Opinion Journal: Bloggers are a Mob — ‘Written by fools to be read by imbeciles’


By: Warner Todd Huston

WSJ’s Opinion Journal has indulged in another round of the MSM’s upturned nose to the lowly blogger, another cornucopia of contumelies, a mountain of maligning. We are all fools and imbeciles according to assistant editorial features editor, Joseph Rago in today’s Op Ed, The Blog Mob.

Here’s the wind up…

Blogs are very important these days. Even Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has one. The invention of the Web log, we are told, is as transformative as Gutenberg’s press, and has shoved journalism into a reformation, perhaps a revolution.

I feel a “but” coming!

And the pitch…

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.

A swing and a miss, Mr. Rago.

Few bloggers, Mr. assistant editorial features editor, imagine themselves to be anything like investigative journalists… few even consider themselves journalists at all. A small number may have taken steps into that field, but most bloggers who blog on culture, the news and politics are in it for opinion making. And, I’d lay odds that few would dispute such a claim.

On Newsbusters, for instance, we are reacting to the MSM and it’s bias. We are delineating the misreporting, lies, distortions and misspeak that occurs among the many assistant editorial features editors and their cohorts out there. But, none of us lay claim to original reporting.

So, Mr. Rago is complaining that we bloggers aren’t doing something we aren’t even attempting to do in the first place! Would Rago be mad that a dog doesn’t meow… only if he wasn’t aware that a dog instead barked? And it appears that Rago is completely innocent of the kind of barking that bloggers do.

Additionally, he seems to imagine that political blogging is all that the blog is for. He seems not to be taking into account that the blog was, indeed, originally designed to be an electronic, public diary, a mode of communication not designed specifically for “reporting”, newsmaking or politics and that the great preponderance of blogs out there are just that; someone’s little diary.

The way we write affects both style and substance. In this aspect, 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 commonplace 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.

I’d further suspect that Mr. Rago is not very informed of American Newspaper history. Most American papers were filled with columns copied from other papers (without attribution on top of it), hackneyed writing, partisan mudslinging, and rumormongering. In fact, it has only been since the 1950s that newspapers were imagined to be straight “reporting” with commentary and opinions ostensibly relegated only to the editorial sections as opposed to running throughout every story in the paper.

In fact, before radio and TV became so prevalent, newspapers were expected to pick a political side and fight like wildcats for that choice. Political candidates even openly supported, and were in turn supported by, newspapers both on a national as well as local level.

In one complaint, though, Mr. Rago is closer to a legitimate concern.

…Instant response, with not even a day of delay, impairs rigor. It is also a coagulant for orthodoxies. We rarely encounter sustained or systematic blog thought–instead, panics and manias; endless rehearsings of arguments put forward elsewhere; and a tendency to substitute ideology for cognition. The participatory Internet, in combination with the hyperlink, which allows sites to interrelate, appears to encourage mobs and mob behavior.

Because political blogs are predictable, they are excruciatingly boring. More acutely, they promote intellectual disingenuousness, with every constituency hostage to its assumptions and the party line

Point taken. Let’s face it; writing styles vary wildly, most being not of a very high caliber (perhaps myself included). And, yes, too many preach to the choir making little effort to convince or argue effectively.

It is also unfortunate that the blog, at times, lends itself to “panics and manias”. We have all seen a story ripple through the blogging community that later turned out to be a humbug. I admit to having fallen for a few myself.

However, as I alluded to above, this is no departure from historical newspaper practice. This is, in fact, a complete and accurate reflection of newspaper history. It is little different even than the days of the Founding Fathers who wrote tracts and commandeered newspapers to disseminate their ideas. Thomas Jefferson didn’t fund a printing of ideas of his enemies in some attempt at “moderation” or “bipartisan” reporting!

We only remember the best writing of that era because the worst was quickly forgotten and relegated to the scrap heap of memory. There were hundreds of newspapers in the old 13 colonies and not all produced the best writing, to be sure. Rago seems blinded by a narrow historical perspective.

After all, today we have the New York Times an organization that seems to have made it a practice to hire plagiarists and writers of fiction!

No, what we have here is a man who imagines his profession is far nobler than it really is — now OR in the past — as he turns up his nose at the new kids on the block.

As bloggers we can take note of assistant editorial features editor, Joseph Rago’s bemoaning the oft times low level of literary acumen and erudition endemic throughout our work, we can take note of his admonitions and make a better effort to improve our product and enrich our content. But, on the other hand, the MSM might want to clean up its own yard before it complains about the neighbor’s.

… and I’ll have you note that I used a lot of fifty cent words to sound more learned, Joe. Did I pass the audition? Am I the fool or the imbecile?

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