Monday, February 21, 2005

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Bill Keller on the blogosphere

New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller has been quite chatty about the blogosphere as of late. According to this report by Amanda Erickson in the Columbia Spectator:

Keller also sees “blogging,” or online writing that blurs news and commentary, as a mixed blessing. While he celebrated the blogger’s ability to uncover breaking news, he noted that a blog’s inherent bias might be detrimental to the reader. “A blog is still a view of the world through a pinhole,” he said, noting that it can sometimes fall as low as being a “one man circle jerk.”

“There is a pressure to feel well informed without ever confronting an opinion that confronts your prejudices,” he said of blog readers.

Link via Mickey Kaus.

Wow, sounds like this Keller guy is a bit of an anti-blog jerk. Wait, it gets worse -- in an open letter to Jeff Jarvis he says that, "bloggers... are paranoid, propagandistic, unreliable, hate-filled, self-indulgent, self-important and humorless." (link via Glenn Reynolds.)

Now, before anyone gets too upset, bear in mind that the quote I just generated from Keller's letter is not really consistent with the overall tone of his snarky but friendly exchange with Jarvis. Read the whole letter. Let's put that quote in context now:

Can I just state something for the record? While we probably have our differences on the role of the MSM (btw, I personally favor "elite media," at least as it pertains to the NYT) I would like to make clear that I consider blogs relevant and important. I do not hold them in disdain, as you imply. I won't risk embarrassing my favorite bloggers by identifying them (except to say that buzzmachine is bookmarked in my office and at home) but I find the best of them to be a source of provocative insights, first-hand witness, original analysis, rollicking argument and occasional revelation. As I'm sure you will agree, you can also find bloggers who are paranoid, propagandistic, unreliable, hate-filled, self-indulgent, self-important and humorless. (Just like people!)

Sounds correct to me -- I might add that if you take "cable television" or "talk radio" as a media category, the comment still holds.

What's interesting about these different Keller episodes is that the Columbia Spectator reporter probably took just the juiciest bit from Keller's comments regardless of whether they were consistent with the overall tenor of his remarks -- whereas Jarvis ("mediaman by day, blogboy by night") reprinted all of Keller's comments, allowing one to judge Keller's argument in toto.

Oddly enough, this is undoubtedly one trait that good bloggers share with the New York Times. The Times, as the "paper of record," was very good about printing the full text of important documents and speeches before there was a world wide web. The best bloggers, through hyperlinks, can engage in a similar practice when parsing out someone's comments.

Just a thought.

posted by Dan on 02.21.05 at 11:40 PM


While I am a participatory fan of the blog medium, and therefore bristle at anti-blog condescension from "above", I blame media big-wigs less and less for their disdain. Considering the tonically shrill, stupid and obnoxious condemnations of the "MSM" by people like Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs, and the lynch-mob atmosphere they have nourished (as just as the take-down of Dan Rather may have been), Keller's reference to the "one man circle jerk" is apt.

This self-aggrandizing crusade against the "MSM", pursued in the nouveau conservative corner of the blogosphere, with its black-helicopter sightings of Left-wing perfidy, its disdain for good faith and common sense, and its risibly selective use of source materials it otherwise labels biased or flawed, merits nothing less than patronizing contempt. And we as bloggers should realize these people aren't doing us any favors in advancing our cause in the long term.

posted by: John-Paul Pagano on 02.21.05 at 11:40 PM [permalink]

But John-Paul, they didn't say a word about Jeff Gannon, other than to note that posting pictures of his equipment was in bad taste. That clearly shows that they're willing to be measured and neutral in their coverage of the media. :rolleyes:

posted by: DensityDuck on 02.21.05 at 11:40 PM [permalink]

"While he celebrated the blogger’s ability to uncover breaking news, he noted that a blog’s inherent bias might be detrimental to the reader. "

Funny, I was about to say the same thing about the MSM.

"As I'm sure you will agree, you can also find bloggers who are paranoid, propagandistic, unreliable, hate-filled, self-indulgent, self-important and humorless"

He just described Maureen Dowd. But with hyperlinks instead of elipsis.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 02.21.05 at 11:40 PM [permalink]

I'm getting a 302 trying to trackback - don't know if that is you are me, so I'll just comment my one man cricle jerkship

From my blog

I have to agree that some prominent blogs go unpunished, unfisked, and unrecognized as playing the medium. I mostly blog on what interest me and on some days am feeling more insightful than others. Hence, my late weekly addition to World Democracy The media tends to hype blogs in general and it is good to see some due criticism to balance things out. If the hype became too familiar blogs would fade out as an overexploited trend. The biggest irony is that the media gives this hype to blogs which pride themselves on being media watch dogs - except of course when it comes to recognition.

Blogads recently noted that blog readership no longer grows at 20% a month. I think I have felt this decline the hardest but luckily my inbox lets me know people are still reading ( even though they don’t take advantage of the open comments ).

I believe it is those blogs which retain a message and purpose that will survive any coming - media killed the blog star movement. While those exploiting their popularity ( and no I'm talking about InstaPundit ) will continue to be a staple of any media outlet. So it goes.

*This hass not be a troll link hype, - just joining the conversation.

posted by: Zed on 02.21.05 at 11:40 PM [permalink]

While Keller's concerns about bias within the Blogging world are correct, he seems to forget that bias runs both ways... unlike that bias he refuses to acknoledge.... that within the MSM, and more specifically, within his own paper.

That's interesting, given that without that overt MSM leftist bias, blogging as a medium would likely not exist at all.

The reason he doesn't admit such things is obvious; it would point to a major failure on the part of he and his like.

posted by: Bithead on 02.21.05 at 11:40 PM [permalink]

CORRECTION: I meant to type - and no I'm NOT talking about Instapundit

posted by: Zed on 02.21.05 at 11:40 PM [permalink]

I think Keller is partly right, but misses a larger point: while an individual blog represents a keyhole view of the world, the collective sum of all those keyholes a much wider perspective than even the best reporter can provide. Furthermore, the hyperlink means that wider perspective has never been more accessible. The multiple viewpoints and balance which a single reporter consciously strives to present arises spontaneously via the continuous feedback between blogs.

The key is to distinguish between biased, paranoid, insular, irresponsible, unfair, dishonest, ideological blogs on the individual level, and the broader collection of those individual blogs on the grand scale. Tens of thousands of wingnut conspiracy theories and flamewars die unmourned and unloved every minute; that which survives are the ideas worth arguing over.

posted by: Independent George on 02.21.05 at 11:40 PM [permalink]

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