Wednesday, April 28, 2004
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"The revolution will not be blogged"
That's the title of George Packer's story about blogs in the May/June issue of Mother Jones, which I've read but haven't fully digested yet. The parts I found particularly appetizing:
My half-digested thoughts:
1) Almost against his will, Packer reveals an essential truth for why blogs do matter -- the press reads them. Why does the press read them? Because, apparently, the political press will read anything about politics.
2) In the sections where Packer criticizes blogs, conduct a mental experiment -- replace the word "blogosphere" with "New York Times op-ed columnists" or "David Broder." See if the criticism about lack of predictive capabilities or incestuousness still hold up. Indeed, short of a "Letter from New Hampshire"-length essay in The New Yorker, Packer's expectations of blogs seem well-nigh impossible to meet.
3) One wonders what Packer thinks of commenters on blogs.
UPDATE: One additional thought -- I think Packer wants to keep the blogosphere and the mediasphere separate, when in fact a lot of bloggers can cross the great divide. For me, the utility of the blog is that it functions as a kind of ongoing link-filled notebook about interesting political and economic trends -- well, that and an excuse to link to Salma Hayek, of course. The stuff I write for the mediasphere starts off as half-formed thoughts in blog posts. Once they're fully thought out, they can have the coherence, texture and craft that Packer seems to crave after reading blogs (I would never have written "The Outsourcing Bogeyman" if I hadn't been tracking the issue closely in blog posts, for example).posted by Dan on 04.28.04 at 11:21 PM
"3) One wonders what Packer thinks of commenters on blogs." -
He probably thinks we are all morons...and he is probably right.posted by: Rich on 04.28.04 at 11:21 PM [permalink]
About the same thing commenters think about Packer. Never heard of him before.posted by: Richard A. Heddleson on 04.28.04 at 11:21 PM [permalink]
I'm not sure why Packer is so upset with blogs. Basically the web has just allowed opinion to be democritized, so that the same old boring people aren't always commenting and intrepreting the news for us. If someone has something interesting to say, it gets spread around the world now, rather than hoping the NY Times editors will deign to publish it. This is good.posted by: dellis on 04.28.04 at 11:21 PM [permalink]
2) Bingo, Daniel. Like-value replacement ought to be everyone's first test of argument.posted by: Art Wellesley on 04.28.04 at 11:21 PM [permalink]
He probably doesn't read comments, which is why he seems to have missed the whole liberal anger thing, which in my view really solidified in the blogosphere and went forth from there.posted by: asdf on 04.28.04 at 11:21 PM [permalink]
One wonders more what Drezner thinks of commenters on blogs. I get a sense of bemused tolerance on some things, periodic irritation (usually when the topic is outsourcing, and the economics gets mangled), and perhaps surprise when we get it. Judging by what I see, I don't think we influence him much.
Wouldn't surprise me if we remind the Prof of the introductory courses he has to teach.posted by: Appalled Moderate on 04.28.04 at 11:21 PM [permalink]
Blogs, by contrast, are atomized, fragmentary, and of the instant. They lack the continuity, reach, and depth to turn an election into a story. When one of the best of the bloggers, Joshua Micah Marshall of talkingpointsmemo.com, brought his laptop to New Hampshire and tried to cover the race in the more traditional manner, the results were less than satisfying; his posts failed to convey the atmosphere of those remarkable days between Iowa and the first primary. Marshall couldn't turn his gift for parsing the news of the moment to the more patient task of turning reportage into scenes and characters so that the candidates and the voters take life online.
What Packer himself fails to see, is that Marshall and other leftist bloggers he apparently has been reading to get his 'pictures' of Dean, Kerry, et al, are themselves less than of a mind, being fragmented in the exteme both politically and personally. So too are their subjects. No wonder he's not getting the picture he wants. Packer seems to me to want these discrepancies all wrapped up, and presented a a more or less unified liberal front; an impossibility.
Packer who is aparently unwilling to allow himself to think that the left isn't unified, to say nothing of being uninteresting, even to a fellow liberal, blames this not on the subject being covered, but on the medium itself.posted by: Bithead on 04.28.04 at 11:21 PM [permalink]
I see more diverse opinions in blogs than I do in the paper -- not to mention instantaneous debate on those opinions.
