George Will first called bloggers inconsequential narcissists on ABC's Sunday news show. Now he has written this article in the Washington Post. It is strange that he should be talking of narcissism - he who is a Washington Post / Newsweek syndicated columnist and a permanent pundit on ABC TV with an opinion on everything from baseball to Baghdad .
There is no doubt that most of the voices in the blogosphere are inconsequential (including mine) and blogs for the most part, constitute an echo chamber for like minded folks. But then so is the case for much of the MSM. There are differences in the outlooks of readers of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal or the Omaha World Herald. Or those who watch Fox News or listen to NPR. While a large portion of the blogosphere caters to narcissistic musings and personal blather, much of it does not. It is a mistake to call the entire medium trivial. Does the existence of the National Enquirer as a member of the print media make the NYT and the Washington Post irrelevant? Even those blogs whose main daily function is to act as aggregators of MSM news links (Huffington Post, 3 Quarks Daily) are serving the useful purpose of making items from different sources available to those who have missed an important story or don't have the time to surf the internet. Other bloggers do parallel reporting and commentary - some of it very good. Bloggers have lit a fire under the feet of MSM big wigs (including the pompous Mr. Will) who are losing their captive and until now, mute audience, as well as the sense of their own smug infallibility. Until the "world wide web" pointed the microphone toward the voice of the silent majority, the MSM was safe in churning out one sided pontification on world matters and in deciding which story was worth presenting to the unwashed masses. Critique from the audience was mostly non-existent (letters to the editor have to withstand editorial scrutiny). The big boys - the pols and the media types were the only ones engaged in debates in their incestuous power based relationship. Now with the explosion of blogs, John and Jane Doe are letting them know how they view them both. MSM's primary function hasn't been supplanted by bloggers who are not into investigative journalism and old fashioned reporting. What they do well is react, challenge, analyze and dissect what the MSM pros put out as worthy news and commentary. They also sometimes push a story considered "inconsequential" by the big media on to the front pages. (The You Tube video of George Allen's macaca gaffe is the best known recent example.) In doing so, they are exposing the defects, weaknesses and biases of the MSM. The wise men and women of yore don't look so wise any more with the constant pressure of the instant feed back. And that must be discomfiting and unnerving for media aristocrats like George Will who can suddenly hear the voice of the proletariat. Hence the attack.
The blogosphere is still evolving and it will go through its own cleansing and shake ups. Once the novelty wears off (or life gets busy) many bloggers will drop off. I am not sure if they will be replaced by an equal number. I doubt it. Those who will remain, will do so on the basis of their credibility and tenaciousness. Given the cowardly, craven stance of the MSM in the run up to the disastrous Iraq war, how great is their own credibility? It was in fact some of the "narcissistic" bloggers who had the courage to scream "bloody murder" and "foolhardy foible" from day one. They were derided as anti-American and unpatriotic. They have been fully vindicated and Will has now joined them in their chorus of contempt for the Bush administration.
"Time magazine asked a large number of people to name the Person of the Year. They were in a populist mood and named the largest possible number of Persons of the Year: Everybody.
Of course. The most capacious modern entitlement is not to Social Security but to self-esteem. So Time's cover features a mirror-like panel. The reader -- but why bother to read the magazine when merely gazing at its cover gives immediate and intense gratification? -- can gaze at the reflection of his or her favorite person. Narcissism is news? Evidently.
To the person looking at his reflection, Time's cover announces, congratulations: "You control the Information Age." By "control" Time means only that everyone is created equal -- equally entitled to create content for the World Wide Web, which is controlled by neither law nor taste.
Richard Stengel, Time's managing editor, says, "Thomas Paine was in effect the first blogger" and "Ben Franklin was essentially loading his persona into the MySpace of the 18th century, 'Poor Richard's Almanack.' " Not exactly.
Franklin's extraordinary persona informed what he wrote but was not the subject of what he wrote. Paine was perhaps history's most consequential pamphleteer. There are expected to be 100 million bloggers worldwide by the middle of 2007, which is why none will be like Franklin or Paine. Both were geniuses; genius is scarce. Both had a revolutionary civic purpose, which they accomplished by amazing exertions. Most bloggers have the private purpose of expressing themselves for their own satisfaction. There is nothing wrong with that, but there is nothing demanding or especially admirable about it, either. They do it successfully because there is nothing singular about it, and each is the judge of his or her own success.
There are, however, essentially no reins on the Web -- few means of control and direction. That is good, but it vitiates the idea that the Web's chaos of entertainment, solipsism and occasional intellectual seriousness and civic engagement is anything like a polity (a "digital democracy"). Time's bow to the amateurs who are, it strangely suggests, no longer obscure, and in the same game that Time is in, is refuted by a glance -- which is all an adult will want -- at YouTube's most popular videos."