Criticizing the “Warbloggers” — I found this heated article that takes to task “libertarian” webloggers who take snide shots at prominent commentators and fellow bloggers who dare to raise a voice in objection to the undeclared war in Afghanistan. Ironically, I found this article on the site of one of these “warbloggers,” who patronizingly qualifies his link to it thusly:
“I almost didn’t post on it, since he’s probably just trolling for hits. But although one reader called it ‘offensive beyond words,’ I find it mostly amusing. Apparently, despite all the Chomskyite ranting about manufactured consent, the folks at antiwar.com find it offensive when people they disagree with criticize the Big Media.”
Even funnier is that I stumbled on that site from a short blog entry covering a mini-debate over whether or not weblogging actually represents a serious or significant challenge to the mainstream media. I must note that all of the bloggers in this “debate” can be reasonably labeled pundits, whose professional life is centered on offering supposed informed opinions to the mainstream media. Damn, they’d better hope that blogging doesn’t tear too effectively at the mainstream media, or they’ll be out of work.
My own opinion (since you didn’t ask), is that blogging cannot be singular force easily summed up as a challenge to the mainstream media anymore than college radio can be declared an outright challenge to commercial radio–many are, but just as many unforunately just mirror the style and playlists of commercial stations, just without the commercials. The important quality is use — what bloggers do with the medium is what matters. The act of editing and compiling links that a particular author finds interesting or important is useful, but still really depends on the existing mass media apparatus for the content. Such a blog scores a minor hit against the mainstream when it calls attention to the truely obscure and alternative, but only if it manages to reach an audience not already aware of the sources of its links. This isn’t to say that I think such a blog is otherwise useless if it can’t do this–I find many such blogs useful because I don’t have the time to troll and scan all the diverse sources myself on a daily basis. I do mean to point out that there have been indices and reviews of alternative and non-mainstream media for quite some time (such as the excellent Alternative Press Review) and they have not necessarily scored huge gains against the mainstream media.
I think weblogs become more powerful when they’re used to not only post links but also used a forum to comment on these links, current events and other issues. And many webloggers do just that. Indeed, that’s what “warbloggers” do, even if I tend to disagree with their point of view. Pundit Virginia Postrel, a participant in the aforementioned quasi-debate on weblogging, makes an interesting evaluation:
“It’s the latest example of what the web has always been good for: links and specialization…. Blog writers don’t have editors; they are editors.”
When it comes to the “mostly links” kind of weblog I just discussed I have to agree with Postrel. Editing is a useful and powerful process that has always been available to people in some form — what’s a scrapbook, afterall, but a edited compendium of items around a particular theme. What weblogging adds to the mix is an audience much larger than what the average scrapbook can reach.
But I don’t think this accurately describes those bloggers who invest much more time in commentary and original content. I like to think that my own blog here is more than just links to interesting content, though you’ll find that in it. I often put my effort into writing little “mini-articles” that often comment on the item that I link to, or the event or issue at hand. I also try to combine links together in a hopefully coherent narrative, taking advantage of hypertext to provide avenues for further explication that are similar to citations in academic texts. It’s no coincidence that I am an academic in training–a Ph.D. student in Communications–and so I think of myself more as a researcher than journalist or editor. My intention is to add information to my links, to provide some synthesis and context to existing information — something I believe most journalism does an inadequate job of. Whether or not I’m successful at this is an open question.
As to effect, that’s difficult to gauge, no? All of mediageek.org gets about 100 – 115 hits a day — not exactly a landslide. But that’s quite a few more people than I can talk to on a daily basis (I hope I talk to more on my radio show), and that’s why I do it. Alone, I don’t think my blog makes significant inroads in the challenge to mainstream media, but if it’s one of many then the challenge mounts. Thus a key strength of weblogging is it’s very populism — it’s a tool accessible to millions of people if they should choose to use it. Yet even as a popular movement weblogging doesn’t represent a major revolution until those voices drown out the mainstream consolidated commercial media. I think many more significant changes are necessary for that to happen.
Although I claim that I want to avoid too much meta-blogging, nonetheless I’ve commented on this topic before. Read up, if you like: