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How Not to Critique the Blogosphere

June 27th, 2006 · No Comments

Since I doubt the relevant issue will get a MagRack: Christine Rosen, writing in The New Republic, follows in the bold tradition of Michelle Malkin’s “cutting” exposé by rehashing the “libertarian nuttiness of tech-optimists” line Paulina Borsook was peddling six years ago, though mercifully, she doesn’t require a book to do it. It starts in the guise of a straightforward hit piece on Glenn Reynolds—and there’s plenty to hit, but even here, many of the attempts at snark just come off obtuse, as when Rosen appears to think it’s an amusing illustration of Reynolds’ blogstardom that he “even has an online store, where loyal fans can purchase merchandise .” I can think of lots of evidence you might adduce in favor of InstaPundit being a Big Deal… but having a CafePress store, which takes 10 minutes to set up on a whim, just like thousands upon thousands of other bloggers and other ordinary folk, doesn’t seem a terribly apt one. And using it—regarding it, apparently, as some kind of entertaining novelty—suggests an author who doesn’t know her way around blogs much.

So it’s not really surprising—indeed, barely disappointing—that when Rosen tries to extrapolate a general critique of the blogosphere, she just grossly misses the point. Says she:

But what would we-dia actually look like? This is a question that can be easily answered by InstaPundit. Reynolds’s blog consists largely of links to news or opinion articles and other blogs followed by comments consisting of such profound observations as “Heh,” or “Read the whole thing,” or “Indeed.” ….The blogosphere doesn’t universally suffer from this extreme case of logorrhea or vacuity….But Reynolds exposes how the blogosphere, at its worst, values timeliness over thought.

All Rosen is really telling us is that she doesn’t appreciate the way a distributed content production system like the blogosphere works, and the very different functions that “linkers” and “thinkers” serve. Complaining that Reynolds is vacuous is like complaining that a table of contents doesn’t provide very comprehensive information. While acknowledging that there are plenty of other more thorough and thoughtful analysts, Rosen seems to assume that because Reynolds is so popular, the blogosphere must “value timeliness over thought.” But that misses the point. Reynolds gets lots of hits for the same reason Google does: He takes in and filters vast amounts of other people’s writing, and points you to the more in-depth stuff. Blogs will probably never be a good substitute for The New York Times, but if they ever come close, it’s not going to be because some one big blog ends up producing comparable amounts and quality of content itself. It’ll be because people who value timeliness over thought will start posting quick and dirty reportage that gets linked, added to, filtered, checked, and processed by swarms of other bloggers, with the most polished product of this process rising to prominence through “linkers” like Reynolds. There are things to be for and against this system, but you don’t get around to saying them when you don’t notice that it exists.

Tags: Journalism & the Media