Blogs confuse mainstream media

Belmont Club:

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Because the blogs are poorly understood, they have are often regarded with a mixture of fear and contempt by the members of the regular press. An extreme form of reaction was exhibited by Mr. Nick Coleman of the Star Tribune (registration required).

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What gives is Mr. Coleman is confused. Bloggers are the most heterogenous and diverse group possible. The Daily Kos and Juan Cole would hardly fit Mr. Coleman's description of the conservative hack. It is hard to see the bloggers in Iran, Iraq and China as business-suited Ivy League lawyers with an axe to grind in US local politics. But Mr. Coleman can be forgiven for seizing upon instances of the blogosphere as its archetypes while failing to characterize the phenomenon as a whole. The blogosphere is a specific manifestation -- and by no means the only one -- of the networks made possible by the Internet which can be imperfectly compared to the emerging nervous system of a growing organism. Once the software and infrastructure to self-publish was in place, it was natural that analytical cells, or groups of cells would take inputs from other parts of the system and process them. The result was 'instant punditry', which was nothing more than the public exchange of analysis on any subject -- politics, culture and war just happened to be the three most popular. It enabled lawyers to offer opinions on law; military men on things military; scientists on things scientific. And suddenly the journalistic opinion editors found themselves at an increasing disadvantage. While individual bloggers might not have the journalistic experience of the newspaper professionals, they had the inestimable edge of being experts, sometimes the absolute authorities in their respective fields. This is exactly what happened in Memogate. People who had designed Adobe fonts and written desktop publishing programs knew the memos were computer generated and were not going to be overawed by Dan Rather's experts asserting the contrary. They were the real experts and to make an impact they did not have to be correct across a large range of issues. They only had to be right in the one thing they knew best and from that vantage could hammer a mainstream pundit into the dust. Rather's defeat at the hands of Buckhead was not accidental. It was inevitable.

But the mainstream media could console itself in one thing. It still controlled the primary newsgathering apparatus. Yet even here the rulebook was changing. The advent of cheap consumer digital cameras capable of recording sound coupled to the proliferation of internet connections meant that in addition to the analysis cells which manifested itself in 'instant punditry', the Internet was developing a sensory apparatus to match. To the 'instant pundit' was added the 'instant reporter' -- the man already on the spot, often possessed of local knowledge and language skills. These came suddenly of age with the December 2004 tsunami story. Survivors with a videocamera or even just an email or web browser connection 'filed stories' which were vacuumed up by the the instant pundits hovering over their RSS subscriptions and launched into the global information pool. In retrospect, the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine forshadowed the events of the tsunami coverage. Individuals with mobile computing and communications devices provided a substantial shadow coverage of the unfolding events there. Like the tsunami instant reporters, the insta-journalists in the Ukraine had the additional advantage of being largely unknown to each other. This meant that unlike the wire services, which are often single-sourced, the insta-reports could be cross-checked. The exaggerations or misinterpretations of the one would live or die depending on the reinforcement or negation it received from other sources which could not be forced into a collusive arrangement. It was built-in collateral confirmation. The last bastion of the media has now witnessed the birth of a kind of informational artillery, which while still too weak to overthrow its existing walls, must surely in time grow to such a strength as to render their fortress untenable.

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Lastly, this emerging neural network of analysis cells and sensory apparatus is largely self-aware. It has developed meta-ideas about itself and can actually guide its own development, mimicking a primitive lifeform.

In summary, bloggers are nothing special. They are neither better human beings nor inherently cooler than anyone. It is simply that they have embraced one aspect of a superior paradigm and have benefited thereby. Blogger 'cool' comes from neural network 'cool'. This should be good news for Mr. Coleman. He's just as good as any blogger. The bad news is that, like them, he has to get a day job.



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