Thursday, July 29, 2004

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My last metablogging post for a while

I know I've been blogging about blogging too much as of late -- but I can't resist these two links.

The first is Fafblog's "interview" with Wolf Blitzer. For those of you sick to death of the convention blogfest, this is the link for you. This is from the opening paragraph:

Here at the convention there isn't that much to do right now other than eat tiny quiches an finger sammiches an hang out at panels drinkin wine but we're still havin an ok time with that. Me an Giblets have been hangin out at such panels as "Blogging: Transforming the Medium of Media" an "Blogging: A Radical New Media of Blogging" an "Blogging: Blog Media Bloggity Blog Media Bla-blog" where we have lent our expert advice to confused broadcast journalists whose minds are dazzled by the oh so confusin world of computer wizardry.

It's a damn good thing Henry and I changed our paper title, because our first choice was "Blogging: Blog Media Bloggity Blog Media Bla-blog."

More seriously, Jonathan Chait has a great TNR Online essay about why he's covering the convention from home (alas, subscriber only free link for everyone!!). Chait makes a great point how and why the conventional wisdom among journalists about what makes great journalism is heavily skewed:

But what's so bad about sitting around? You can learn a lot sitting behind a desk, mining the papers for interesting factual nuggets, reading political commentary from every perspective, poring through books and reports, and using the Nexis database to compile enormous stacks of newspaper stories. Most journalists scorn this kind of research because they're obsessed with uncovering new facts, not synthesizing them....

Part of the problem is that journalism terminology glorifies "shoe-leather reporting," whereby you pound the pavement so often you wear out the soles of your shoes. Yet there's no widely used term of approbation for the other kind of reporting. For this very reason, my New Republic colleague Franklin Foer and I decided a few years ago to coin a phrase: ass-welt reporting. It means you've sat in your chair for so long reading books and documents that you've worn a welt the shape of your backside into your chair. I'm not saying that every news story could be reported without leaving one's desk. (Bernstein: "Woodward, look! I found a clip from 1971 in which President Nixon tells the Omaha World-Herald he plans to order his goons to break into Democratic headquarters in the Watergate Hotel!" Woodward: "I'll cancel that meeting with Deep Throat.") I'm simply saying that, sometimes, laziness can be the better part of valor.

Not only is this true, it's the best refutation of Alex S. Jones' tired tirade against bloggers. Jones complains that:

[B]loggers, with few exceptions, don't add reporting to the personal views they post online, and they see journalism as bound by norms and standards that they reject. That encourages these common attributes of the blogosphere: vulgarity, scorching insults, bitter denunciations, one-sided arguments, erroneous assertions and the array of qualities that might be expected from a blustering know-it-all in a bar.

The best bloggers link to opposing views, excel at Chait's "ass-welt reporting," and perform Google and Nexis searches ad nauseum.

As Chait points out, reporting is about more than shoe leather, it's about decent research skills -- a fact one would have expected the director of the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy to comprehend. Instead, Jones seems to have divined all of his knowledge about blogs from reading Matt Drudge and Wonkette.

It's a shame he didn't do more research for his op-ed.

A BELATED POSTCRIPT: Many of the commenters to this post have defended either Drudge or Wonkette, assuming that I was attacking them. That wasn't my intent, as I consume both of them on a regular basis. My point was that most bloggers do not provide the same type of content as either Cox or Drudge. Jones (or blog-grouch Tom MacPhail) would have had a leg to stand on if the rest of the blogosphere was akin to either of these sites. In moderation, however, both of them serve a useful purpose.

posted by Dan on 07.29.04 at 12:13 PM


I find it amusing that I am defending the journalistic honor of Matt Drudge, but ... putting Drudge in the same class as Wonkette is deeply insulting to Drudge. At least Drudge reports occasionally interesting rumors that are occasionally true (indeed, the people who hate him most hate him because of a rumor that was true); Wonkette only makes snarky comments, along with the occasional foray into rumors about legislative assistants picking up extra money through prosititution. She is like a giant emperor's new clothes act. This comment should not be construed as praise for Drudge so much as disparagement of Wonkette.

posted by: Average Joe on 07.29.04 at 12:13 PM [permalink]

"The best bloggers link to opposing views, excel at Chait's "ass-welt reporting," and perform Google and Nexis searches ad nauseum."

Problem is, the bloggers who do these things are in a distinct minority. There are a lot of bloggers who fit Jones' description pretty well.

Blogging at its best is very good and provides a much needed alternative to mainstream media. But at its worst, well the supermarket tabloids start to look pretty good in comparison.

posted by: sam on 07.29.04 at 12:13 PM [permalink]

It's worth noting that Drudge is serious, but Wonkette is glorious self-parody.

posted by: praktike on 07.29.04 at 12:13 PM [permalink]

More to the point of Dan's post, I think an analogy may be useful. Understanding current events requires both obtaining facts and interpreting them. I agree with Dan that blogs are most useful in the interpretation function, though they sometimes report new facts. Obtaining a good interpretation of the facts becomes easier, at least in my experience, when you have many different viewpoints available. The analogy is to solving a mathematics problem. Typically, two people can solve a mathematics problem more than twice as fast as one person, because the second person is likely to bring in different points of view and different techniques. Similarly, I find reading different points of view to be useful in interpreting current events.

When I say different points of view here I do not mean left-wing points of view and right-wing points of view, but rather economic points of view, philosophical points of view, political points of view, legal points of view, military points of view, psychological points of view, etc., as well as the points of view of non-expert, but well-informed, ordinary citizens. The blogosphere is an excellent tool for obtaining these many points of view and for synthesizing them.

posted by: Average Joe on 07.29.04 at 12:13 PM [permalink]

95% of Drudge is just links to news stories, with some comment supplied in initial selection of the link, the placement of the link, the type size of the link, the color of the link, whether there's a flashing icon, etc.

Another 4% are "developing..." which are later replaced by links to news stories.

The remaining 1% is his own reporting, probably tipped off by other people. For instance, finding that was still hosting one of the Bush-Hitler ads.

I find myself agreeing with Drudge much of the time, so I find his filtering helpful.

As for the bloggers, has any one of them asked a politician a tough question? Many of them seem to be fanboys and fangirls, which isn't what I'd like to see from supposedly non-mainstream sources.

posted by: The Lonewacko Blog on 07.29.04 at 12:13 PM [permalink]

Also, Drudge has a radio show where he amplifies on what he links to, takes calls, and plays show tunes. Despite the latter, it's worth a listen.

posted by: The Lonewacko Blog on 07.29.04 at 12:13 PM [permalink]

Agree with Sam's comments.

posted by: Alex on 07.29.04 at 12:13 PM [permalink]

Bloggers are attending the convention for various reasons, I'm sure. But, I have yet to read a post from a person that has spent any time interviewing the delegates who aren't elected officials. You know, the little guys. The people from small towns in Kansas, Wyoming, Idaho, Oklahoma. It would be an interesting perspective to me. What is it about the Dem party that attracts these people when many of their brethren support Repubs? Not sure how the bloggers role is any different from other journalists at the convention. Meet and greet each other. Try to score a "big" interview. Get into the A list parties. I was hoping that the nature of blogs, that they are means in which anyone can put their two cents in at a minimum cost, would lead some of the bloggers to take a different, more grass roots, approach to covering the convention.

posted by: Abigail on 07.29.04 at 12:13 PM [permalink]

Bow to Giblets! Bow to Giblets NOOOOWWW!

posted by: Ugh on 07.29.04 at 12:13 PM [permalink]

Excellent distinction between what historians would describe as research and synthesis. More honor among historians for synthesis, but the appeal of discovery is shared.

Instead of "ass-welt" journalism, how about "sciatica journalism"?

Alas, I speak from painful experience . . .

posted by: Cronaca on 07.29.04 at 12:13 PM [permalink]

I concur with Average Joe. Dudge is a quirky and somewhat unsavory individual, but he has given theunique gift of independent reporting while serving a sorely needed niche.

Wonkett and her ilk are self aggrandizing boobs who give the Internet a bad 'buffoon' image.

posted by: Capt America on 07.29.04 at 12:13 PM [permalink]

I confess to not having a good feel for how bloggers come across to non-blogging journalists.

I've taken blogging seriously for a while, and have learned a great deal from the reporting and commentary of the better bloggers, several of whom are also journalists. However my personal threshold of amusement, for better or worse, is rather high; I don't stay with bloggers like Wonkette (or, for that matter, with print columnists like Maureen Dowd) long enough for them to make much of an impression.

People new to blogging appear not to discriminate in this way. Perhaps because their introduction to blogging often comes through reading articles about it by unsympathetic journalists, they tend to think of the blogosphere as equally well represented by a site dominated by short comments with lots of links (Instapundit), longer essays with fewer links but large attached comment sections (Drezner), and electronic soapboxes run by kids, nerds, fanatics and otherwise eccentric people (a category that includes hundreds of blogs). I don't blame anyone for not taking the latter group that seriously, but confusing them with the (admitted minority of) good bloggers is a serious mistake. Just as politics needs the participation of people who have not made it their principal occupation, so do journalism and commentary require the participation of talented and often accomplished people from other fields. What blogging does is enable such people to bypass the barriers to entry into a world journalists are liable to view as their own. Perhaps it is natural for some journalists to resent this, but this may only be a first reaction, one that will dissipate as more people become used to separating wheat from chaff among bloggers.

posted by: Zathras on 07.29.04 at 12:13 PM [permalink]

Drudge is serious and Wonkette is not? Are you serious?

Drudge is the biggest fanboy of all minus the writing skills to actually enunciate his ongoing theme of Repubs Good, Dems Bad.

He's been on the web for how long and exactly how many stories has he broken that weren't leaked to him?

Please explain to me the difference between the drudgereport and a bathroom wall. A banner ad?

At least Wonkette is funny.

And this nonsense about his radio show... Sunday evening AM radio is the place where ads are given away because of lack of listeners. Isn't it telling that in this era of Right-dominated radio and tv that Drudge can't do any better than Sunday evening radio?

Poor guy is so desperate that just the other day he's stealing pictures, flipping them, and turning red lights green (

No wonder he doesn't write anything. It would be too easy to point at and laugh at.

posted by: tony on 07.29.04 at 12:13 PM [permalink]

If it turns out that M.M.Spcl. Drudge did indeed steal "Tom Tomorrow's" picture I will be the first to condemn him in front of the next VRWC council. However, there is the possibility that the photo was sent to him in that condition. Anyone can see that they're the same photo, and somehow I don't think Matt - who's 28th level f'r gosh sakes - would think he could get away with that.

Wonkette is funny in small doses, but she's not exactly moving stories, which is what M.M.Spcl. Drudge's role is.

posted by: The Lonewacko Blog on 07.29.04 at 12:13 PM [permalink]

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