. . . Monday July 19, 2004

Baseless Attack on Baselessness

Here is a great trick when it comes to writing opinion pieces. First you set up a false argument as if it had been made by many others and is already widely accepted. Then you dismantle that argument and replace it with your own alternative take. The alternative take (as long as you’ve controlled your Red Bull intake) will, of course, sound superior to the frivolous one you essentially invented for the purpose of destroying it.

And so it goes with today’s LA Times Commentary on the blogging of the Convention, titled Bloggers are the Sizzle, Not the Steak (a headline that may have been sponsored by the folks at Atkins – I prefer to think of Bloggers as the Steam and not the Cauliflower).

The commentary’s author, Alex Jones, explains the following:

1. “But make no mistake, this moment of blogging legitimization – and temporary press credentials – doesn’t turn bloggers into journalists.”

Here is the false argument created to ultimately benefit the rest of the commentary. First, Jones assumes that the giving out of media credentials marks a moment of blogging legitimization. While I’ll admit that my mom is pretty impressed by the fact that I got a media pass, I personally think the millions and millions of readers, including many of those in the mainstream press, legitimized blogging more than the Democratic Party’s very smart marketing decision. And second, who says bloggers want to be journalists (assuming we can all even agree on what a journalist is) or that the issuing of credentials turns them into anything other than bloggers who have a ticket to the Fleet Center?

2. “However, bloggers, with few exceptions, don’t add reporting to the personal views they post online, and they see journalism as bound by norms and standards that they reject.”

This is, ironically, a statement without any supportive evidence. Who are the few exceptions? Which bloggers have rejected the norms of journalism? Most of my favorite bloggers are currently or have been part of the traditional press. What Jones fails to mention anywhere in this piece is that there is a difference between reporting journalism, opinion journalism, satirical journalism, etc. Reporters get passes to conventions. And so do columnists who will share anything from their own biased opinions to their personal experiences at the event. Some bloggers, like those who experienced Iraq firsthand or those who published critical, information and photos covering what was happening at Ground Zero on 9-11 are more like reporters. Other bloggers offer nothing but opinion. Sounds a lot like the mix offered by nearly every media conglomerate on earth, no?

Certainly transcript of an interview conducted by a blogger is no less journalistic than the same one offered up by a traditional journalist. And certainly the opinion of a blogger (who has meritoriously built a following via personal branding alone) is no less valid than the opinion of Sean Hannity (the same could be said for the printed material on the side of a Fruit Loop box)?

Interestingly, Jones is making this argument in a piece that is much more like the blog writing he describes. It’s all opinion and conjecture. There are no interviews. There are no examples. I’m not trying to defend bloggers here. I’m just pointing out that what we have here is a straight up opinion piece that criticizes bloggers for writing opinion pieces.

3. “However, if history is any indicator, such earnestness will attract those who would exploit it, and they include some canny, inventive people. There is already talk of bloggers who would consider publishing items for cash and commercial blogs that tout products.”

Alex Jones is writing this in a commercial newspaper that regularly touts products. If an individual blogger can do the same (make money off his/her writing) without needed the assistance of a global brand, that sounds pretty cool to me. What I don’t understand is how being more like a mainstream publication makes a blogger less like a traditional journalist.

4. “That encourages these common attributes of the blogosphere: vulgarity, scorching insults, bitter denunciations, one-sided arguments, erroneous assertions and the array of qualities that might be expected from a blustering know-it-all in a bar.”

OK, and how is this is different from every political pundit who’s ever lived?

5. “With the status conferred by convention credentials, blogging has arrived as an engaging, important new player in the information carnival. But should blogging displace traditional reporting and journalism, as some in the blogosphere predict it will, then the steak will have been swapped for the sizzle. It’s better to have both.”

OK, who are the “some in the blogosphere [who] predict it will … displace traditional reporting?” Every blog I visit feartures endless links to articles served up by traditional journalists. Of course it’s better to have both journalists and bloggers. Who is arguing the opposite?

No one. There will be no rebuttal to the major thesis of Jones’ opinion piece because the debate was invented for impact. That’s why even though the article in question made it into the LA Times, it probably wouldn’t have made it into many of the blogs I read. No steak, no sizzle. Just sort of a raw diet plate.

Find me a drunk, blustering know-it-all, and fast.

Concentration is important!