The ‘Blog Mob’ Revisited: On the Impact Blogs and the Internet Have on Journalism
For many people blogs have changed how information is accessed. Besides the traditional news outlets, cable news and well funded internet news and opinion ventures (and not so well funded efforts) there thousands of citizen journalists/opinion blogs. Some are collaborative efforts but most are not.
The credibility of the blogger does not guarantee a quality product. Some lawyers who blog produce a fine product. There other lawyers who do not, There are non political types who provide terrific politcal insights and there are political insiders who use the medium to serve their own self serving needs.
Some bloggers have made real contributions. Little Green Footballs was the primary force which confronted CBS and Dan Rather over the Bush military service controversy in what was later to become known as Rathergate. See Bush Documents: Forged. The story was important enough to be of real concern to some in the mainstream media. See NPR Rewrites Rathergate History to Cover Up Fraud.
When the history of the internet and blogs will be written, LGF will certainly merit more than a mention.
That isn’t to say even the better blogs are without fault. One good day at blog does not mean the following day will bring forth equally meritorious results. Agendas, politics and blindly followed ideologies can take worthy efforts and dilute them in same way that happens at other media. Without real editorial supervision opinion can quickly become expressions of dogma.
However,at newspapers and other media outlets there are usually ombudsmen who if necessary, can initiate a correction, apology or even a retraction. There is no independent arbiter at blogs- the author is also tasked with deciding when and whether to make corrections and/or apologies or to issue clarifications. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen often enough.
Blogs are here to stay. Most will be forgotten, some will be remembered and others will become real resources.
Sometime in 2006, freshly graduated from college and newly employed as a junior editor at The Wall Street Journal, I decided it would be a good idea to publish my musings about the Internet. The op-ed quoted Joseph Conrad to the effect that newspapers are “written by fools to be read by imbeciles” and suggested that blogs are the new newspapers. It turns out that people do not like to be called imbeciles, bloggers in general and imbecile bloggers in particular.
The piece, which carried the headline “The Blog Mob,” was a sensation, a controversy, and, finally, a mistake. It is worth recalling not because it has much lasting value—it does not—but partially because the situation surrounding the piece was hilarious and partially because writers who opine on public affairs ought at some point to be held accountable for their positions. They rarely are, not least by themselves. Maybe the rumpus also serves as an education in the new economics of the modern digital era and the ramifying political, cultural, and journalistic transformations wrought by the terabyte and the computer network.
“Blogs are not as significant as their self-endeared creators would like to think,” I wrote of the advent of the Web log, which still then retained some novelty. Bloggers saw themselves as an independent counterweight to the legacy mainstream media, or the MSM—“the lamestream media,” to borrow Sarah Palin’s subsequent neologism. They believed that the establishment had been corrupted by bias and groupthink. In my view, they weren’t doing a particularly good job at replacing the institutions that were supposedly discredited, and they mostly tended to comment on MSM reportage—riding along “like remora fish on the bellies of sharks, picking at the scraps,” to recall my characteristic diplomacy.
“The larger problem with blogs,” it seemed to me, “is quality. Most of them are pretty awful. Many, even some with large followings, are downright appalling.” Then I revved up the RPMs: