Cover Girl

The newspaper industry is very, very slowly coming to grips with the rise of a new technology which delivers news cheaper, faster, interactively, using lower cost (in fact, usually free) labor. A reading of the history of industrial structure suggests that any survivors of this transformation will be drawn from the ranks of those who best understand the new competition and find niche functions which cannot be performed by the newcomers.

Thus, serious press attention to the blogosphere is rare.

Our friend Betsy Newmark, of Betsy's Page,  is a cover girl this morning on the Washington Post Sunday Magazine. David von Drehle wrote a cover story on blogging. The article used as its entry point a day spent in the company of two bloggers, one from the right (Betsy), and one from the left, Barbara O'Brien, of Mahablog.

Actually, the day—long argument which ensued was fairly predictable. The two bloggers disagree on just about every political question. Von Drehle sums it us this way:

Bloggers scan for bits of evidence that fit into their existing views and then generalize from there. For example, supporters of the Iraq war will notice an article that seems to suggest some progress —— an insurgent leader captured, a new school opened —— and infer a universe of good news from that piece. Elsewhere on the same day, opponents of the war might find a piece of discouraging news —— an interview with a gloomy Iraqi leader, another suicide bombing —— and infer a mirror—image universe.

That's true. At its worst, the two worldviews never meet. This happens in real—time as Betsy and her counterpart Barbara do not in one multi—topic day have the time to examine their deeper premises which are in conflict. But these can, theoretically, be examined and subjected to the test of evidence. Collectively, in the blogosphere, this happens often enough to make the whole project well worthwhile.

To his credit, von Drehle doesn't take the cheap way out and simply dismiss blogging. Nor do Betsy and Barbara walk away from their day together as implacable enemies. Von Drehle treats his subject and subjects with much more respect.

In fact, going through the entire article, the reader comes away with the conclusion that von Drehle not only respects both women, he respects the process of argumentation itself. Even more importantly, he puts argumentation and blogging into an appropriate historical context.

A case could be made that the Federalist Papers were the greatest blog ever. Like many blogs, this was the creation of a group of like—minded activists (Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay) and posted under a pseudonym (Publius). Short—lived but intense, Publius produced 85 blog items in defense of the new Constitution over a fervent half—year. Some were highly interactive —— for example, No. 66, posted on March 11, 1788, responded to the leading objections Hamilton had seen concerning the Senate's proposed power of impeachment.

The Bill of Rights, meanwhile, was a concept promoted by rival paleo—bloggers associated with Thomas Jefferson. Note that the very first amendment enshrined the freedom to argue.

Even better, he takes a good look at history and concludes that the current pretense of the mainstream media to be without bias is an historical oddity, itself the product of technology. Prior to radio broadcasting and then television, where the number of news outlets was constrained by federal licensing and technological limitations (of the time), most cities had newspapers of varying political stripes. Only when monopoly dailes took over, and when broadcasters feared to protect their licenses, did the cult of non—bias take hold.

Betsy does a terrific job upholding the honor of the conservative blogosphere. I am, of course, highly biased on the subject, but I think she comes across as far more appealing than her dour, pessimistic, and (by my lights) somewhat bitter liberal counterpart.

Congratulations to the blogosphere's newest cover girl. And congratulations to David von Drehle and the Washington Post for admirable work.

The newspaper industry is very, very slowly coming to grips with the rise of a new technology which delivers news cheaper, faster, interactively, using lower cost (in fact, usually free) labor. A reading of the history of industrial structure suggests that any survivors of this transformation will be drawn from the ranks of those who best understand the new competition and find niche functions which cannot be performed by the newcomers.

Thus, serious press attention to the blogosphere is rare.

Our friend Betsy Newmark, of Betsy's Page,  is a cover girl this morning on the Washington Post Sunday Magazine. David von Drehle wrote a cover story on blogging. The article used as its entry point a day spent in the company of two bloggers, one from the right (Betsy), and one from the left, Barbara O'Brien, of Mahablog.

Actually, the day—long argument which ensued was fairly predictable. The two bloggers disagree on just about every political question. Von Drehle sums it us this way:

Bloggers scan for bits of evidence that fit into their existing views and then generalize from there. For example, supporters of the Iraq war will notice an article that seems to suggest some progress —— an insurgent leader captured, a new school opened —— and infer a universe of good news from that piece. Elsewhere on the same day, opponents of the war might find a piece of discouraging news —— an interview with a gloomy Iraqi leader, another suicide bombing —— and infer a mirror—image universe.

That's true. At its worst, the two worldviews never meet. This happens in real—time as Betsy and her counterpart Barbara do not in one multi—topic day have the time to examine their deeper premises which are in conflict. But these can, theoretically, be examined and subjected to the test of evidence. Collectively, in the blogosphere, this happens often enough to make the whole project well worthwhile.

To his credit, von Drehle doesn't take the cheap way out and simply dismiss blogging. Nor do Betsy and Barbara walk away from their day together as implacable enemies. Von Drehle treats his subject and subjects with much more respect.

In fact, going through the entire article, the reader comes away with the conclusion that von Drehle not only respects both women, he respects the process of argumentation itself. Even more importantly, he puts argumentation and blogging into an appropriate historical context.

A case could be made that the Federalist Papers were the greatest blog ever. Like many blogs, this was the creation of a group of like—minded activists (Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay) and posted under a pseudonym (Publius). Short—lived but intense, