December 31, 2004

MICHAEL POLLARD WRITES:

Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber writes that “bloggers like Glenn Reynolds …. think that blogs should replace the mainstream media.” I don’t think you’ve written anything that can be fairly interpreted this way, but perhaps I’ve misread you?

I note that in this post you write that “the political blogosphere is to a large degree about media criticism,” and you approvingly quote a reader’s comment that “Blogs are the letter to the editor that the editor does not want to print.” (Here’s another post where you cast bloggers largely as media critics.) Doesn’t sound like you regard bloggers as a replacement (or even potential replacement) for the MSM. On the other hand, you’ve also “pushed the concept of bloggers as news collectors”. I don’t get the impression that you think news collecting blogs will someday replace the Washington Post and New York Times, but like I said, maybe I’ve misunderstood you.

Care to address Farrell’s post directly?

Well, okay. First, Farrell says that I “seem” to believe that blogs will replace big media, and maybe to him I do seem that way, at least to him, though I can’t think of what I might have written to that effect, and apparently neither can he as he provides no link or quote. So maybe he’s just characterizing my views that way so as to create an apparent contradiction that he can exploit. . . .

But I don’t think I’ve ever said that that blogs will replace Big Media. (As I have said, it’s possible to imagine some sort of distributed news-collective that would do the same kind of work that newspapers or TV networks do, but there’s nothing like that in existence, and if there were it wouldn’t be a blog). I’ve generally characterized the relationship between the blogosphere and the legacysphere as symbiotic, with the prediction that blogging would remain an amateur activity by and large. And it is, at least overall. Jay Rosen is right when he says the shift is as much tonal as structural, with blogs forcing a conversation. And as I’ve said repeatedly, the real threat to Big Media is not so much to their pocketbooks as to their self-importance.

My hope (not borne out as much as I’d have liked) has been that blogs would pressure Big Media to do a better job, both by criticism and by force of example. I also think that blogs do a lot to produce reporting of things that Big Media can’t or won’t report — with the tsunami reportage and the AP bogus-boos story being examples from each category. I do think that blogs (and the Internet in general, via things like CraigsList) are pulling eyeballs from Big Media, for which there is considerable evidence. But that hardly boils down to a claim that blogs will replace Big Media, and I don’t know where Farrell gets that idea. Neither, apparently, does he, as he provides no sourcing.

Farrell also conflates InstaPundit with the blogosphere as a whole, by suggesting that my statement that InstaPundit is not a news service somehow means that the blogosphere isn’t up to news-gathering. InstaPundit is mostly about punditry (hence the name) but many other blogs are otherwise. Via this conflation, though, we get a claim of hypocrisy on my part: The argument is: Reynolds thinks blogs should replace Big Media; Reynolds admits he can’t cover everything; Therefore Reynolds is a hypocrite.

So we have an unsupported mischaracterization of my opinion, followed by a duck-and-switch in which InstaPundit is equated with the blogosphere, leading to a charge of hypocrisy. Farrell’s treatment of this issue — in which he accuses me of engaging in a dodge when I say I’m not a news service — is rather dodgy itself, and does him no credit.

What’s more — and Farrell really knows too much to make this sort of mistake, I would think — individual blogs aren’t the unit of analysis, the blogosphere is. Unlike Big Media, who until recently could black out a story with the agreement of a very small number of players, bloggers can’t do that. If I had ignored the tsunami, or RatherGate, other people would have covered them, and my omissions would have made little difference. That’s a fundamental difference in media, and hence in responsibilities in terms of inclusiveness. (And it cuts both ways, as I suggest in a response to Chuck Divine in the comments to this post by Rand Simberg.)

Farrell wants to carve out a niche as a scholar of the blogosphere, and he’s done some interesting work together with Daniel Drezner. Posts like this one, however, make me wonder how reliable his insights are likely to be.

UPDATE: Reader Randy Beck points out this from last summer, which I had forgotten. Fortunately, not everyone had. That’s another thing about Big Media and the blogosphere. In both cases, our readers are smarter than we are. But bloggers both know it and, more importantly, admit it!

