Sunday, November 14, 2004

The political impact of blogging

I didn't attend this meeting, but if Wonkette's paraphrased comments to the Online News Association about what blogs do for politics -- namely make mainstream news outlets move faster -- represent her complete view, then she's selling the medium low and short. That's because one of the biggest problems with the media these days is the short news cycle: when everything moves so quickly, it's hard to tell what's significant, and it's hard to know what anything means.

This article also (rightly) celebrates the blogosphere for not letting the media off the hook when they make mistakes. For example, bloggers were crucial in helping to unmask that CBS had been hoaxed with the National Guard documents.

But this article doesn't consider that the Internet is part of the reason why CBS didn't check out the documents as thoroughly as they should have: the speed of the news cycle made CBS afraid of getting scooped. That's no excuse for CBS's derilection of its professional responsibilities, of course. But it does suggest that if the only virtue of blogging is to accelerate already hyperactive information flows, then we're not doing as much as we should, and maybe we're actually making things worse.

What I'd like to believe is that blogging offers a chance not just to shorten the news cycle or to improve post-publication fact-checking, but rather to better digest and interpret the news, in other words, to put the news in the right context. In this sense, bloggers should see themselves not as trying to speed things up, but rather to slow things down, to help readers consider more carefully what they're seeing and hearing. In short, political bloggers should be trying to reclaim the meaning of the news from the canned hermeneutics of the professional spinmeisters and pundits.

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