Monday, July 26, 2004

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A hypothesis about blog coverage

The extent to which the mainstream media has simultaneously embraced and covered the blog phenomenon for the Democratic National Convention has overwhelmed even a skeptic like Josh Marshall:

I buzzed by the MSNBC convention coverage site (probably through the ad link they're running on this and other blogs) and was flabbergasted to see that they've absorbed the blogging model to something like a mind-bending degree....

I've never been much for the blog triumphalism that seems always to be so much a part of the blog universe. Blogs make up a small, specialized niche within the interdependent media ecosystem -- mainly not producers but primary or usually secondary consumers -- like small field mice, ferrets, or bats.

When I see the mainest of mainstream outfits buying into the concept or the model I really don't know what to think. The best way I can describe my reaction is some mix of puzzlement and incredulity.

Indeed, the Jennifer Lee has a story in the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal has gone all out -- it's topic A of John Fund's column; Carl Bialik and Elizabeth Weinstein provide an exhaustive report on the convention bloggers, and I just got a call from another WSJ reporter for another story.

Even though I've written about the ever-increasing connections between the blogosphere and mediasphere, I must also confess surprise at the intensity of coverage over the past few days. What's going on?

Here's a quick-and-dirty hypothesis -- the media abhors a news vacuum, and a nominating conventions is one whopper of a news vacuum. There are no real surprises awaiting reporters in either Boston this week or New York come Labor Day. The only moderately interesting question this week is how well Edwards and Kerry deliver their speeches. Even that's not news as much as interpretation.

This is a perfect scenario for the media to increase their coverage of blogs. They are an undeniably new facet of convention coverage, which makes them news. They're a process story rather than a substance story, which the media likes to write about. Finally, one of the blogosphere's comparative advantage is real-time snarky responses and interpretations of media events.

Just a thought.

UPDATE: David Adesnik reinforces the point Henry Farrell and I have made about the skewed distribution of the blogosphere:

I've also noticed that the same few bloggers are getting all of the attention. Since one of them is Patrick Belton, I think that's just great. But it means that other blogs are getting left out and that journalists are limiting their own supply of information. For example, all but one of the bloggers mentioned in Howard Kurtz's convention-blogging round-up also get mentioned or quoted in Jenny 8-ball's round-up at the NYT.

And here's a subsciption-only link to the Christopher Conkey story in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal.

LAST UPDATE: Lindsay Beyerstein at Majkthise offers another excellent hypothesis explaining media coverage of convention bloggers:

I would also argue that media are primarily fascinated by the credentialling of bloggers, rather than the medium itself. Extending press credentials to non-journalists is a bold move by mainstream political parties. Effectively, the subjects of news unilaterally expanded the media by extending access.

Journalists see themselves as professionals. Self-regulation is one of the distinctive features of a profession. Just as doctors reserve the right to decide who can practice medicine, many journalists feel entitled to decide who gets to make the news.

posted by Dan on 07.26.04 at 01:43 PM


It's navel-gazing.

posted by: praktike on 07.26.04 at 01:43 PM [permalink]

It's just a variation on the theme of the 2000 conventions: "Oh My God, The Conventions Are Wired For The Internet!" As I recall, this was also billed as a revolution on the scale of when television first covered the Conventions. And I'm sure that whatever is new in 2008 will be billed similarly.

posted by: Al on 07.26.04 at 01:43 PM [permalink]

But how much of this is the Democrats trying to be seen as 'on the leading edge' of Al Gore's Invention?

InstaGlenn,a few months ago, pointed out a comparison made by John Markoff between Blogdom of today and CB of the 70's... (funny thing; I drew that comparison myself not so very long ago...)

One thing Glenn doesn't speak to, is the number of pols who latched onto that phenom, who in trying to affect the poeple actually ON the band, ended up looking like total idiots.

Pols of most stripe will usually try to latch onto whatever's popular, in an effort to grab a part of the spotlight. Blogs, alas, are no different.

When Blogs are still being used at such events 10n years from now, you may have me convinced, Dan. As it is, it's just political BS, trying to latch onto a few popular votes.

posted by: Bithead on 07.26.04 at 01:43 PM [permalink]

It isn't that there isn't any information at the convention; there are House and Senate Races, there are perceptions of delegates from swing states;there are platform, policy, strategy discussions. You should not say there is "no news" unless you define "news." The big media make an editorial judgement as to what would be interesting to some maximal portion of their audience. Or what is interesting to themselves.

This is relevant because this year big media has decided that blogs are interesting. And blogs are successful in large part because they focus, to whatever extent they are externally motivated, on a "niche" audience dissatisfied with big media coverage of politics.

Ironical, huh.

posted by: bob mcmanus on 07.26.04 at 01:43 PM [permalink]

Bob, I think you're hitting the nail on the head.

posted by: bk on 07.26.04 at 01:43 PM [permalink]

I think the story of bloggers at the 2004 conventions will be one of the great non-stories of the year. Here's why.

With few exceptions, the quality of political blogging is quite poor. One reason for this is the nature of the people doing the blogging: it doesn't always follow that a body with a keyboard, bandwidth, and loads of free time is thereby capable of producing interesting, informative, and accurate insight into our political system.

But even those (like Drezner) who can walk the walk are limited by an even more profound problem: the inherent limitations of the medium. Most blogging is, by design, off-the-cuff. Unlike mainstream journalism or scholarly writing or legal briefs, blogging is not checked for accuracy or peer reviewed or submitted to a neutral arbiter; blogging, indeed, is not reviewed by anyone until AFTER the author clicks "send." To be sure, the marketplace of readers can chew up a post after it goes up, but the quality of such criticism is often (I'm afraid to say) also quite poor, focussing on the DETAILS of the blogger's post rather than the ideas, context, themes or theses. In the blogosphere, it's quite common -- indeed, expected -- for criticism to come in the form of pithy rejoinders, discrete fact-checking, or ad hominem attacks on other critics. Critics usually ignore the blogger's central argument and focus on factual errors in order to undermine the general thesis. And because the bloggers' posts aren't subject to peer review, there are often many factual errors to exploit. Blogging, I think, invites the laziest sort of commentary.

This is why blogging will never replace the traditional media of criticism and commentary in our culture. It's too snarky, too lazy, and often unpersuasive. In Boston this week, a lot of people will notice the limitations of the bloggers and their chosen medium. Blogging will wilt under the scrutiny and, I think, we won't be hearing too much more about the blogging revolution.

(P.S. This isn't to say that bloggers shouldn't keep it up. I find much of the uninformed, lazy, and mean-spirited commentary in the blogosphere to be pretty fun. Plus, I just love reading the comments of smart people who agree with me on many issues and vindicate my opinions and prejudices -- not to mention having forums available to post my own uninformed opinions. But that's about it: When I want real insight, I read the Economist.)

posted by: D.J. on 07.26.04 at 01:43 PM [permalink]

The conventions mean so little and waste too much money in my view. [I would much prefer seeing that kind of money put into genuine investment to provide long-term good jobs.

Bloggers are at a non-event and going to do what? And, did you take a look at the names and why they are there listed on NY Times list? Range from college kids/or recent grads mostly dems, to the Guy representing Centrists Coalist who said his prioirty was talking to people of faith and is unemployed, and so on.

posted by: Alex on 07.26.04 at 01:43 PM [permalink]

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