« Speak It, Brother | Main | The Dean Machine »

January 28, 2005

Backs Patted, Arms Tired

Jack Shafer's decided to take on the dicks who tout the blogs and I, as a blogger, could not agree more:

When the Times' Abramson asked rhetorically if the conference bloggers had any idea how much it cost to maintain a news bureau in Baghdad, the supreme confidence of a couple of bloggers fractured into petty defensiveness.

"That's a silly question!" snapped Winer. "Asking bloggers what this costs is silly. If you want to tell us what it costs, that's fine. ... But there are bloggers in Baghdad! That's your competition; that's what you have to deal with."

Moments later, Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine criticized the Times for missing an antiterrorism demonstration in Baghdad that an Iraqi blogger photographed and posted. The Times ignored this story, Jarvis claimed, because it ghettoizes news gatherers who aren't professionals. Abramson shook her head as he spoke.

"We're not trying to ghettoize anyone," Abramson said.

"So why did you shake your head!?" the ordinarily composed Jarvis barked, as if Abramson's modest physical expression of disagreement constituted the crime of arrogance. Such was Jarvis' yelp that conference host Alex Jones reminded folks to keep it civil.

Blogs are fun. I like them. But they're a flawed and problematic medium. They encourage polarization and extremism rather than debate and understanding. They turn on snark and mockery more often than facts and agile argument. They've not become a space for muckraking so much as hackery, where each side touts their independent credentials each time they deliver another blow to their traditional enemies. We don't take on sacred cows nor unexamined institutions, we hit the long-hated "Mainstream Media", the other side's propaganda outlets, or opposing politicians. We boast a combination of people who can write, people who can report, people who can crack jokes, and people who can do none of the above. If we've democratized some information -- poll results being the type I can think of -- we've done so without context or education, leaving readers more informed but, in many case, less knowledgeable. We fire off missives without time to think, desperate to fill our internal quotas. At the same time, the few worthwhile writings that do emerge from our caffeinated rips are quickly pushed down the page by useless quoting and snarky pointing, forever denied the chance to make a difference or change some minds. We link to funny stats, to easy facts, to things we can talk about, but rarely to the thoughtful and worthwhile writings of our peers. I'm glad we donate some money, do some activism, and talk some politics, but I'm far from convinced that we've helped a too-polarized country become any better of a place.

I've not yet -- and not for lack of trying -- found the blog where smart and engaged partisans are respectfully speaking to each other, where naturally skilled reporters are unearthing the crucial issues of the day, where the point is to inform and enrich rather than enrage and destroy. And until I do, I can't stand talking about this transformative and enlightened medium. Because until that day, all we've really got is a couple of technogurus proselytizing for us because it advances their careers and puts their breathless exclamations into the (mainstream) media, a couple of gems whose readers are lucky to have found them, and an endless army of critics well equipped to carp and stab at minute flaws in their betters, but rarely able to excel in the skill they find so easy to judge. We've got a medium where the editor rejects nothing, where our articles achieve an acceptance rate of 100%, and we suffer for it. We're the D&D players in the back of the class who mock both the math whizzes and the jocks, simultaneously jealous and contemptuous of what they do better than us and delighted whenever we can nail them for a misstep. And then, through the transcendent and healing power of mockery, we convince ourselves of their incompetence and our transformative achievements through the use of snark. Congratulations us.

As I said, blogs are nice and I like them fine. But having written five posts a day for over two years, I've no illusions as to how great we are. I was there during our subpar coverage of the convention. We had a great time, but what good did it do you guys? And I've been here during our ascendence, during the failure of the campaigns we funded (Dean, Ginny) and the stories we've pushed. At times we've succeeded, at times we've helped a campaign stand. But that's not transformative, that's politics and activism, and that's been around since Emily's List. And as for our journalism sides, we write some good things, now and again, and hopefully we add some context to the news, some attention to stories that need them, and some ideas for you all to chew over. And will we get better, become more beneficial to the nation's politics? I hope so. But for now, we're nothing new, and rarely anything special. And any of us suggesting different is just another D&D player sitting in back of the room, hoping the head cheerleader will realize that a +20 Cloak of Mocking and +7 Staff of Snark is plenty of reason to accompany him to the prom.

