Blogs: the future of political journalism?
A New York debate about blogging was big on buzz but short on ideas.
As the US election approaches, what is the role for blogs?
A meeting entitled ‘Blogs: The Future of Political Journalism?’ in New York on 10 August addressed these issues. Chaired by Bryan Keefer (of Columbia Journal Review’s campaigndesk.org and his own site spinsanity.com), it was filmed for C-Span television with Jeff Jarvis of buzzmachine.com, Geraldine Sealey of salon.com and Daniel Radosh of radosh.net.
All the humdingers that have been bandied around about blogs – websites in diary format – in the past couple of years were hot on the lips of the speakers (1). Keefer kicked off by telling us that he had been blogging for a couple of years, and ‘in the spirit of blogging let’s keep it informal – the panel should just jump in when they want’.
After an overlong explanation about what blogs were, Jarvis revealed that he started blogging after 9/11 as he had more to say than his newspaper articles, and that ‘it is the most exciting thing I have done professionally’. More superlative declarations followed, including that blogging ‘embodies a new relationship with “us” the audience’ and that ‘now the people own the printing press and have the power to talk and be heard’.
At a time of political passivity, the idea that we are witnessing some kind of ascendancy of the common people to disseminate ideas throughout society just doesn’t ring true.
Jarvis took up the baton. ‘The first thing to do is to listen – this is a new chance to hear what people are really saying and thinking…in Denny’s!’ It is strange that a pundit can suggest that the cutting edge of the exchange of ideas is occurring in a fast-food joint. Today’s cultural establishment often promotes a watering down of ideas in the name of ‘the people’. But the dumbing down of our discourse and culture by officials is a consequence of their own uncertainty about their ideas and mission. Jarvis sealed his point by announcing that he gave up his seat as a journalist at the convention so that an ‘ordinary person’ could be accredited.
Geraldine Sealey was far more measured, making the point that having previously been at ABC News as senior editor with a team of news gatherers, Salon’s focus was journalism – and this required maintaining high standards in reporting and writing.
On the question of the influence of blogging on political debate, Sealey made the point that well-known pundits such as Paul Krugman from the New York Times quotes The Daily Howler blogger (Bob Somerby) regularly – so an impact is clearly being made. Then Radosh offered the suggestion that the impact of blogging was to ensure further checking of historical references and sources, which otherwise may not occur.
Radosh was the most honest about the level of engagement with most blogs, with many bloggers leaving sites after only a short time. But when Keefer asked Radosh why he thought bloggers would have no effect on the election, he was at a loss.
Nowhere in the debate though, did anyone discuss politics – instead, there was a low-level discussion about lifestyle activity. In the end, the buzz about blogs’ potential to reconfigure politicial debate just seemed to emphasise how low our notion of ‘debate’ has sunk.
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