Dizzy summarises his argument thus,
The article asserts that the blogs are not threatening the mainstream media, but are instead riding along with it, “like remora fish on the bellies of sharks, picking at the scraps”. He goes on to say “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.”
This, Dizzy thinks, is
Harsh, but probably fair for the vast majority of blogs
Cassilis concurs; referring to the sharks and remora image, he writes
Aside from the few ‘big’ blogs with good Westminster contacts who occasionally break big stories, which of us could deny that’s a reasonably accurate (if a little acerbic) characterisation of what we do? Rago does concede that we meet more success in “purveying opinion and comment” but the main focus for his criticism is the lack of 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 . .
Again there are exceptions and it’s easy to dismiss Rago as a bitter, mainstream journo who doesn’t like the competition but can anyone honestly say his description is completely off the mark? Conscious that I might be ‘biting the hand that feeds’ and insulting my few loyal readers I’m not going to cast aspersions on any other blogs – but I can legitimately criticise my own content and Rago’s comments seem reasonably fair to me. I do strive for ‘persuasion’ over ‘pronouncement’ but I’m not sure I succeed very often. Very few blogs (if any) seem interested in a sustained and coherent policy discussion – and even if that interest is there it’s often subordinate to the desire for readership and comments so the posting ends up more provocative or extreme.
And he continues,
Very few blogs (if any) seem interested in a sustained and coherent policy discussion – and even if that interest is there it’s often subordinate to the desire for readership and comments so the posting ends up more provocative or extreme. As Rago points out:
“We rarely encounter sustained or systematic blog thought – instead, panics and manias; endless rehearsings of arguments put forward elsewhere; and a tendency to substitute ideology for cognition. The participatory Internet, in combination with the hyperlink, which allows sites to interrelate, appears to encourage mobs and mob behavior“
To my mind it’s ironic that two bloggers to whom Rago’s strictures can’t possibly be justly applied should be so self-critical; I think they’ve mistakenly taken Rago’s comments — which he’s clearly directing at the American blogoball (© Garry, whose Big Stick And A Small Carrot is another example to which Rago’s criticisms clearly don’t apply) — as applying to blogs, or even just political blogs, in general. I don’t think they do.
Rago opens his piece with the comment that
Folks on the WWW, conservatives especially, boast about how the alternative media corrodes the “MSM,” for mainstream media, a term redolent with unfairness and elitism.
Now, I’ve certainly seen that view expressed often enough, but it’s not a view I particularly associate with many British sites, ‘conservative’ or otherwise. Maybe that’s just the sites I read, but it’s not a general trope, as far as I can tell, in, for example, many of the Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem or non-aligned sites in Iain Dale’s Top UK Political Blogs. It’s certainly a common enough feature of American ‘conservative’ blogs (scare quotes because they’re like no British Conservative I’ve ever met).
His examples, I think, make this clear;
the right-leaning blogs exhaustively pursue second-order distractions–John Kerry always providing useful material–while leaving underexamined more fundamental issues, say, Iraq. Conservatives have long taken it as self-evident that the press unfavorably distorts the war, which may be the case; but today that country is a vastation, and the unified field theory of media bias has not been altered one jot.
That, surely, cannot be taken as an accurate characterisation of the view of many political blogs over here, whatever their politics.
This mob behaviour, as he calls it, and pursuing second-order distractions, is a common enough theme in American political blogs, certainly, and one frequently sent up very effectively by Jon Swift, for example here and here. It’s not, thank heavens, something much in evidence over here, to my mind. Spats like the recent one over Bob Piper or UKIP Home’s outing Devil’s Kitchen are pretty much the exception. By and large, it seems to me, ideological opponents tend to be reasonably civilised with each other in the British blogs. Ideological axes get ground within particular blogs rather than spilling out all over the place. We don’t, thank heavens, have our equivalents, at least in size and influence, of Little Green Foothills and their host of admirers. Nor, certainly, do we have the ideological bile.
Partly, I think, this is because our political situation is different; for one thing, over here pretty much everyone dislikes the present government for their various reasons. I don’t think we’ve had anything like the bad blood that seems currently to exist between the American ‘conservatives’ and ‘liberals’ since Mrs Thatcher’s first and second terms. Partly, too, our press is very different from the American version; over here, if we want
panics and manias; endless rehearsings of arguments put forward elsewhere; and a tendency to substitute ideology for cognition
then we certainly don’t need an Internet connection to enjoy reading them.
No one, surely, can imagine a British journalist writing, at least with a straight face, that what used to be called Fleet Street has
made itself vulnerable by playing on its reputed accuracy and disinterest to pursue adversarial agendas
or that it
has over centuries accumulated a major institutional culture that screens editorially for originality, expertise and seriousness
Our press is happily partisan, raucously so at the red-top end of the market. In the USA, the papers are dreadfully po-faced; it’s as if the BBC published everything. It’s inconceivable that a Brit, unless they were being heavily ironic, would reply to similar claims about the press and blogs here, as did Mary Moylan, of Saginaw, Mich, to Mr Rago:
Certainly there are some awful blogs; I’ve seen and read them, and most left-wing blogs are dreadful to read due to the lack of thinking skills and obscenities that pass for words. But there are enough very decent blogs that do a great job (powerline, Michelle Malkin, etc.) as well as Internet news sites (cnsnews.com, lifesite news, Newsmax, etc.) that you do a complete disservice to overlook so totally.
Your paean to the past glory of the media is misplaces, since it is their very sloppiness and bias that makes these new blogs so powerful. Would you dismiss powerline with such sneers as you write? The MSM has descended into total chaos as the new media arm of the Democratic Party, willing to pass on any lie to advance their cause. Because of that, you should cheer the rise of the Internet for that alone is holding the MSM in check and correcting their very dangerous agenda.
Rago writes, of the success of the blogs he so deplores,
Part of it, I think, is that everyone likes shows and entertainments. Mobs are exciting. People also like validation of what they already believe; the Internet, like all free markets, has a way of gratifying the mediocrity of the masses.
Our press in the UK has long realised this; as long ago as 1856, Walter Bagehot noted,
The purchaser [of a newspaper] desires an article which he can appreciate at sight; which he can lay down and say, ‘An excellent article, very excellent; exactly my own sentiments’ (National Review, July 1856).
To my mind, his complaint about the free market ignores (along with a lot of other things, of course) the wisdom of crowds. Blogs are just adding to it, joining the crowd rather than just reading the views of a small group of experts. If you mistake individual blogs for experts, then you’ve got problems, I agree. But we know better than to do that, don’t we?
Technorati: Joseph Rago, Blogs, Newspapers, MSM