February 17, 2005

Why We Blog

Peggy Noonan's latest editorial discusses the world of blogging. She makes the following general comments:

The bloggers have...freedom. They have the still pent-up energy of a liberated citizenry, too. The MSM [main stream media] doesn't. It has lost its old monopoly on information. It is angry.

But MSM criticism of the blogosphere misses the point, or rather points.

Blogging changes how business is done in American journalism. The MSM isn't over. It just can no longer pose as if it is The Guardian of Established Truth. The MSM is just another player now. A big one, but a player.

She then describes the power of the blogosphere:

1. They use the tools of journalists (computer, keyboard, a spirit of inquiry, a willingness to ask the question) and of the Internet (Google, LexisNexis) to look for and find facts that have been overlooked, ignored or hidden...What they are looking for is information that is true. When they get it they post it and include it in the debate. This is a public service.

2. Bloggers, unlike reporters at elite newspapers and magazines, are independent operators. They are not, and do not have to be, governed by mainstream thinking. Nor do they have to accept the directives of an editor pushing an ideology or a publisher protecting his friends...[it] is true of bloggers: It's a story if they say it is. This is a public service.

3. Bloggers have an institutional advantage in terms of technology and form. They can post immediately...This is a public service.

4. Bloggers are also selling the smartest take on a story. They're selling an original insight, a new area of inquiry. Mickey Kaus of Kausfiles has his bright take, Andrew Sullivan had his, InstaPundit has his. They're all selling their shrewdness, experience, depth. This too is a public service.

5. And they're doing it free...This too is a public service...That you get it free doesn't mean commerce isn't involved, for it is. It is intellectual commerce. Bloggers give you information and point of view. In return you give them your attention and intellectual energy. They gain influence by drawing your eyes; you gain information by lending your eyes...They get something from it and so do you.

6. It is not true that there are no controls...What governs members of the blogosphere is what governs to some degree members of the MSM, and that is the desire for status and respect. In the blogosphere you lose both if you put forward as fact information that is incorrect, specious or cooked...The great correcting mechanism for people on the Web is people on the Web...their agendas are mostly declared.

7. I don't know if the blogosphere is rougher in the ferocity of its personal attacks...If you can't take it, you shouldn't be thinking aloud for a living. The blogosphere is tough. But are personal attacks worth it if what we get in return is a whole new media form that can add to the true-information flow while correcting the biases and lapses of the mainstream media? Yes. Of course.

In a nutshell, the liberty which is at the heart of the American experiment requires an engaged, informed citizenry. Citizens can only be engaged and informed when there are genuine public debates on major issues.

Over the years, the MSM became a one-sided ideological engine whose mission - implicit or otherwise - was to promote its view of the world. That inhibited open public debates. Politicians promoting their own self-interest have been no less prone to trying to control and limit the public debate. (Just look at Rhode Island House Speaker William Murphy, for example.)

By contrast, we do not try to stifle disagreements because our underlying motivation is to lift the quality of the public debate and let the best ideas win. We have conservative political leanings at AnchorRising. But not even all of us have identical views on all the issues. That is not only okay, but we celebrate it. It is why we will criticize certain ideas of other conservatives when we believe they are expressing misguided thoughts. We expect no less in return. That is why we welcome other sites which express alternative opinions in conflict with ours. After all, this is America!

The bottom line is that most bloggers are not afraid of open, even contentious, public debates. Democracy is, by its nature, a messy process. I believe that the blogosphere's major contribution, the "what we do," is to bring a fearless focus on putting previously unpublished empirical facts into the public debate, thereby lifting the rigor of the debate. That has advanced the cause of freedom.

In closing, it is no less important to keep a perspective on "how we do it." With that in mind, I would reiterate a quote from William Voegli that was contained in a separate posting:

The inevitable post-election blather about unity fails to make the crucial distinction. A healthy democracy does not require blurring political differences. But it must find a way to express those differences forcefully without anathematizing people who hold different views.
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In his trackback commentary, JimSpot offers some interesting thoughts on blogging.

I believe his excerpt from a The Truth Laid Bear posting is a good one. It is true that writing – of any kind – forces a writer to achieve a level of clarity and quality in his/her own thinking that may not otherwise happen. That is a good thing.

I also acknowledge that many blog sites emphasize some personal interests of the writer. Those sites are also to be celebrated but they are, frankly, less relevant to the point I was trying to make.

I also agree with him that Peggy Noonan’s article is focused primarily on those bloggers whose activities most closely parallel those of the MSM. I believe it is a relevant focus because it is those bloggers who have had the most public impact in recent months and who garner the strongest reaction from the MSM.

These bloggers are the ones challenging the previous dominance of the MSM and that is where I disagree with JimSpot: While the MSM may be an outlet for dissemination of information, there are numerous examples of where it has been a poor one and that is where the blogosphere has taken the opportunity to disseminate both information and ideas, not just the latter as JimSpot suggests. I, therefore, am not convinced that the blogosphere needs the MSM. I think the future of the blogosphere/MSM interaction is like any early entrepreneurial endeavor: it will, over time, end up taking paths nobody can predict today.

Now, as to JimSpot’s suggestion that my posting has missed some bigger point and I could be taking myself too seriously, I must beg to differ.

I write because I genuinely believe the words in the excerpt quoted by JimSpot: Liberty does require an engaged, informed citizenry and achieving that requires open, public debates. That principle has nothing to do with me personally; it is a concept that dates back to the American Founding. And, as I have noted elsewhere, it is a principle always in need of rejuvenation. We live in a great and unique country, as this posting reminds us. Apathy is an easy way to lose touch with our heritage – and we cannot allow that to happen because our children and grandchildren deserve the same freedom and opportunity.

I am fortunate to have a great day job. I am also fortunate to have lived the American Dream, which was made possible by the support of a loving family, the power of a good education, and a lot of hard work.

I write because I am passionate about doing my part to ensure each American citizen has the same freedom to live out the American Dream in their life. On a more granular level, I write because Rhode Island is a state that offers up a losing combination of oppressive taxation, poor public education, and a political culture of cronyism largely unmatched elsewhere. Those awful attributes mean our state is inhibiting the less fortunate from a clean shot at the Dream and that is morally wrong. Serving several years in local school government only served to reinforce the need for and importance of speaking out.

History shows that individuals can make a difference – some large and some small, but all valuable in their own way. I only hope that, as we grow old, each of us will be able to reflect on our life and say we made a valiant effort to leave the world a better place (to paraphrase Micah 6:8) by loving justice, showing kindness, and walking humbly with our God.

Posted by: Donald B. Hawthorne at February 22, 2005 10:52 PM