Us and them
Friday, October 29th, 2004
My buddy Jeff Jarvis highlights an underlying theme between two articles in yesterday’s NYT.
The first examined the rising tide of blogging about your cat on a Friday, practiced by everyone from Instapundit to Atrios. As Jeff puts it, “makes us look like a bunch of frothing nutjobs. It is essentially condescending and insulting.”
Then Jeff digs into a second “news article” that chronicles and bemoans recent blogger vitriole towards journalists.
The article highlights crude insults bloggers and their readers have tossed at journalists. As Jeff puts it, the article “paints us as more of an angry mob than a sensible bunch of people who happen to be citizens and voters and newspaper readers. By making us look so angry, it marginalizes us as cultish.”
Sure there are nutty bloggers and blog readers, and it is worth examining their excesses. But where’s that wonderful journalistic impulse towards balance? What about the good things bloggers do? Nahhh. The essential irony is that an article aimed at proving that bloggers wrongly (and inhumanely) accuse the press as being biased against the left or the right proves itself to be nakedly partisan against bloggers. It repeatedly quotes the worst excesses of the blogosphere, without examining the amazing contributions bloggers are making to the public discourse. Consider the idiocies nailed by the blogosphere in the last two years: Trent Lott (a closet racist), Howell Raines (an arrogant twit), CBS (quick to write, slow to right)… the list grows monthly.
What is the other side? As Jeff puts it, “Perhaps it’s that big media is messing up and has had no check for too long. Perhaps it’s that once-passive readers now have their own press and have something to say and it’s time for you to listen. Perhaps if you try hard to open your eyes and read your own story again, you might smell a bias here — against the public you supposedly serve.”
Jeff, it is not just that “big media is messing up.” It is that top-down command structures are inherently fragile and weak when compared with networked swarms. Put another way, 100,000 minds networked in real time and positioned across America’s geographic and psychic landscape see and understand lots of things that the ten editors sitting atop rigid periodical news machines in NY and DC do not and can not.
The game has changed. I’ve been a journalist. Some of my best friends are journalists. Some of the smartest, most humane people I know are journalists. But I also know that monopolies corrupt and that enough journalists have been corrupted by complacency to turn into pompous, entitled hacks. If the hacks want war, war it shall be.
The bottom line — if we are moving from the past year’s “Look! Non-journalists with websites! Aren’t they CUTE!” attitude to a new story line of “bloggers call us names and don’t play fair,” the revolution is nearly over. The royalty in the castle’s highest tower can smell the smoke.
My bet is that we’ll see bloggers on the left and right unite around some issue in the next six months, and the unity will be provoked by some attack on a blogger’s rights.