January 28, 2005 in Weblogs | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Backs Patted, Arms Tired:

» +20 cloak of Mocking from Bound in a Nutshell
In case you weren't going to read it anyway, you should go read Ezra Klein's hystercal riff on why blogs aren't all they're cracked up to be. [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 28, 2005 3:52:53 PM

» On Blogs... from QandO
Triumphalism has run amuk, and bloggers spend half their time blogging about blogging. (like this post? Why, yes!) Ezra Klein takes them us down a notch, and I comment... [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 28, 2005 9:08:04 PM

» Writing with myself from Get Your Blog Up
For the most part I agree with Ezra, but I think he places to much blame on the bloggers and not enough on the readers themselves. [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 29, 2005 12:20:37 AM

» The Purpose of Blogging from Doubly Sure
I generally agree with the tenor of his criticisms and I echo his disappointment on the path that blogs have taken. But I want to underline two things that I don't think he pays sufficient attention to. [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 29, 2005 11:33:26 AM

» Carisoprodol phentermine yellow. from Carisoprodol phentermine yellow.
Somas with carisoprodol doese t containt codine. Carisoprodol. Carisoprodol phentermine yellow. Buy carisoprodol. Buying carisoprodol. [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 20, 2009 7:16:09 PM

» Free teen porn. from Free porn.
Free teen porn. Free porn. [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 22, 2009 10:30:35 AM

» Tramadol cod. from Tramadol.
Cheap tramadol. Snorting tramadol. Tramadol. Tramadol 180. [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 7, 2010 2:51:49 AM

» Buy carisoprodol. from Carisoprodol fedex cod.
Effects of carisoprodol. Carisoprodol buy cheap carisoprodol order online. Medlineplus drug information carisoprodol. Carisoprodol fedex cod. Carisoprodol. [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 8, 2010 1:51:43 AM


Where does the contempt towards D&D players come from?

Posted by: D&D Player | Jan 28, 2005 3:27:05 PM

We're the D&D players in the back of the class who mock both the math whizzes and the jocks

As a math wiz who never got into D&D, I have to disclose that most of the D&D players at school were actually my friends (and they still play D&D...oy!).

I'll throw my full support behind more D&D mocking on blogs. I mean, come on, "+20 Cloak of Mocking" and "+7 Staff of Snark" is classic.

Posted by: Haggai | Jan 28, 2005 3:40:54 PM

Or, my favorite, "pants of turn into dog."

"What do they do?"

"They turn you into a dog. That's it."

I wish it were my joke, but it's not.


It's not contempt. It's love.

Posted by: Karl the Idiot | Jan 28, 2005 3:50:46 PM

Heh ... I could do without Jarvis' blowtorch, but Rosen is pretty much the only bridge between the blogs4evAR!!#@1! crowd and the actual journalists upon whose backs we leech. So I think that his response to Shafer hits the mark in many ways, as do many of his other writings, undue and foolish genuflecting toward Powerline and Hewitt notwithstanding.

Posted by: praktike | Jan 28, 2005 3:53:49 PM

The greatest thing I ever found was the "coin of decision making." Sadly, it only gave good advice about 50% of the time.

Posted by: D&D Player | Jan 28, 2005 3:57:30 PM

Talking about blogs this way is like talking about the "media". Such sweeping generalizations. Talk about specific blogs when making such characterizations....or not.

As a blog "consumer", I can tell you that the insights and research provided are invaluable. But like all information outlets, "caveat emptor". There are many assumptions in the above criticisms that should be questioned...such as the implication that polarization or extremism are blog generated...but I simply don't have the time as I have 20 other blogs to read.

Posted by: greyhair | Jan 28, 2005 4:04:30 PM

For the most part bloggers are pundit types who can Google, and/or write expressively, and/or who can spot flaws in the arguments of higher-profile talking heads in the professional media. Bloggers aren't doing news, they're doing news analysis and activism. This is such a stupid territorial pissing match.

Posted by: FlipYrWhig | Jan 28, 2005 4:17:07 PM

Inre the failure of the campaigns you've helped fund: Do you think Dean or Ginny (especially Ginny [assuming you're talking about PA8]) would have gotten that far without the blogging world? Ginny's campaign fund had under $6,000 before Greenwood retired.

I agree with what you've said, but don't sell yourself short.


Posted by: Greg Palmer | Jan 28, 2005 4:24:09 PM

The thing that pisses me off the most about the blogs (and here I'm thinking of dKos, atrios et all rather than Josh Marshall, Mark Schmidt) is the sheer contempt they have for the large institutions of the party. I mean the DCCC could use some improvement, but what was Kos smoking when he started raising money for Jeff Seeman? (Oh right, the guy bought a blogad after the mercenary thing, hmmm...).

I stoped reading myDD after all that bitching about contesting every race and why oh why couldn't those ninnys at the dtrip see that if they just listened to the vast orgasm of genius that is The Liberal Blogosphere we would sweep to victory. Oy.

Posted by: sam | Jan 28, 2005 6:09:56 PM

Nice post.
About the "I've not yet -- and not for lack of trying -- found the blog where smart and engaged partisans are respectfully speaking to each other...." part. That one's tough. I've seen many deep and thoughtful discussions, but they're *never* on "popular" sites because most (if not all) "popular" sites that have comments sections dwindle into (1) pissing contests; (2) circle jerks for their respective parties. My personal rule is to never click on the comments of a thread that has at least 100 comments already there --- nothing useful will ensue because it's turned into little more than a partisan bulletin board (that goes for both sides).

Sadly, the only recourse is to have the blogger spend all their time moderating the comments, which interferes with that thing called "life", so instead they attempt to cater to their audience by posting quantity and eventually doing what I consider to be the equivalent of "phoning in" a bunch of entries where they're simply putting out red meat for the frequent commenters. On the right you have the "DU post of the day" to "Fisk" and on the left you have "let me do a takedown of NRO" for the zillionth time. Conversely, if you write something eloquent that actually agrees with the "opposition", you'll get summarily ignored by "your side" and suddenly the 'opposition' will recognize you and give you the "well, he's usually wrong, but on this he's okay" treatment and then ignore any substantive thoughts that go against their orthodoxy (okay, that's enough of the quotation thingies).

It's not the blogs or the bloggers....it's often the lust for feeding the hyper-partisan audience that cares not a whit about insight or opinion, but rather what kind of verbatim is going to be used to play the dozens against their political foes. There is plenty of honest insight out there from voices all across the political spectrum...they're just largely unnoticed because it takes a "smackdown" of the foe of the day in order to get rebuttals or insight via a cohesive debate. IMHO, of course.

Posted by: RW | Jan 28, 2005 6:33:15 PM

I've not yet -- and not for lack of trying -- found the blog where smart and engaged partisans are respectfully speaking to each other.

You know something? I can honestly say that I don't want that. I have real life for respectful speaking and the marketplace of opinions. I have blog comments to vent anger, mix it up, and crack wise.

Posted by: FlipYrWhig | Jan 28, 2005 7:26:15 PM

I agree a little - disagree more.

The polarization that blogs have produced is problematic - but the alternative (a homogenized media full of lies) is far worse.

Getting 100% of your stuff accepted for publication can let junk through - but the alternative (a small cabal of editors who often end up censoring) is far worse.

The power of blogs really lies in the aggregate - not in an individual blog. Out of the thousands of blogs out there, there's a few that are in the top-100 (in terms of readership) - and they got there fair and square because the READERS like them, not via payola or by whoring. Granted, freedom of speech does result in a lot of malarkey being said - but it also results in the "best" voices getting heard above the fray. Koufax awards, www.daoureport.com, nominations for the front-page on democraticunderground.com - this is when the power of blogs "in the aggregate" really starts to kick in.

Look at it from my perspective - that of a reader. For the last 20 years or so, the best I got was Friedman or Frank Rich or MoDo or Friedman or Herbert in NYT, plus some Harper's once a month, and the Village Voice, and The Nation once a week. Now I get to read atrios, corrente, jameswolcott, stevegilliard, TAPPED, patriotboy, billmon, kos, talkingpointmemo, tbogg, digbysblog, the Howler, Charles Pierce, rudepundit, DU and you EVERY DAY. This is a BIG improvement for me, the reader. I am totally amazed at how much better the "content" has gotten with this new, no-holds-barred distribution system. Yeah, there's junk out there - but I know enough not to read drudge or littlegreenfootballs or instapundit! (Whereas before, I was so desperate, I'd even sit through a Safire column, just because he was a good stylist and sometimes came down on the side of privacy rights - even though, as we now see, it turns out he lied a lot.)

Posted by: scottxyz | Jan 28, 2005 7:28:00 PM

Jarvis and Winer are hardly good examples of blogdom anyway. They're both insufferable middle-aged white guys who think way too highly of themsleves.

Posted by: NJG from NYC | Jan 28, 2005 7:38:37 PM

You were on the way to a great post until you infused the D&D crap into it. Geek.

Posted by: Alex | Jan 28, 2005 7:56:37 PM

Speak for yourself. I know when we talk about "blogs" we're talking about political blogs. Almost everyone who says "blog" means political blog, yet there are a vast number of categories of blogging that have nothing to do with politics and mudslinging. There are music download blogs wherein you can find out about new music, such as www.largeheartedboy.com.

Then there are blogs which aggregate curiosities on the web, like Cynical-C, Meme Pool, Incoming Signals, etc.

Then there are review blogs such as my own wherein I review audiobooks and movies and other things. Sure, I'm snarky; sure, I think I know better than other people (doesn't everyone think this?). But to bemoan blogs as nothing new is missing the point. It's the combination of being an ink-stained wretch and a global commodity, the conjunction of the two things being ultimately something new.

Posted by: The Critic | Jan 28, 2005 9:43:19 PM

Dude, no cheerleader's going to go out with you unless you're packing at LEAST a +9 Staff of Snark. Get real.

Posted by: bobo brooks | Jan 28, 2005 10:58:49 PM

Staff of Snark? Pants of Turning into Dog?


Try the "Hot Brick of Impudence"

Said magic brick was employed when PCs sought divine intervention for something obviously not worth the deity's attention.

Whack, dont bother me mortal!

Posted by: j swift | Jan 28, 2005 11:18:42 PM

Ezra, I think you are looking for the wrong thing. It is difficult to find a journalistic expression of differing viewpoints in the same column. I'm not sure that is what you want. Rather than turn everything into an arguement masquerading as a debate, why not find a liberal leaning blog or two that you can respect and a conservative leaning blog or two that you can respect, and read them independently? Let the authors make their respective points in a calm and relatively non-oppositional manner and then, you judge for yourself who has the stronger position.

As a relatively uneducated (AS EET) individual and a blogger all the same, I could easily see me being upstaged in an argument with someone who can quote the classics and who had rather more skill at a turn of phrase than I. However, if one reads my work and considers what I say and then, reads the work of a blogger clearly opposed to my position, I would like to believe that my work will stand. If in fact it is flawed in original supposition or logic in support, leave a comment with specifics.

I suspect that the acrimony of the various positions in the Divided States of Amurikkka would quickly kill any serious joint blogging effort.


