Wall Street Journal Writes on Blogging
"Every concievable belief is on the [blogging] 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..."
Bloggers concerned with the quality and utility of their craft would do well to read Joseph Rago's piece The Blog Mob in the Wall Street Journal. In the feud that exists between the blogosphere and mainstream media (MSM), Rago's piece, in erudite prose, explains the two conventional points made by MSM against bloggers. The first is that blogs rely too much on expediency; in an effort to get their opinion out there now, they are too often half baked thoughts, unfinished thoughts or arguments which more appropriate for a commonplace book or personal journal. The second point is that the participatory Internet promotes syncophants pandering to already isolated ideological mobs, instead of promoting diversity and complexity of opinion.
The first point, that expediency limits quality, is valid. Rago writes that "the reason for a blogs being is: Here's my opinion, right now." Indeed. Of the two dozen blogs I scroll through daily via newsfeed, a large majority of posts would be better if the writer took more time working on style and substance. In fact, the reads I look forward to the most are by bloggers who have broader experience as writers in other contexts. These bloggers understand that in the end blogging is but another form of the craft of writing, where poor style and half baked thoughts are never a good thing. There is certainly value in the trend of publishing less frequently but with more substance and style.
However, Rago overlooks the point that expediency sometimes is valuable. Some of the best blog posts are by those who are, as Ethan Zuckerman has said, "at the wrong place at the right time, or the right place at the wrong time." First impressions on globally important events can be a valuable diversion from the formulaic approach that MSM too often takes towards, for example, humanitarian crisis or environmental disasters.
Rago's second point is bunk. He accuses the blogosphere of dwelling in the realm of intellectual pedantry, lacking is open discourse and thoughtful honesty. Rago's long career in media surely should have shown him that every form of media has thoughtless dreck and mere muckraking. Yes, bloggers have Michael Moores and Sean Hannitys, pandering to the mobs who don't want the burden of intellectual honesty, but so does radio, television, and yes, even newspapers. It seems to me the freedom of human thought in a free society will always produce rubbish; we need not discredit a medium because of this.
Just as newspapering has the Economist and radio has National Public Radio, blogging has its gems, where one can go and consistently expect intellectual honesty and sharp writing. Perhaps Rago himself is too pedantic to recognize this. Clicking on Andrew Sullivan and Peter Levine will take you to blogs where the political leanings of the author is quite clear, yet discourse over real issues dominates the posts. These sites are the really good stuff; they have sharp writing and an honest desire to come to a fair conclusion on important issues.
At the end of the day, perhaps its not the medium we should be concerned with at all. We should all search for good ideas and clarity, in whichever form they may come.