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.