Thursday, November 17, 2005

What are bloggers for?

So, the question du jour is: are blogs "views you can use"? Or are they a new form of reportage?

The grounds of Ms. Alexander's complaint seem to be that people are saying things and discussing things via blogs without benefit of editors or the restrictions of a one-way conversation. Oh, and also not for pay. Or if it is for pay, then that's the problem.

The only way I can understand her complaint, indeed, is that blogs don't allow the mainstream media to decide what the national conversation will be. Mind, this is not a new situation; but the urge for control may be a logical outgrowth of the "objective" "professionalism" of journalism, something that "Citizen Kane" reminds us, is of fairly recent vintage.

In 19th century America, the hey-day of the newspaper, all newspapers were biased and carried a particular political and social point of view. It was expected, and you bought the newspaper that fit your interests. "Special interest" newspapers that still exist today, especially in large urban areas like New York City and Houston (I live near a Korean newspaper publisher; there are more than a few Spanish language newspapers on almost every street corner; none of these, of course, rival the distribution of the "major newspaper" in town, the Houston Chronicle). are faint echoes of these 19th century papers.

The control of public opinion reached its nadir under the "yellow journalism" of people like Randolph Hearst (Welles' target, as everyone knows). Such journalism led to the "reform" of the objective standards for journalism, for "professionalism" (try to imagine H.L. Mencken as a "professional journalist") championed by Joseph Pulitzer and then canonized in the form of Edward R. Murrow (currently starring as a candidate for sainthood in George Clooney's new movie "Good Night, and Good Luck," although I'd never heard of Murrow in connection with the rise and fall of McCarthy, and many say he, like contemporary journalists, jumped on the train long after it had left the station).

Then "media" slowly and inexorably became "media," and just as slowly and inexorably became "corporate." And more relentlessly, became entirely one-way.

You can't talk back to the newspaper (nor are they required to publish your letter when you do); and when it is the only paper in town (I still remember when Houston, 4th largest city in the country, was a "tw0-newspaper town"; no longer). You can't talk back to the TV. You can talk back to the radio, but only if you get past the screener.

You can always have a conversation on a blog.

I'm a big believer in conversations. They change people. It isn't dialectic, exactly, not one force reacting to another force, and the encounter creating a third force. But it is entirely, and dare I say peculiarly, human. And as such, too valuable to lose, which is why we refuse to let go of it. Our culture, our religions, our science, our business, our societies, all are built on conversation. It is more powerful than sex, more transforming than love or war, more multifarious and multivalent than any single person's imagination. It is, to almost prove Hume right, almost where we find human identity, the human "self."

So is that Ms. Alexander's problem? Is that what bothers her? That blogs allow for conversations?

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