blogosphere has had an impact haven’t really been when some “weary wage earner” makes a mistake or an oversight, unless you consider the CBS “memogate” fiasco to be a mere “mistake” or “oversight”. “Memogate” was actually the son of “Tailwind” from CNN. Although “Tailwind” was before blogs, it presaged a sea change in accountability for news services who previously had the ability to unilaterally present their side of the story, facts be damned, with nary a whisper of dissent. So while I can see her point about overreaction to legitimate mistakes made by journalists, she ignores the fact that but for the sphere, “memogate” would just have been another unanswered hack job presented as truth with those who were destroyed or diminished by it having little recourse in terms of answering the bogus charges.
As much as Parker laments the lack of “adult supervision” among blogs, one has to wonder if she would characterize Mary Mapes as the epitome of adult supervision within the MSM.
What Golding demonstrated - and what we're witnessing as the Blogosphere's offspring multiply - is that people tend to abuse power when it is unearned and will bring down others to enhance themselves. Likewise, many bloggers seek the destruction of others for their own self-aggrandizement. When a mainstream journalist stumbles, they pile on like so many savages, hoisting his or her head on a bloody stick as Golding's children did the fly-covered head of a butchered sow.
Schadenfreude - pleasure in others' misfortunes - has become the new barbarity on an island called Blog. When someone trips, whether Dan Rather or Eason Jordan or Judith Miller, bloggers are the bloodthirsty masses slavering for a public flogging. Incivility is their weapon and humanity their victim.
I agree with her point about incivility. It has become tiresome, and frankly, I have a tendency to quit reading a blog piece in which it is prominent.
But I beg to differ about something. Dan Rather didn’t trip, Ms Parker. Dan Rather dissembled. There is a huge difference. As for being bloodthirsty, the blogosphere holds a poor second to the mainstream media. Can anyone even begin to count the number of ruined reputations and destroyed careers facilitated by irresponsible journalism? Does anyone remember Richard Jewel for heaven sake? Or Ray Donovan.
The blogosphere certainly has those that do precisely what Ms. Parker suggests, but may I suggest that they learned the technique from many in the MSM. As I pointed out previously, journalism since Watergate has changed a lot. And the culture of personal destruction is not at all confined to the blogosphere.
It was at about this point, I figured, that Ms. Parker took a breath and exhaled:
I mean no disrespect to the many brilliant people out there - professors, lawyers, doctors, philosophers, scientists and other journalists who also happen to blog. Again, they know who they are. But we should beware and resist the rest of the ego-gratifying rabble who contribute only snark, sass and destruction.
We can't silence them, but for civilization's sake - and the integrity of information by which we all live or die - we can and should ignore them.
If the shoe doesn’t fit don’t wear it, is what she says here. A handy disclaimer to which she can point and say, “hey, if you don’t fit the type I described, I wasn’t talking about you”, even after talking about “bloggers”.
I’ve come to believe that LaShawn Barber is correct. Somewhere Kathleen Parker has had a very bad experience with bloggers. And, as a human being, she’s felt compelled to strike out at those who’ve hurt her. I can identify with that, as can we all.
But, Ms. Parker, it wasn’t me, even though I remain a part of the blogsophere you have so roundly and broadly condemned (disclaimer notwithstanding).
UPDATE [Jon Henke]
When I first read this Parker piece the other day, my reaction was very similar to McQ's. Initially peeved, I gradually figured out that her criticism was intended for a narrow niche of the 'sphere. Even so, I think these kind of articles are a bit ridiculous.
Since there's no real organization in blogging, comparing bloggers to journalists (favorably or unfavorably) is quite odd. Bloggers will tend to be insightful, idiotic, considered or outrageous in proportions very similar to that of the general population. Blogging is just high-tech front porch punditry -- just people communicating about their world. Replace "bloggers" with "guys at the bar" in her column, and it's quickly apparent that what she's complaining about --incivility, personal destruction -- has very little at all to do with the medium about which she's writing.
Still, there's no doubt that some bloggers have "organize[d] themselves into rival tribes, learn to hunt and kill, and eventually become murderous barbarians in the absence of a civilizing structure." When Parker writes that some bloggers "contribute only snark, sass and destruction", I found myself wishing she'd name names. Surely she's not expressing real concern about the "long tail" of the blogosphere, consisting of thousands of barely-read blogs. Surely Kathleen Parker could think of a prominent blog to pan by name.
But, since she didn't, I will.
No prominent blog, I think, better encapsulates "snark, sass and destruction" than Atrios. Duncan Black is a Senior Fellow at a prominent liberal media watchdog organization. He is a very prominent liberal media commentator and the second highest trafficked liberal blogger.
And this is the kind of thought-provoking media criticism he writes...
"Journamalism": "It would be unthinkable that the good and honorable and wonderful conservative Christian DeLay could be friends with big Jewy Jew Abramoff?"
That's just on the front page. Read for any length of time and you'll find he likes to give demeaning nicknames to prominent journalists: Chris Matthews = "Tweety"; Bob Woodward = Booby; WaPo Editor John Harris = "Whiny-Ass Titty-Baby"; etc.
