Matt Yglesias has a post up on the recent New York Times Magazine cover story on political bloggers, in which he makes a slight variant of a point he’s made before about distinguishing between blogs and other media. I more or less agree with the version he’s advanced elsewhere: that it can be confusing to treat bloggers as some separate species given that, increasingly, it’s that writers are either adding the blog form to their repertoire or otherwise branching out from blogs to write in other media.
But I don’t think this particular version is quite right: It’s not the case that, despite the huge difference between them, there’s no useful reason to lump together, say, Wonkette and Daily Kos and TPM. As Marshall McLuhan and Neil Postman taught us, for instance, there are useful things to say about “television” that don’t hang on the particulars of individual TV programs, even if you need to analyze some of those specific programs to suss out the more general points.
For one thing, blogs more than conventional media exist in a shared social space. Sure, papers and other forms of news media will sometimes cite each other, but the idea that there’s a conversation going on, between blogs and blogs and between the readers and the blogs, is central to the form. That gives rise to the potential for the distributed journalism I wrote about in my first piece for Reason, and which ended up being key to blog coverage of the CBS affair. And that really is an important difference that has to do with the medium, and not with how good a journalist or writer Josh Marshall or Ana Marie Cox is. In a sense, that’s why it’s misleading to focus on the blogstars—the few with audiences in the tens or hundreds of thousands. The blogosphere’s strength isn’t its best specimens, but that tiers of less-read folks are generating and sifting the stories that percolate up to them and, ultimately, through to conventional print and broadcast media.
That’s a shallow sketch, of course—there’s plenty more one could say about “blogs per se” by, for instance, bringing to bear the insights of social network theory as developed by people like Duncan Watts.