Friday, May 11, 2007

Bloggity Blog Part The First - The Media

This will be my long rambling response to various things which have been floating around with respect to Chait's TNR article and other related things.

A fascinating thing about the rise of blogs with respect to the media is that for some reason blogs have caused them to confront and deal with all kinds of questions about media roles which they spent a lot of time ignoring. When pressed about their craft, journalists, and especially print journalists, generally retreat into some sort of Platonic Journalist Ideal. They dismiss all of the lesser forms of journalism, those which deviate from this imagined ideal, as being something distinct from what they do. For some individual journalists there's some validity to this, as they mostly stick to their primary role and resist the temptation to go on the teevee and start talking about the news instead of reporting it, but for the media system as a whole these distinctions have long been rather meaningless.

The media system has long included players other than The Journalist. Political hacks get their time on CNN and are (often anonymous) sources for print journalists. Rush Limbaugh does election night analysis for NBC and goes on Katie Couric's show to do commentary. Journalists regularly mix it up with hacks and ideologues (usually conservatives) on the various roundtable programs. Think tank "experts" with overt agendas fill the hours on NPR. Mark Halperin gets down on his knees to beg for Hugh Hewitt's approval. Pat Buchanan is on MSNBC constantly. And, of course, Matt Drudge Rules Their World. All of these players in tandem provide legitimacy to each other, and reinforce the notion to casual consumers that they are in effect all the same beast.

All of this was true before blogs, as was the exisence 35 year conservative attack on mainstream media institutions. Still, there's something about blogs which really bothers them. There are various somewhat unrelated reasons for this I think. One is general anxiety about their profession and a tendency to blame the internets and blogs for those anxieties. Two is that it's perhaps easier to not listen to Rush Limbaugh than it is to ignore easily digested bits of text. Three is that their existence degrades the value of punditry and the elite station of tenured pundits, which has long been the gold watch awarded at the end of a long career doing harder journalism. Four is that they were used to hearing and internalizing the conservative critique of what they do, and they don't know how to react to a sustained critique from the left. Five is that since text is the medium it's more obviously similar to what they do so they feel the need to distinguish themselves somehow.

This last bit (combined with three) is what largely motivates Chait I think. He feels the the need to define what he does as somehow different or more pure than the undifferentiated mass of bloggers. That's fine if it makes him happy, but the distinctions he tries to draw are largely meaningless. Sure what Jon Chait does is different than what I do, but what I do is different than what Markos does, which is different than what Jane does, which is different from what Bob Herbert does, which is different from what Pat Buchanan does, which is different than what Chris Matthews does. There's never been one definable pundit hat and job description. Some are a bit more partisan, some practice a bit more advocacy, some are completely dishonest hacks, some are uninformed if well-intentioned, some do a noble job of making complex issues accessible to readers, some think their navels speak for America, etc... Chait wants to set himself, or perhaps TNR and punditry generally, as distinct from the dirty bloggers. Again, if it makes him happy to carve out some special category of punditry and place himself in it that's fine with me, but what would be more interesting is for media people to take all of these issues and questions they have with blogs and apply them to the media landscape more generally.

The point I'm trying to make is that for some reasons blogs have caused many members in the media to raise lots of questions about just what the proper roles of journalists and pundits are, but instead of directing these questions at themselves and the general system in which they operate they've directed them at bloggers. It's weird, really.

...adding, as was suggested in comments, the elite pundit status really went away when conservative affirmative action kicked in and newspapers started running syndicated columns by people like Malkin and Goldberg.