Friday, April 29, 2005

BLOG: Required Reading for Today's Information Consumers

My first post promised a Blog flog; here it is.

Hugh has divided his book into three parts. The first section is a brief historical review of the rise of print and the recent rise of blogs and how each movement has influenced the course of history. The second section takes a look at the state of blogging today and how the proliferation of blogs is fundamentally changing the way that people look at current events and the ways that they get their information. The third section presents a strategy for businesses to use the blogosphere to promote their products while simultaneously protecting themselves from blogospherical attacks. Not to be overlooked are the two appendices. The first reprints some of Hugh's columns on blogs and bloggers; the second shares many comments and insights from readers who have written to Hugh.

When I reflect on the book, four things really stood out. First, blogging is for everyone, or perhaps, Everyman. Hugh is a consistent and forceful advocate of blogging for the masses, and he deserves great credit for inspiring many bloggers (including me).

Second, the concise review of some major stories shaped by the blogosphere: Trent Lott's remarks on behalf of Strom Thurmond, The New York Times' Jayson Blair scandal and editorial staff shake-up, John Kerry's "Christmas Eve not in Cambodia" episode, and of course Rathergate.

Third, for those who are still skeptical of the spectacular fall of the MSM, Chapter 4 ("There's a New Sheriff in Town") should be committed to memory. From television ratings to newspaper circulation figures, Hugh presents and analyzes hard data to develop a compelling case for why the MSM should be mortally fearful.

The fourth thing I took from the book was Hugh's exploration of the mechanics of the phenomenon known as "blog swarms". This really struck home due to this phenomenon's resemblance to the mechanics of the next great technological revolution: nanotechnology. I can't recall if Hugh drew the comparison to nanotechnology, and a quick review of the book didn't yield any results. My apologies if not properly credited. I had not thought of blogs in those terms before, but the concept of distributed tiny units networking together to accomplish a goal is as astonishingly simple as it is effective. The link above has some fascinating reading on the state of nanotechnology today. For a look at a potential darkside of nanotechnology, try Michael Crichton's Prey.

For anyone interested in blogs and blogging, or just news and opinion, Blog should be considered must-reading. You don't have to slog through a tome of great learning to gain insight. Blog is a pretty quick read, and the time investment can pay off handsomely for anyone willing to follow through on Hugh's command to "start now"!

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

LA Press Club Hosts Bloggers and the MSM

For my inaugural post on this blog, I decided to write about what I saw and heard at a gathering hosted by the LA Press Club at the LA Atheltic Club. As with many other people, I was alerted to this event and inspired to attend by the Blogfather himself, Hugh Hewitt. As the Press Club's posted invitation indicates, the purpose of the event was to explore the effects of blogs upon the MSM in general and in particular upon such icons as the LA Times. For anyone who has read Blog, Hugh's views on this topic are well known if not legendary. If you're not familiar, get the book. Like the best blogs, Hugh's book affirms that brevity is the soul of wit without sacrificing substance in the effort. But I digress; a full Blog flog will follow.

Aside from the opportunity to meet some of the best bloggers out there, I was most interested in this event to witness first hand two things: 1)The reaction of the crowd and 2) How the MSM would represent itself.

With respect to item (1), Hugh had wondered aloud, perhaps rhetorically, whether the crowd would "boo and hiss" in the manner he had experienced at the Los Angeles Festival of books. I would say that the crowd numbered between 50 and 75 people and seemed pretty positive and supportive of blogs. During the Q&A session, the barbs tossed from the audience were aimed primarily at the MSM in the person of Bob Sipchen who is the Sunday Opinion editor at the LA Times. Nothing nasty or viscious, just pointed questions on the MSM's position in the new world of information. This kind of civil exchange of ideas stands in stark contrast to the MoveOn-inspired shrill foolishness and stupidity that Hugh experienced on Monday night. Based on Hugh's remarks in his blog, I was half-expecting at least some MoveOn-style nonsense, but I'll have to live with the disappointment.

But when it came to my second objective, observing the MSM's self-defense, I was not disappointed. Bob Sipchen was the point man for this, and in his brief remarks made some statements that were striking for what they revealed about the mindset of the media old guard. Drawing upon the Grey Lady battleship motif, he admitted that in the past large newspapers like the LAT did act like battleships that plowed ahead oblivious to their surroundings and feeling immune to detractors. He compared these detrators to people in small boats flinging dead fish at the seemingly impervious sides of the mighty dreadnought on Spring Street. He acknowledged that the advent and explosion of the blogosphere had changed all that, but tellingly did not elaborate on how he perceived the changes to be manifesting themselves. Bob acknowleged and applauded the leading role of the blogosphere in exposing the "forged documents" (his words) of Rathergate, but moments later declared that a primary advantage of old-fashioned reporters over bloggers is the former's role as "BS detectors". Huh? Where were these detectors when Free Republic, Little Green Footballs, and Powerline began the charge on Rathergate? Where were they when Captain Ed began spreading the word on the Canadian government's Adscam scandle? Has he forgotten about Eason Jordan? Bob also posited the theory that bloggers could be more susceptible than traditional reporters to outside influence from corporate "sponsors". He used the example of the unflattering blog chatter on the continuing troubles of General Motors; the idea was that GM would lean on selected bloggers to change their opinions and voila, a new image is born. Like the "BS detectors", this concept also ignores the facts of recent events. Revelations about undisclosed financial ties have damaged the reputations of blogs (and writers) across the politcal spectrum from the election campaingn of John Thune to Armstrong Williams to DailyKos. Many prominent bloggers have attested to the speed with which the blogosphere pounces on factual errors and inconsistencies, and the cases above illustrate how there are really are no secrets; eventually someone spills the beans on "secret" deals. To me it is inconceivable that a blogger could bow to this theortical commercial pressure without the phoniness of the position and the impropriety of the relationship both being revealed for all the world to see.

Despite his statements seeming to acknowledge the nature of the information revolution (or reformation in Hugh's words), Bob Sipchen's comments together indicate that the media old guard is unwilling or unable to accept the truth of the fundamental changes underway. To them, questions about the advances of the blogosphere seem to end up with "Yeah, but..." as they continue to defend the perceived preeminence of dinosaurs like the LAT and NYT. This stubbornness can only exacerbate their decline.

Best Lines Of the Evening: Mickey Kaus. In less than one minute Mickey fired off such zingers as "I agree that it would be a shame if traditional newspapers closed down, just not the LA Times" and "The LA Times is like the Lands End catalog of newspapers. They think they are a newspaper, but they're not changing fast enough."

Gagger of the Evening: Bob Sipchen. I couldn't quite hear the question from the audience, but it was something about the quality of LAT columnists, with a reference to Steve Lopez (think Nick Coleman goes west). Bob's "praise": "Steve is strong voice". Yeah, so is Howard Dean.

UPDATE: A belated welcome to Hugh Hewitt readers! Thanks to Hugh for the plug. Sorry for the delayed response; long work hours this week and an energy-sapping cold torpedoed my blogging the past couple of days.