The Blog Mob

Today’s Opinion Journal (on-line Wall Street Journal content) has a piece by Joseph Rago, an assistant editorial features editor at the Wall Street Journal. The headline for the article is used as the title for this post, and, as such, probably conveys in a few words the author’s opinion of the Blogosphere.

Rago seems to be of several minds in his column. He first states that:

"Blogs are very important these days." 

In the next paragraph he then provides a counterpoint to his words by saying:

"The blogs are not as significant as their self-endeared curators would like to think. Journalism requires journalists, who are at least fitfully confronting the digital age. The bloggers, for their part, produce minimal reportage. Instead, they ride along with the MSM like remora fish on the bellies of sharks, picking at the scraps."

Thus is established the general theme of his story. There seems to be an awareness of the future,  dimly seen through the fog, but the forecast is framed by his notions of what must be the foundation of the new media.  That is, only a "journalist" can define the future of journalism, that journalistic fundamentals which will define the craft as practiced today must be the fundamentals of the future.

"…journalism as practiced via blog appears to be a change for the worse. That is, the inferiority of the medium is rooted in its new, distinctive literary form. Its closest analogue might be the (poorly kept) diary or common-place book, or the note scrawled to oneself on the back of an envelope-though these things are not meant for public consumption. The reason for a blog’s being is: Here’s my opinion, right now."

One wonders how Mr. Rago would have reacted to the first newspapers, made possible by the printing press and a rising class of burgers eager to remove the heel of feudalism from its collective neck. Would he have sided with the those priests entrusted with the transcription of the words of Bishops, Kings, and the Pope?  Surely he must know that revolutionary change, in nature and in technology, is a story of false starts, failure, innovation, and the ingenuity of individual actions embraced by others. In the face of change, it is perfectly natural for the possessors of the "Old" to wish to preserve, and if not that, to control the development of the "New". Since however, the guardians are the product of the "Old", it is very difficult for those guardians to completely transform themselves into guardians of the "New". And if the "New" is perceived as a threat, then it must be destroyed. Thus we read:

"The right now is partially a function of technology, which makes instantaneity possible, and also a function of a culture that valorizes the up-to-the-minute above all else. But there is no inherent virtue to instantaneity. Traditional daily reporting-the news-already rushes ahead at a pretty good clip, breakneck even, and suffers for it. On the Internet, all this is accelerated….

Nobody wants to be an imbecile. 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."

The arrogance and condescension in these words is breathtaking, with much to be learned by closer reading. Yet, Rago, again peering through the fog, understands that the Blogosphere did not spring  from a vacuum, that invention generally needs an opportunity and a niche.

"Certainly, the MSM, such as it is, collapsed itself. It was once utterly dominant yet made itself vulnerable by playing on its reputed accuracy and disinterest to pursue adversarial agendas. Still, as far from perfect as that system was, it was and is not wholly imperfect. The technology of ink on paper is highly advanced, and has over centuries accumulated a major institutional culture that screens editorially for originality, expertise, and seriousness."

To which your scribe, no journalist, would only add the concepts of "pack journalism", "gotcha journalism", unintentional and intentional bias, and an insufferable superiority complex.

Rago then concludes with a homily….

"Of course, once a technosocial force like the blog is loosed on the world (does he mean like the printing press, the telegraph/telephone, the automobile, television, and the personal computer?), it does not go away because some find it undesirable. So, grieving over the lost establishment is pointless, and kind of sad. But Democracy does not work well, so to speak, without checks and balances. And in acceding so easily to the imperatives of the Internet, we’ve allowed decay to pass for progress."

Friends, I write because I can, not because I want to destroy an ancient institution. I seek out other bloggers out of curiosity and interest. Locally, we have created a virtual community, filled with many different opinions, interests, and goals. Although we may have differences, we enjoy that we are part of something. The political blogs that Rago thinks are destroying his world are not the whole reason for what we do. In ignoring the majority of bloggers who are looking for their community, he fails to comprehend the real power of the Internet.



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