Bloggers are not remora fish

Not to belabor a much written about topic, but I had to respond to the recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal about blogs, blogging, and bloggers called: "The Blog Mob: Written by fools to be read by imbeciles."

Before I share my thoughts, I’d like to clarify something on behalf of the author of this poorly written piece. While he rails on blogging generally, he’s really talking about political/world affairs blogging. It’s clear that he doesn’t understand that not every blogger is trying to be a journalists. Some simply want to share with friends the struggles of motherhood, for instance.

Now that this lowly, clueless blogger has helped the big strong journalist actually do his job, let’s look at what he had to say.

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.

For a second, let’s assume that I agree with this premise that bloggers are simply nothing more than useless parasites who ride on the backs of "real" journalists, simply republishing existing mainstream media content. If that were the case, how useless would they be, at least for news agencies? After all, news agencies are driving by traffic/readership/viewership. If an army of bloggers are republishing and spreading your content, isn’t that a good thing for your business?

As you can imagine, I don’t believe for a second that bloggers are "remora fish". The relationship is more symbiotic, whether journalists enjoy that symbiosis or not. The author talks about how important the journalistic checks and balances is to the world and to politics. But who’s watching the watchers?

More importantly, blogs (especially the political kind) serve to activate the masses. For years, we’ve heard countless rantings, rumblings, and ruminations that the country has lost their interest in the political system. We hear that Americans simply don’t care about politics and world affairs anymore. In no small part this disinterest has been driven by a near total lack of influence on the system itself by the regular people (the imbeciles, as Rago calls us). But with blogs, we have a new found ability to influence policy, to participate in the system, and to make demands on our leaders, and yes, our journalists. Politicians and journalists don’t often see eye to eye, but apparently they both dislike the bloggers equally because of their ability to hold them to task.

More success is met in purveying opinion and comment. Some critics reproach the blogs for the coarsening and increasing volatility of political life. Blogs, they say, tend to disinhibit. Maybe so. But politics weren’t much rarefied when Andrew Jackson was president, either. The larger problem with blogs, it seems to me, is quality. Most of them are pretty awful. Many, even some with large followings, are downright appalling.

Skipping over the obvious dig on the incredible prose "Most of them are pretty awful", let’s look at the point that "quality" is the biggest issue with blogs. Quality is relative to the net you cast. In a discussion about the relative quality of journalism, I could claim that most journalism if "pretty awful" if I included any and all journalism, including high school newspapers, student papers, and cutting room floor material. Mainstream journalism simply isn’t as transparent as blogging, and clearly this journalist hasn’t done enough research on the subject to understand that.

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.

And I’m proud of it! Mob behavior isn’t always a bad thing.

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. Thus the right-leaning blogs exhaustively pursue second-order distractions–John Kerry always providing useful material–while leaving underexamined more fundamental issues, say, Iraq.

Kinda like how "real" journalists are hostage to their White House Press Passes? I defy you to watch a White House press conference (or any government press conference) and see any journalist in the crowd actually reporting. Certainly they ask questions, certainly they record answers. But how many push back when the President or any government official start in with their canned answers, their redirects, their political bullshit? When the President is asked a significant question about the situation in Iraq and answers with an angry, bullshit, off-topic answer, how many times to the journalists in the audience actually say "Sorry Mr. President, I don’t feel you actually answered my question"? Yeah, being held hostage isn’t limited to bloggers and their leanings.

This is a symbiotic relationship. We’re all in this together. Mainstream media, your job is to help us see what we couldn’t otherwise see. Our job is to make sure you stay grounded. Working together we can do great things. The more we talk about how stupid each other are, the worse off we both are.