Admit it? Heck, I rely on it. Meanwhile, Power Line notes Farrell’s use of the term “slavering right-wing hacks,” but also observes:

I think Farrell is missing the distinction between particular blogs and the blogsphere as a whole. No one blog can cover everything and many blogs, such as ours, deal primarily in opinion. But one can envisage a blogosphere that readers rely on to obtain essentially everything they now get from a newspaper or a newscast. The basic facts of a story would come from links to news services. The analysis would come from specialized blogs or non-specialized blogs that happen to have expertise in the subject area. The op-ed type opinions would come from the opinion blogs. I actually think we’re pretty close to having such a blogosphere, although that’s clearly a matter for debate.

I still think, as I indicated here, Big Media organizations have an enormous advantage in gathering hard news. But that advantage obtains, of course, only to the extent that they choose to employ it, and are trusted when they do.

ANOTHER UPDATE: In an update to his post, Farrell accuses me of being “characteristically evasive.” This assumes that he has a point worth evading, which doesn’t seem to be the case. Farrell says that it is hypocritical of bloggers, like me, to criticize Big media for failing at comprehensiveness and objectivity when we bloggers are neither comprehensive nor objective.

If I were running a newspaper, he might have a point. But for a blogger to criticize a newspaper surely doesn’t require that the blogger run his or her blog as if it were a newspaper. InstaPundit’s tagline is “Making even the dumbest sh*t interesting,” not “All the news that’s fit to print.” Farrell seems to be straining awfully hard to find a basis for criticism here.

However, treating Farrell’s point as worthy of engagement — it is the holiday season after all — I’d say that it fails on its own terms. We’ve seen how little the Big Media standards that Farrell invokes amount to — just look at the response of the Star Tribune’s ombudsman in the Nick Coleman affair, for the most recent example in a long and sad series. Newspapers, etc., claim to be comprehensive and objective, and are not. Bloggers do not claim to be comprehensive or objective, and are not. Who’s being hypocritical here, again?

MORE: Hugh Hewitt suggests, correctly, that Farrell is being rather ungracious. (“Rather than graciously admit how perhaps he might have ‘overwritten’ a bit (‘slavering right wing hacks’), Henry has doubled down, and it isn’t pretty.”) No, it’s not — and it really is going to make it hard for me to take Henry seriously as a scholar of the blogosphere, now that he’s written off half of it so unpleasantly.

But it’s not just Henry. I’ve noticed that others among the lefty bloggers have been rather down on the blogosphere lately, uttering complaints about partisanship and the like, and I strongly suspect that it has a lot to do with the election results.

What’s funny is that the reason why they hate us — Kerry’s defeat in spite of overwhelming and underhanded support from Big Media — is misplaced. The power of the non-lefty blogosphere is, as I’ve written before, largely an artifact of Big Media’s bias in favor of the left.

Meanwhile, King Banaian thinks I’m wrong:

I disagree with Reynolds that “Big Media organizations have an enormous advantage in gathering hard news” unless he means the first AP reports from places like Aceh about tsunamis. On that he’d be right. But blogs get a huge payoff for gathering a piece of information that helps shape stories other bloggers and the MSM are gathering. It does so in an efficient fashion: Spontaneous order occurs because those blogs able to gather good information draw eyes, Technorati rankings and NZ Bear love. In contrast, the marginal value to an MSM organization of getting a particular piece of data is small; ad rates and subscriptions will not be affected by coverage of one particular story nearly as much. As the mainstream media comes to understand that order in the blogosphere, it will rely on blogs more and more to help with the information gathering — rather than compete, there will be some desire for cooperation between the blogosphere and the MSM. See, for a current example, the reliance on Sharkblog’s coverage of the Washington governor’s race by the Seattle Times. I think this absorption will only grow.

Hmm. I think that’s more like the symbiosis I was describing.

Eric S. Raymond has a somewhat different take.

LAST UPDATE TO THIS POST: Jay Rosen weighs in with much more in an update to this post — you’ll have to scroll to the bottom: “Farrell did something I have seen many journalists (Nick Coleman is one) do: refute an argument that isn’t out there about blogging and Big Media. I’m sure someone somewhere has said something like it, but it is extremely rare to encounter any regular observer of the scene, blogger or not, right or left, who thinks the major news media’s army of reporters is about to be “replaced” by bloggers. I just don’t find anyone claiming that, probably because it’s an absurd and overblown idea that falls apart after about a minute of thought.”