too nice for words?

Longtime blogger Jonathan V. Last (who once seemed to like blogging) seems to be on an anti-blogging kick, as evidenced by his editorial blast -- titled Blog Humbug! -- in today's Philadelphia Inquirer. Among other things, I found it a little disturbing to see Last praise censorship advocate Andrew Keen's anti-blogging broadside as a "substantive critique."

What fascinates me about this is not so much that a longtime blogger would attack his medium. (Frankly, I hate blogging much of the time -- simple burnout being a primary reason.) It's the mechanics of how. For Last, this involves the way he defines blogging:

the biggest evil of blogs is that first flaw, blogging's original sin: the discounting of news-gathering in favor of news analysis. Bloggers are forever telling us how easy journalism is, yet very few of them have ever really practiced it. Sure, they may have written opinion pieces that compare favorably to the work of Molly Ivins or Ann Coulter, but opinion writing is a tiny - and let's be honest, inconsequential - corner of the journalism world. Real journalism - the practice of adding to the store of public knowledge by reporting news - is a difficult, thankless, and often unpleasant task. Bloggers want no part of it. Everyone wants E.J. Dionne's job; no one wants to be Michael Dobbs.
Well, that's fair enough (in my case, that is). I never wanted to be a news reporter, and I never will. How that's a criticism of me (or blogging) I am not sure. Perhaps there are bloggers who want to be reporters or who claim that they've replaced them, but I make no such claim. I don't want to interview anyone or report anything, and I don't claim or pretend to be fair in my analyses. My opinions are simply my opinions, although I do try to be logical and I also try to distinguish opinion from fact.

As to "news analysis," does that really "discount" news? I fail to see how. Last does not explain. As it happens, I want more fact-based news and less editorial or emotional news, so my criticism of news stories I dislike is largely related to that. But debunking or discounting emotion does not discount the gathering of facts. And isn't "news" supposed to involve the gathering and reporting of facts? I can't speak for other bloggers, but I have never been opposed to such a thing, and I honestly do not understand Last's criticism.

Then there's his criticism of blogs for bad writing:

the blog does not value well-crafted writing. Except for Mark Steyn and James Lileks, it's hard to pick out even three beautiful writers from the millions of bloggers.

Again, the fault here lies with the medium: Being a good writer helps a blogger about as much as a good singing voice helps a broadcast anchor.

Take out these two essentials - news-gathering and prose style - and what are you left with? A medium that values speed, volume, and vehemence. While none of these traits is antithetical to good journalism, none of them is particularly conducive to it, either. (Emphasis added.)

My writing style does not compare with Steyn or Lileks (or even James Wolcott, whose style I admire) and I never claimed it did. I can't be the judge of whether I'm guilty of bad writing, and I've noticed that whether or not people like a particular post has nothing to do with whether I liked it or how long it took me to write it. Quite coincidentally, I commented on this earlier:
I don't mean to whine here -- even though I am -- but there's something about the finishing and posting of a long essay which ought to be enjoyable, in the way accomplishments are said to be enjoyable. But any sense of accomplishment is quickly ruined by the certainty of knowing that it's "just another blog post," and if I don't get something up in another couple of hours, the blog will be as dead as a doornail. Because of the medium, a long post attempting to analyze mistaken assumptions I might feel were made during Christianity's infancy in the Roman empire is -- like it or not -- the "moral equivalent" of a one-liner throwaway sarcastic aside involving Mick Jagger or Paris Hilton. It's tough, but that's the medium. Sometimes, it disturbs me to stop and consider that no normal person would blog daily essays for a period of years. But then, is there any rule that I have to be my own shrink?
In this medium, you just suck it up and move on. Or quit blogging.

It is certainly possible that by Jonathan Last's stated blogospheric standards (speed, volume, and vehemence), I am indeed in the wrong medium. First of all, I lack the necessary speed ("four or five times a day, five days a week, 50 weeks of the year"). Loser that I am, sometimes I'll spend an entire day laboring over one lousy post.

As to volume, well, that depends on interpretation. My posts are voluminous enough because they are long, but is that what he means by the word "volume"? Might he mean quantity, as in number of posts? Or might he mean volume in decibel terms? (Actually, that would be metaphoric, as the written word is not literally loud, EVEN IF YOU FEEL COMPELLED TO SHOUT!)

Last but not least (sorry; didn't mean it that way!), insufficient vehemence may also be a legitimate criticism of this blog. Justin (who knows me better than most people) has accused me of being "too nice," and it may be true.

Anyway, this Jonathan Last sure knows how to hurt a blogger's feelings. I may be a failure as a blogger precisely because I don't do those things Last says are necessary features of blogging. My bad, I guess.

But what if I opted for speed, volume, and vehemence?

I'd still be bad, wouldn't I?

And I'd still lose, because I'd probably never be able to really put that ugly nice past behind me.

Obviously, the nice thing to do is to shut up.

(I won't even bother with an old cliche. Was that nice or what?)

MORE: I neglected to mention that Jonathan V. Last is also the online editor of the Weekly Standard.

My apologies. Important and relevant details (like, say, a leading blogger's status as a law professor) should never be omitted. (I meant no such disrespect.)

posted by Eric on 04.23.06 at 01:29 PM


His critique is less than impressive.

(1)Sure news reporting is sometimes harder work than blogging, but the fact is that news reporters are well paid for the work they do, and they have a massive support system to help them, from sophiscated camera teams, to batteries of lawyers. And news reporting is a lot less dangerous and stressful that a host of other jobs in the real world. So reporters win no special prizes or virtue simply by being part of the media. They are getting paid, unlike most bloggers. They aren't all that..

2) News types make much of their claim of "objective analysis" compared to those ranting, emotional bloggers. But in fact their claims to objectivity are often wanting. Indeed it is common for news organizations to slant the news. Examples are too numerous to mention, but race, gender or Middle East coverage are excellent places to start. And it is not only slanting but outright falsehood that is too often the case. Rathergate and Katrina are but drops in the bucket. If news types are going to tar and feather all bloggers as anti-social pajama clad ravers, then let them apply that same approach to their own profession, and to ALL its participants. It is not a pretty sight. Jason Blair anyone?

3) As for "values speed, volume, and vehemence" the mainstream media's record along these lines is less than sterling. How often has it illustrated "speed" as in the haste to "spin" yet another liberal/left angle on a story, or in its haste to publish the "authenticated" documents of Rathergate? As for volume, how often has said media beat the drum for its own agendas- pumping up slanted or overly dramatic versions of stories ad infinitum, while carefully burying the facts elsewhere? Who delights in more volume that the MSM with endlessly loud saturation coverage of anything that creates tawdry spectacle- like aspects of the atrocious Katrina coverage? As for vehemence, again, who is more expert than the MSM in its spite and denigration of those who hold "incorrect" thoughts- whether it be in some stories involving evangelicals for example, or its biased coverage of Israel's attempts to defend itself against terrorism? Speed, volume and vehemence pretty much sums up the MSM in more ways than one.

The blogsphere is full of junk, like every other medium. The ratio of quality to dreck is predictable. But the MSM also needs to clean up its own bias and inaccuracy. In fact, if it would do this, then it would go a long way towards putting many bloggers OUT of business. What a concept.

Enrique Cardova   ·  April 24, 2006 2:12 AM

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