I think Mr. Packer is on the loosing team, but he is unable to predict it, like the poor helpless bloggers he has said lack the ability to foretell the future.
As for his criticism of one bloggers coverage of the democratic primaries, how is it one bloggers coverage speaks for all bloggers? Perhaps we should say the techniques/style of Jason Blair represents all reporters?
posted by: Carolynn on 04.28.04 at 11:21 PM [permalink]
You have to look long and hard in the national media to get good analysis, probably only available in magazines as TV news and newspaper articles are too short.
It is in blogs that one can see longer, more well thought out analysis. I doubt if Mr. Packer has read Den Beste.
Packer would probably not care for the comments section but that is the part that really makes some blogs like Michael Totten and Roger Simon. There is no better place to learn the various sides to an issue than in comments sections to blogs.posted by: tallan on 04.28.04 at 11:21 PM [permalink]
Does anybody have the entire article up somewhere? I'd like to read the entire thing, but I don't particularly want to subscribe to Mother Jones just to read one article.posted by: sam on 04.28.04 at 11:21 PM [permalink]
No wonder the fragmentation of the blogosphere bothers Packer. His piece indicates that he is enchanted with oversimplification.posted by: Barry D on 04.28.04 at 11:21 PM [permalink]
1) Some of us did forsee Dean's fall.
2) Perhaps the fundtion of blogs is not to "report" but precisely to analyse and "parse" the news of the day.
3) Most negative analyses of the blogosphere conspicuously avoid any discussion of comments.posted by: Mike van Winkle on 04.28.04 at 11:21 PM [permalink]
So the blogosphere doesn't always predict the future. Big deal. The mainstream press can't even get the past and present right.posted by: Tim on 04.28.04 at 11:21 PM [permalink]
Speaking of crossing over from the blogosphere to mainstream media... I think this is something more bloggers should do. Really, they should be recruited to do it by the companies that are "mainstream media."
Take CNN. Their Capital Gang talkfest on Saturday nights features five mainstream commentators who have been on the show for well over ten years. All are past their prime, and only one (Robert Novak) regularly does any reporting. How many bloggers could put on a more insightful, entertaining show?
Probably several of them, liberals and conservatives, who would work for less money (isn't that right, Dan?) into the bargain. Maybe the best thing about the blogosphere is its ability to shake up mainstream media, and I just don't think mainstream media has been shaken up enough.posted by: Zathras on 04.28.04 at 11:21 PM [permalink]
Note to George Packer: blogs don't exist just to cover the election. Where blogs truly add great value is in covering subjects that the media lack either the bandwidth or expertise to cover properly, most prominently in issues outside of domestic US politics such as events in Iraq and other areas dimly understood by western journalists.
Most western reporting of non-western nations is a joke. Almost always, the story angle is the simple reductionist one of whether the (Russians)(Arabs)(Japanese) (Africans) are Becoming More Like Us, or sliding away from western notions of progressive social and political development.
Case in point: the west continues to present Mikhail Khodorkovsky as some kind of freedom fighter. In fact, his "bank" helped perpetrate a financial collapse that destroyed the life savings of millions of Russians in 1998, and he himself never paid off the depositors whose savings he stole. None of this is ever mentioned in the stories about him and Putin.
How, without access to local media sources, is a westerner supposed to derive any kind of understanding of those nations from ridiculously shortsighted and biased western news organizations? Enter the blogs. They fill the gap created by big journalism's manifest failures.posted by: tombo on 04.28.04 at 11:21 PM [permalink]
Zathras -- Actually, Hugh Hewitt made the same suggestion last year.posted by: Dan Drezner on 04.28.04 at 11:21 PM [permalink]
Dan - who needs TV? Why not do it online?posted by: tombo on 04.28.04 at 11:21 PM [permalink]
"The constellation of opinion called the blogosphere consists, like the stars themselves, partly of gases. This is what makes blogs addictive — that is, both pleasurable and destructive: They're so easy to consume, and so endlessly available."
