Bloggers on the Bus

>> Monday, July 13, 2009

"Being able to come up with an analysis of what's going on, toss it around, see if it works, and then pass it on, that's really important. It's the power of explanation. If you can explain what's going on in politics and in the media, you get to define what's happening in politics and in the media. Explaining is defining, and if you do it effectively it can be very powerful. And with the blogs, we've got a place to do that now." ~Rachel Maddow, page 102-3
I was motivated to read this book for one reason: I get most of my news online; several of the blogs I follow regularly are featured in this book.

I tried not to pay too much attention to the Presidential election in '07. I knew that once the Iowa caucus happened, I wouldn't be able to escape it until Election Day. (I caucused in early February.) So, I actually ignored most political coverage on it until then. (Of course, it also helped to not have cable or be able to watch news on tv.) So the first few chapters were actually news to me. I had not heard of the "Vote Different" ad that appeared on YouTube.

I wasn't too surprised to read about Fox News' comeuppance at the hands of Robert Greenwald of Brave New Films and progressive bloggers. I was disheartened to read the story of Joe Anthony and his MySpace page for Barack Obama.

But I was excited to read about the stories of Atrios (Eschaton), Digby (Hullabaloo), Jane Hamsher (firedoglake) and John Amato (Crooks and Liars). I've become an occasional reader of Digby due to Glenn Greenwald quoting her work. Glenn has mentioned Atrios a number of times, but I had no idea who he was. Now I know. And I now have a new appreciation of Crooks and Liars after reading what Amato has gone through.

My biggest quibble with the book is the chapter on the Alaskan bloggers, "Saradise Lost." Phil Munger is the primary focus, even though Mudflats received a much larger readership after Sarah Palin became a Vice Presidential nominee. Eric Boehlert chooses to focus on Palin's Trig pregnancy conspiracy within the blogosphere, specifically at DailyKos. The reason why most people put time into writing or researching the faked pregnancy angle regarding Palin was her outrageous story of her going into labor yet skipping nearby hospitals for more than 12 hours. Something that set off thousands of bullshit detectors. A detail that Boehlert does not even mention in his recounting of the controversy last fall.

This book ultimately is a demonstration of the internet weakening the "authority" of the press. Bloggers and netroots activists were able to change the topics of conversation over and over in the media during the election cycle. Jay Rosen wrote about the ins and outs of this in his "Audience Atomization Overcome: Why the Internet Weakens the Authority of the Press" post in January of this year.
In the age of mass media, the press was able to define the sphere of legitimate debate with relative ease because the people on the receiving end were atomized— meaning they were connected “up” to Big Media but not across to each other. But today one of the biggest factors changing our world is the falling cost for like-minded people to locate each other, share information, trade impressions and realize their number. Among the first things they may do is establish that the “sphere of legitimate debate” as defined by journalists doesn’t match up with their own definition.

In the past there was nowhere for this kind of sentiment to go. Now it collects, solidifies and expresses itself online. Bloggers tap into it to gain a following and serve demand. Journalists call this the “echo chamber,” which is their way of downgrading it as a reliable source. But what’s really happening is that the authority of the press to assume consensus, define deviance and set the terms for legitimate debate is weaker when people can connect horizontally around and about the news.
An authority that also has been eroded by critiques on The Daily Show for years. The most recent example was the dust up between CNBC and The Daily Show.
JON STEWART, Host, "The Daily Show": It's the gap between what CNBC advertises itself as and what it is and the help that people need to discern this. Let me show you. This is the promo for your show.

JIM CRAMER, CNBC Anchor: OK.

JON STEWART: All right. So this is Jim Cramer's promo.

ANNOUNCER: In an economy of freefall, investments on the brink, when you don't know what to do, don't panic: Cramer's got your back. "Mad Money" with Jim Cramer.

JON STEWART: Isn't that, you know -- look, we're both snake oil salesman to a certain extent.

JIM CRAMER: I'm not disagreeing.

JON STEWART: But we do label the show at snake oil here.
The media are being forced to change if they want to continue in the new media environment. (Yes, the media are because I do not see "the media" as a single entity.) How exactly they will change remains to be seen, but the effect of blogs has been nothing short of overwhelming. When I can read insight like Glenn Greenwald's at salon.com, why would I want to read a newspaper? I can't even find in-depth analysis like his in my local newspaper. Which is why, frankly, I usually don't read newspapers.

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