News from the Edge



by John Tyler Connoley


October 6, 2004



Have you heard that more and more people are turning to the World Wide Web for their news? They're reading Instapundit, Eschaton, and Wonkette. If you've heard about the rise of Internet journalists, well, names like Andrew Sullivan, Eugene Volokh, and Matt Drudge top that list. And, when Newsweek says, "Internet sleuths last week discovered . . ." (as it did in a story on Rathergate), what Newsweek is referring to are the bloggers who inhabit the blogosphere.


The Oxford English Dictionary has yet to list "blogosphere" as an accepted word, but it certainly will soon. It already includes "blog" as both noun and verb, and "blogger" as a noun. Blog derives from Weblog, a kind of online journal written for the world to read. Often bloggers (the people who write blogs) will post their thoughts every few hours, providing a constant window into their minds.


When a blog is about someone's personal life, the blogger becomes the expert -- no one except me can know exactly what's running through my head. If you have teenagers in your house, they probably read several online journals every day, just to keep track of what their friends are thinking and feeling.


However, sometimes a personal blog can have national or international significance. This was the case during the buildup and first stages of the war in Iraq. Thousands of people, frustrated with the shallowness of news coverage coming from journalists embedded with US forces or trapped in Baghdad, turned to Iraqi blogs to find out what was really going on. The most famous of these, the pseudonymous Salam Pax, became an international phenomenon. By March of 2003, there wasn't a news-junky worth her salt who wasn't reading Salam every day. After the fall of Baghdad, Salam got a book contract and did a tour of Europe and the United States.


Other bloggers write about their areas of expertise. Instead of personal journals, their blogs become windows on the world from a particular point-of-view: the world as seen by a Keynesian economist or a Newtonian physicist. Of course, these types of blogs have become popular with university professors, who enjoy pontificating about their fields of study. One of the most popular of these is The Volokh Conspiracy, which views the world from the perspective of a Southern California law professor (with additional reporting from his friends -- hence the conspiracy).


There are also political bloggers, like Instapundit, Andrew Sullivan, and Matt Drudge. These people pride themselves on their ability to write (sometimes endlessly) about news and views that the mainstream media is unwilling to cover. They value their independence, made possible by the relatively cheap cost of publishing online. Their assumed point-of-view is that of outsider, willing to tell it like it is. And this is the main reason for the popularity of blogs as a news source.


Unfortunately, network news has become something of a joke -- shallow infotainment with little real news value, unless you want to find out about "the deadly chemical that may be under your kitchen sink right now! Story at eleven." Even twenty-four hour cable news channels, like CNN and Fox, package their news reports (what few their are between the punditry) in bite-size chunks that can be easily swallowed but don't satisfy. Then there's the issue of bias: Ask any liberal and he'll tell you that network news is beholden to big business and a tool of the war machine. Ask any conservative, and she'll give you specific examples of network newscasters' liberal attitude toward gun control, abortion, and homosexuality.


The Media (capital T, capital M) has come to be perceived as a monolith with a single all-encompassing point-of-view, so people have started looking for alternatives to the vision provided by the great eye. At a most basic level, The Media isn't going to cover the daily happenings of my friend's dog, Emma, so if I want to know what Emma's doing today I'm going to have to read her blog. Likewise, The Media isn't necessarily interested in up-to-the-minute reporting on the same-sex marriage battle in Podunk, Oregon -- and what reporting it does offer will be slanted in a way I don't like. So, I have to rely on my ideological counterpart in Podunk to let me know how things are going in the battle for (or against) same-sex marriage.


Unfortunately, portions of the blogosphere are becoming as mainstream as the media they're trying to displace. Sultanfus and Guy's Kitty Kam will always have a limited readership, but the same is not true of Instapundit and Andrew Sullivan. And, as a blogger's readership increases, her costs increase, and so does her need for advertising revenue and circulation numbers. Or, sometimes, a blogger gets a following of people who think they agree with him, and who then feel betrayed when the blogger is independent-minded enough to change his mind. This happened to Andrew Sullivan, when he recently stopped backing Bush after years of defending the President. Then there's the example of Salam Pax. With his book contract and worldwide fame, the quality of Salam's reporting suffered. Now, people looking for the real news from Iraq are turning to alternate alternatives like Healing Iraq. Of course, the nature of the blogosphere is that alternate alternatives pop up every day -- so the outsider perspective is always a mouse-click away.




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Copyright 2004 by John Tyler Connoley

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