He lost me with this metaphor. I'm a little tired today so perhaps I missed something.posted by: Toll on 04.28.04 at 11:21 PM [permalink]
Hewitt's suggestion was not the same, Dan. Please don't take this personally, but I can't think of too many things less appealing than the idea of watching bloggers talk about their blogs on television.
My point was that a number of bloggers are articulate, dedicated and quite possibly entertaining observers of politics and government, and would do a better job at commentary and discussion before television's much larger audience than many of the people on the tube now. I could be wrong; you and Josh Marshall could both go on Capitol Gang and end up sounding just like Kate O'Beirne and Margaret Carlson with deeper voices. But I don't think so. And besides, what I'm suggesting, sort of, is for some mainstream media jobs to be outsourced. Which means you are for it, right?posted by: Zathras on 04.28.04 at 11:21 PM [permalink]
I thought Packer got a lot of perceptions about Blogs correct. But where he defines these perceptions as criticisms, I rather see them as characteristics.
He wants atmosphere and scenery? A better crystal ball? I don't think this is or has ever been the intent behind Blogs.posted by: wishIwuz2 on 04.28.04 at 11:21 PM [permalink]
I find it amusing when people try and 'sum up' the blogoshpere. What, did you survey each and every one of the millions of blogs out there? Nice try, making assumptions on .0000000002% of the data.
Apparently, I also find incorrect spelling amusing.posted by: MD on 04.28.04 at 11:21 PM [permalink]
“Most of them failed to foresee Dean's rise, Dean's fall, Kerry's resurgence, Bush's slippage. Above all, they didn't grasp the intensity of feeling among Democratic primary voters...”
This is a very valid point. But we don’t hide our occasional failure to predict the future. The blogs are far more honest---because we all know that our past assertions can be Googled! This fact alone keeps us on our toes. A dead tree publication is often thrown in the garbage. The TV appearance is soon forgotten. Anything said on a blog by both host and commentator, however, is readily found in a relatively short period of time.posted by: David Thomson on 04.28.04 at 11:21 PM [permalink]
Packer's title would make sense if it was qualified:
"The Socialist Revolution will not be Blogged"
I guess power to the people is not such a good thing when the power is wielded by the wrong sorts. The ma jo crowd talks a good game, but frankly, they are lacking in know how: being behind the techno curve, the alternative media is now dominated by libertarians and free-marketeers.
Wait up. Hey, slow down. Where do you think you are going? Standing alone with no one to preach too, the strident and sophisticated have missed the bus.
Talk about depth, where can mo jo take you? A few tens of pages of editorials disguised as investigative reporting. From a blog, one can link to a plethora of in-depth "real" news articles from every corner of the world. The word limitless comes to mind.
The nub of the issue is that the blog-o-rama (I hate blogsphere as well) is a facilitator for self editing news consumers. This is very scary for those who enjoyed being the “man behind the curtain” for the past several decades. Now that they are just starting to get the inkling that they have been left behind at the bus stop of life, they yell louder and louder for the people with the power to stop and come back.
It must be frustrating knowing that no one is listening.
It's really a little silly to try to categorize something as vast and individual -- one might almost say anarchic -- as blogging and try to slap a one-size-fits-all label on it. Given MJ's politics, I suspect that Packer's concern rises from the fact that too many 'wrong' voices are being heard and there are too many of them to be shouted down. JMO.
But linking to Salma Hayek is ALWAYS a worthy pursuit. Thanks.posted by: Kevin Hawn on 04.28.04 at 11:21 PM [permalink]
Packard's appearance on NPR's "The Connection" yesterday that inspired me to counter with a new design (the image is at ShareTheSatire.com).
As a journalist, he doubted that the time lost in reading blogs helps him understand politics any better, but he did credit blogs with opening up topics the media otherwise would not have touched. I agree that, there are many other kinds of blogs besides the political. And they require a different measure: A blog by a graphic designer can inspire other designers, for example. Quality content is always king, but the measure of quality depends...
Phil / sharethesatire.composted by: Phil on 04.28.04 at 11:21 PM [permalink]
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