Wednesday, February 18, 2004

We Decide
Cynthia Cotts, who watches the media for the Village Voice, is out with an analysis of Columbia Journalism Review's Campaign Desk blog, which purports to cover the media as they cover the campaign. She notes that CJR's real mission seems to be the reining-in of the blogosphere--holding it to the same standards of journalistic practice that big gray newspapers are supposedly held to. This is necessary, it seems, because a world full of blogs is just too untamed to be safe, and it needs a dose of old-fashioned accountability.

Whether this is a good idea has already sparked debate. I'm convinced that few of us political bloggers believe we're doing our own little version of the New York Times--I certainly don't. If you come here looking for gospel truth, you've come to the wrong place. What this blog tries to do is to point readers to (and comment on) stories that, for whatever reason, I find interesting, headache-inducing, outrageous, encouraging, and/or in some way worth a few minutes of a reader's time. I have a particular point of view that shapes how I define interesting, headache-inducing, outrageous, encouraging, and worthwhile--but you'd have to be mighty stupid to miss what it is. The same is true for the other blogs I read. They take on the personalities of their creators or contributors--even the big ones like Daily Kos. You know what you're getting in a general sense, even though there may be variations among the different people who contribute. Nobody should mistake it for the unvarnished truth--just as no one should mistake the Times or the Post for the unvarnished truth, but that's another story.

In my mind, the blogosphere is very small-d democratic, and it makes demands on readers not unlike the demands of small-d democracy. There are plenty of ideas and points of view and information out here. You have to figure out which bloggers are credible and which are not by thinking for yourself--using the same information available to the bloggers--and then arriving at your own conclusions, and broadcasting them yourself if you're so inclined. (That's what the "comments" link is for here, and the message boards on larger blogs--or start your own damn blog.) In all, it's a far more active process than picking up the paper and receiving its wisdom--and that's what scares the hell out of conventional journalists. We don't necessarily need them to tell us what to think anymore.

Not that blogs are going to replace conventional journalists. Count the number of links to major media sources in the average political blog and you'll see how we depend on them for the information we use to think with. But count also the number of unconventional sources we use as well. And think about how the give and take between old media and the public has changed. Newspapers still publish mere a handful of letters each day, just like days of old. But now, a paper with a regional or national scope is liable to find itself in a continuous conversation with bloggers somewhere, who can do more to keep it honest than scores of letter-writers--and without having to get through the filter of the person who decides what letters to publish. The phenomenon even reaches down to individual reporters--imagine being Jodi Wilgoren of the Times or Nedra Pickler of the AP, both of whom are being monitored daily in the blogosphere. Your relationship with the public would be profoundly transformed from what it was back when you were a one-way conduit. But whether it's individual reporters or entire news organizations like CNN or a major newspaper, for the first time, the average news consumer can say, "You report. We decide." That's more than just Fox News' hilarious slogan turned sideways. It says to the media that they no longer have the right to tell us both what happened and how to think about it. They only get to do the first part now. We'll do our own thinking.

Recommended reading: The Christian Science Monitor analyzes the rift in the Bush cabinet over the Iraq war, noting that Colin Powell seems conscious of shoring up his place in history now that the war has gone to shit and it's clear he won't be back even if Bush is reelected. My old history prof, James Lindsey, is quoted in the piece regarding how division in the cabinet is particularly harmful to Bush now, given the questions over prewar intelligence. The Monitor also indulges in speculation over how the Bush team would look in a second term. Condoleezza Rice says this is her last year in the White House, which doesn't mean she couldn't become secretary of state. But guess who wants the gig, too? Paul Wolfowitz. All along, the neocons have derided the State Department as having insufficient stomach for their policy of perpetual preemptive war. More than any other appointment, sending Wolfie to State in a second Bush term would mean that the gloves are not just off, they're stuffed in the back of the closet.

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