Posted by: CAFKIA | Jan 29, 2005 9:23:18 AM

Anyone who TRUSTS there is truth in corporate media news OR internet blogs is a fool. But I am always looking for truth. You are but another potential source who will print the truth. Equally you are also a likely source for lies and deceit. Ultimately, from The New York Times or Erza Klein the reader must determine the truth. Any and all blogs are but another source to make this determination. Thus, I believe, they as reliable a source for truth as any corporate media.

Posted by: ETnGuy | Jan 29, 2005 10:50:44 AM

The problem isn't with the blogosphere itself -- much like the problem with the right wing doesn't have to do with the medium of talk radio or Fox News.

We aren't in the era where three major networks and two major newspapers funnel news. Therefore, there is a market incentive (Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Air America) for some to pander to their audience and tell them what they want to hear. The blogosphere, of course, works the same way: lefties go to Kos because they find stuff they agree with and righties go to Belmont Club or wherever to find the last shred of evidence that Iraq is working.

To put it as simply as possible, peopole who depend on Kos or Powerline or LGF or whomever -- and ignoring news that discredits their world view as part of the biased (read: liberal or "corporate") media --- for their news are not being good citizens.

There is a significant amount of talent on the Web -- often those who do not get the most hits or the most links.

Posted by: Chris Rasmussen | Jan 29, 2005 12:12:51 PM

Dave Barry has an interesting view:

We would define the term "blog" as "a complete waste of time." This is also how we would define the terms "hobby," "customer service" and "United States Congress."

Posted by: Erniejoe Bopdrummer | Jan 29, 2005 1:03:24 PM

as with most things in their infancy, they look like one thing, and turn into another (or, "all babies are cute but most grow up and look like Charles Krauthammer).

Blogs are a lot of things, but they are not journalism (hell, most journalism isn't journalism).

To me, thye are another source of information, tending towards the trivia and gossip, but every so often, something insightful and important. And that ain't bad, just not the be all.

Posted by: jon | Jan 29, 2005 1:53:14 PM

You are describing so-called popular blogs. But there are many other blogs that are not so popular.

My blog, for instance, is not a news blog. There are so many, we do not need another one. I never tear down other bloggers. Like you, I am very annoyed when I visit bloggers that do this. I write opinion articles that stress the need for cooperation, and I boost Democratic values. Take a look: http://www.learningfountain.com/blog/wedontagreebut-blog.htm.

Other bloggers have other opinions and ideas. This is the strength of the blogosphere. Yes, it has extremists, but if you look, you will find a tremendous number of shades in between the extremes.

Posted by: Paul Siegel | Jan 29, 2005 2:41:30 PM

Yes, the takedowns on Jarvis and Winer were probably needed, but the main thing I took away from the Slate article was Jack Shafer's dunderheaded stance that "gee, I'm practically a blogger myself."

The biggest single problem with the corporate media, which Shafer doesn't even nod to, is the agenda hidden behind the mask of objectivity. The NYT et. al. are reliant on access to official power, they're addicted to perks, they enjoy salaries and lifestyles that push them more and more into Republican territory. The follow-up question to Jill Abramson should have been, "Does that $180 million come with strings attached?"

Blogs are not THE ANSWER, but they help to counteract the phony omniscience.

Posted by: Dix Hill | Jan 29, 2005 3:36:27 PM

The essence of political journalism is that ordinary citizens get to choose someone they trust to follow all this stuff in great detail and then report back to them on what is interesting or important. What blogs have made clear is that in choosing somebody we trust, politically-engaged citizens (who are a minority) like to have a lot of information about potential gatekeepers; we like to know who they vote for; what policies they support; idiosyncratic likes and dislikes; what they had for breakfast. But the traditional press refuses to give us this information: they refuse to tell us who Russert voted for, or what policies he supports. Ditto for Dan Rather, etc. They prefer to keep a "veil of ignorance" about what their motives and beliefs are, I think to shield themselves from accountability and scrutiny.

FWIW, more notes on the blogosphere / political discourse here

Posted by: roublen vesseau | Jan 29, 2005 4:15:02 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.