Northern Valley Beacon

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Thursday, July 06, 2006


Why blogs suck

We have received some inquiries as to why there is diminished activity on progressive web logs and if I plan to resume the frequent posting level we once did.

I have never believed that blogs are particularly valuable or effective. If one believes that playground bickering and insult and abuse is significant political discourse, then one might want to keep breasted on what is being said on blogs. The only people who believe that blogs contribute information and insights into political discussions are bloggers. They like to think that they comprise a nifty little sorority (or fraternity, if you prefer) of commentators that utilize the technology in ways that are revolutionizing politics. But most blogging commentary is the kind of thing one finds on public restroom walls or down at the local tavern when the hour gets late and brains falter.

This is not to say that blogs do not represent some political attitudes. They are probably more a symptom of political attitudes than they are a cause, however.

When the Press Project got its funding and personnel together after the election of 2004 to make a catalog of rhetoric from that election in the upper Midwest, the participants raised the question of whether blogs should be included. The analysts who did the collecting and classifying of rhetoric were largely professors and journalists. Initially, none of them wanted to examine blogs. They did not think the level of scurrility and defamatory content warranted serious consideration. The director of the Project decided they should be included and found that, at first, he had to do the work himself.

The section of the Press Project report on blogs affirms what many suspected. Blogs are more the products of adolescent egos than they are of mature, well-informed brains. Bloggers spend an inordinate amount of time stroking their own erectile little egos than engaging in real political intercourse. The audience, therefore, is limited because the vast majority of people do not enjoy watching others trying to get off or participating in a circle jerk.

The Press Project did a small survey as part of its analysis of blogs to see how informed, educated people regard them. Some points:

Another factor is that most people do not like the on-line versions of newspapers and electronic media. They find they do not get a full version of the news--something that has gotten more pronounced as major media try to streamline and unclutter their web pages. And readers find pop-ups tremendously annoying and discouraging .

This is not to say that the readers are not very critical of the main stream media. They think that many smaller news organizations are no better than the blogs.

Blogs that received some good reviews from the public are Josh Marshall's "Talking Points Memo" because it tracks and develops the stories it chooses to emphasize. But in the upper Midwest, some of the web sites that received the highest confidence from readers were the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press pages. They wished that their local areas were covered as thoroughly as those newspapers cover Minnesota. They also cited the CNN, MSNBC, PBS web sites and the Google News summary as ones they frequented and found helpful and reliable. In South Dakota, educated people found Mount Blogmore a site of note. It is moderated by working journalists

Dr. Silas who oversaw the Press Project says that the mainstream news media may take much criticism from the public, but it still has a credibility factor that eclipses blogs. The publishers and producers of mainstream news organizations, he says, are missing the point if they try to compete with blogs.

The conclusion is that blogs will be with us, but that the Internet in many ways has complicated the process of disseminating information and is cumbersome and time-consuming. Busy people turn to the Internet when they want specific information, and they use search engines first.

Is blogging on the wane? Not really. It is of interest mostly to bloggers, however. Some serious political operatives are looking for more credible ways to get their messages out and engage in discussion. But as long as there are people who believe in their own preciousness, there will be blogs.

I suspect the press project and your comments on blogs shows a somewhat limited perspective on what blogs are and what they can be even if you sort of limited your comments by starting off with the idea that progressive blogs are waning.

If you wish to search for trash blogs and trash-talk blogs, they are easy enough to find. Apparently there are thousands of teenagers navel-gazing blogs which are apparently the inspiration for what is left of CBS morning news.

There are however blogs on all kinds of topics and things. Many have nothing to do with exchanging political insults.

Blogs are a remarkably simple and effective content management system. As such they can have any kind of topic and can be managed by just about anybody.

If we were to judge all newspapers by the grocery tabloids or some of the unbelievably mediocre weekly and daily papers, we might not have a very good perspective on them either.

I suspect most "real journalists" and newspaper reviewers start with a mixture of fear and loathing that makes it very, very hard for them to be even remotely objective.
I should have been more precise in asserting that I was commenting on political blogs. The Press Project analyzed all political speech it could find in the upper Midwest that occurred during the campaign of 2004 and shortly after. It's task was to take statements and assertions and check out the facts and identify those statements which contained false information or logical fallacies of rhetoric.

The work is now being turned over to scholars from various disciplines for use in larger contexts of trends and national attitude. The Project was funded in part with grant money that stipulated that the categorized materials be made available for scholarship purposes.
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