I don’t want to assume Joseph Rago, an assistant editorial features editor at the Wall Street Journal, is cut from the same cloth as previous newspaper critics of bloggers, because he writes a good essay despite it being free of examples. He writes:
The bloggers . . . produce minimal reportage. Instead, they ride along with the MSM like remora fish on the bellies of sharks, picking at the scraps. . . . If the blogs have enthusiastically endorsed Joseph Conrad’s judgment of newspapering–“written by fools to be read by imbeciles”–they have also demonstrated a remarkable ecumenicalism in filling out that same role themselves.
Though he seems focused on political blogs, these statements are broadly true of all blogs. We bloggers don’t do first-hand reporting much–though as I say that I think of Mark Sarvas, Terry Teachout, Sarah Weinman, the people at Nextbook, Tim Challies, Sherry Early, and other bloggers who do report first-hand and write thoughtful reviews. They are neither remora fish nor fools.
But I doubt Mr. Rago is addressing them in his essay. He is focusing on political blogs, which seem to make up 60% of the blogosphere. He writes:
More success is met in purveying opinion and comment [instead of reporting, interviewing, or even digesting the news after careful thought – pw]. Some critics reproach the blogs for the coarsening and increasing volatility of political life. Blogs, they say, tend to disinhibit. Maybe so. But politics weren’t much rarefied when Andrew Jackson was president, either. The larger problem with blogs, it seems to me, is quality. Most of them are pretty awful. Many, even some with large followings, are downright appalling.
Every conceivable belief is on the scene, but the collective prose, by and large, is homogeneous: A tone of careless informality prevails; posts oscillate between the uselessly brief and the uselessly logorrheic; complexity and complication are eschewed; the humor is cringe-making, with irony present only in its conspicuous absence; arguments are solipsistic; writers traffic more in pronouncement than persuasion . . .
Perhaps it would only start fights, but I would like to know which big blogs he thinks are “downright appalling.” That’s the meat of his criticism, is it not? Who cares that thousands of blogs are filled with short posts that amount to no more than “Check out this link”? I’d like to know which of the well-known blogs Mr. Rago is criticizing.
To answer his broad assertion directly, I don’t believe most blogs should be considered news sources in the sense newspapers are. Obviously, bloggers are hobbists, enthusiasts, opinion swappers, reviewers, critics and would-be critics. We don’t have newsrooms or staff reporters. Some of us are professional reporters, but most of us aren’t. We’re just talking–typing on our screens. Before the Internet, we would be chatting over the fence, in the barbershop, in the church lobby, or on the phone with a few people. Now it’s a million.
Sure we want to be taking seriously–doesn’t everyone? Sure it’s a charge that one or a few of us could expose a lie broadcast by CBS. That’s one of the strengths of the new media, providing a check to the old media. Another strength is the ability to focus attention on reports the newsmakers don’t believe will sell their papers. Mix the strengths with a lot of common talk about the news–I can’t see the harm in it.