As a link resource, Atrios is quite good. As a political commentator or a contributor to political discourse, Duncan Black is precisely the "ego-gratifying rabble who contribute[s] only snark, sass and destruction". We would do well to strive not to emulate him.
McQ, Anyone can slap keyboard to bits, I enjoy the insight provided by QandO with its Libertarian roots and the economic insight into the world news. I hit the site daily. I followed Dale over to QandO when he shut down and I have not been disappointed. I feel you present more of the story than the MSM does (agree or disagree). SO the fact that you break down someone else’s (so called) hard work by adding in perspective and insight is much more compelling than reading a newspaper while knowing that they are filtering, what info, they think you don’t need. I guess what I am trying to say is if you guys started a newspaper I would subscribe.
Yes, I read that column the other day. I went back to read it today for the comments section. After her overwrought comments how the MSM struggles to get it right, the 4 levels of editors, etc, I was wondering if anyone brought this to her attention.
NEW ORLEANS - Four months after Hurricane Katrina, analyses of data suggest that some widely reported assumptions about the storm’s victims were incorrect. For example, a comparison of locations where 874 bodies were recovered with U.S. Census tract data indicates that the victims weren’t disproportionately poor. Another database, compiled by Knight Ridder of 486 Katrina victims from Orleans and St. Bernard parishes, suggests they also weren’t disproportionately African-American.
I agree many blogs are uncivil and I don’t read some because the commenters-not the bloggers-are uncivil. I initially read a lot of blogs since about December of 2001. There is a selection process at work here and soon I was down to 10-12 blogs. Call it a Darwinian survival of the fittest. Even so, to write off the above examples as struggling for accuracy while excoriating a portion of bloggers for their incivility is wrong. This is how Parker characterized the above examples.
Say what you will about the so-called mainstream media, but no industry agonizes more about how to improve its product, police its own members and better serve its communities. Newspapers are filled with carpal-tunneled wretches, overworked and underpaid, who suffer near-pathological allegiance to getting it right.
I agree with you. She could have made her point with more specificity but I also think she could have accepted more responsibility for the errors of the MSM instead of blithely referring to the occassional Jayson Blair or Jack Kelly.
31 blogs are on my Links bar... Most of these I’ve found through other bloggers, and I wouldn’t know what to do if they all shut down. They give me a more complete connection to the world then the MSM ever did.
I don’t always hit each one every day (unless it’s a slow day for work, or a busy day for news.)
I’ve always regarded the comments sections as the water-cooler. I can challenge others opinions, add (I hope) usefull info, correct mistakes, and even have my own opinions challenged.
And while I contribute a great deal on blogs and forums, I don’t have my own blog setup. Not enough time, and I’d rather sponge off others effort. One thing is, I’ve found blogs that are similar in outlook on many issues.
no industry agonizes more about how to improve its product, police its own members and better serve its communities.
If this were the case, the blogsphere wouldn’t be so vibrant. And it wouldn’t be so easy to come up with cases where the MSM didn’t tell the whole story, let alone the truth.
Where else but the blogsphere can we see a blogger photoshop a MD Republican to be good ole Sambo??! (Well, the Milwaukee Journal said Clarence Thomas wasn’t an authentic black but at least they left the photoshop out.....but then again, the AP used Photoshop to give Condi the demon eyes. Boy, it’s hard to tell the blogs and MSM apart sometimes!)
Each time I wander into blogdom, I’m reminded of the savage children stranded on an island in William Golding’s "Lord of the Flies." Without adult supervision, they organize themselves into rival tribes, learn to hunt and kill, and eventually become murderous barbarians in the absence of a civilizing structure.
And yet, with all that adult supervision, the LA Times publishes an April Fools hoax on the front page. Go figger :)
Seriously, if you think that the MSM is snarking at the blogsphere now, wait until more and more citizen journalists take advantage of technology and start doing their actual news coverage instead of aggregating and breaking down produced product...I imagine the people making buggy whips felt the same way once
I’ve always considered it something of a measure of a man; Who it is that he’s symbol to a new ways not civil to. Yes I am openly admitting there are several people that I am simply not civil to.
Ted Kennedy for example. If I was ever to run into that blithering idiot drunk, you can bet your bottom dollar that I decidedly would not be civil to him; murderers being among those I am never civil to, his politics aside. Only problem; I doubt that he’d recognize that I wasn’t being civil through the alcoholic haze. The boy clearly has burned too many brain cells. (Shrug)
Kos, is on the other hand, symbol to nobody who was politically to the right of Fidel Castro, and loves Ted Kennedy.
In my estimation, that’s all I need to know about Kos.
The Blogosphere is what the print or broadcast media would be if the entry costs were not so steep, so there is no reason to be snotty. If you have a hundred million dollars or so, you can start your own newspaper or tv station and, initially anyway, reach large numbers of people. If you have only a few bucks and some free time, you can start your own blog with a permanent potential audience of millions of people. You don’t need experience, qualifications, or even sanity. Even sites several standard deviations from the mean can get a substantial number of visitors just from the sheer size of the market, something impossible for print or broadcast media to do. Everybody finally has their own printing press, so to speak, and it ain’t going to be pretty. Educational, amusing, stimulating, inspirational, but also chaotic and ugly. Welcome to the human race.
Two thoughts. Not really criticism of Kathleen Parker or your reaction, just related, interesting (hopefully) points.
1) I recently discovered a point that may be very deep underlying assumption of her rant, perhaps so deep she isn’t aware of it: There is a huge difference in writing something good enough that a million people are willing to read it for free to writing something good enough that 10 people are willing to pay a dollar for it. Now, thanks to the power of syndication/distribution, she doesn’t have to get anyone to pay even a dollar for her stuff, she makes a living by having her writing published in newspapers that people buy for a dollar or less, and perhaps none buy specifically to read her work at all. But she probably feels keenly that divide: she is a professional writer, bloggers are not (as bloggers). One thing about being a professional writer: you quickly learn to pare down to what people are looking to read, so as to not waste time. Bloggers have no such incentive; you never know what might catch someone’s fancy or get a link, so our most random thoughts get published. As an example here on this site: purportedly an Online Magazine about neo-libertarianism, Dale publishes his travel photos and talks about expensive bikes (or was that McQ?) and his rank symbol designs. This is not a complaint. Those sorts of things enrich this site; even if it doesn’t appeal to everyone, they can easily skip past. It adds no costs to the reader.
2) Blogging is killing news media in exactly the same way mp3s are killing the music industry. The cost imposition of creation/distribution of news media AND music was once so great that only corporations could do it. Now anyone can. Right now, only some people do their own reporting and the rest still rely on mainstream news media. But as the MSM dies off, more bloggers will provide reporting to fill the gap. Someone’s going to start doing live news pod-cast feeds soon... Anyway, the MSM was profitable only due to syndication and advertising revenue based on subscription/circulation rates. As ad placement declines, newspapers will not be able to afford to purchase as many syndicated items. The days of being able to make a living through one or two articles a week are probably in their twilight.
MSM: the buggy-whip manufactures of this turn of the century.
Oh, and I’m not a daily read, much less on your blogroll, Indy Keith? Why, you are missing...um, missing...uh...wait, it’ll come to me... --okay, you’re not actually missing anything by not stopping by my blog. [shrug] Never mind.
I find it valuable to separate the personality from the issue: So-and-so may be an annoying pain-in-the-a$$, but that does not make him wrong. Or, I may think so-and-so walks on water, but that does not make her right. Slamming someone for their poor decision-making is ok, but ridiculing someone in terms that Atrios does (or using any of the FRS - Fear, Ridicule, and Sarcasm) is over the top. I prefer the civil blogs. I tune out when someone starts ranting.
I prefer the civil blogs. I tune out when someone starts ranting.
For the most part I totally agree. But I will point out that there are times that a rant is called for and appropriate. However, that doesn’t mean one has to necessarily attack the personality involved (although that can be satisfying at times ... take Michael Moore for instance). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written exactly what I feel at the moment, walked away, and then edited it ruthlessly to remove what I would consider inappropriate comments.
Snark and sass has it’s place, but personal ridicule is usually not useful. That’s not to say I haven’t fallen prey to crossing that line on occassion, mostly in comments, however I try very hard not to make a habit of it (and fail miserably at times).
That said, there are indeed blogs, as Jon points out, who are nothing but snark, sass and ridicule. And while they may have a large number of readers, I’m not one of them.
When I first read Ms. Parkers article, I immediately noted the similarity between it and this short 5 minute three act play my 5-year old daughter goes through each time she is asked to do something she doesn’t want to do. Both have good structure, are thought out and have a feeling and depth of pathos. My daughter’s play in addition usually has some interesting plot developments relating to perceived slights at her brothers, or parents hand. On the other hand, Ms. Parkers article is somewhat lacking. It is packed with emotion, drama, vanity, derision, but it never rises above the level of a 5-year old. Its broad, sweeping accusations are on par with the accusations of my daughter not those of a professional. Her sense of victim hood and resulting belief in her duty to heroically save all humanity from the horrible blog monster is perhaps even shallower than similar beliefs held by my daughter (daughter is always magnanimous about spreading the hero work around).
I will end saying that I do not understand the total fear surrounding blogs, or what amount to typed up water cooler discussions. I suspect that Ms. Parker believes we (blog readers) are neither competent nor smart enough to sift the wheat from the chaff when it comes to blogs, blog posts and comments. Why else would an adult woman (or man for that matter) play the shrill Chicken Little and run about screaming that we should not read those horrible blogs?
Perhaps there is some element of fear and jealousy in her diatribe. I suspect that the Catholic church may have felt something like that when moveable type was invented and literacy became widespread; their monopoly on knowledge was broken, their status and power suffered, and their errors were exposed.
I am not that bothered by what she wrote and I certainly agree with Jon’s example. The only thing that I found a little idiotic was her statement about the "maturity and humility that comes from years of experience" as a journalist. Ha! Surely she had to be joking.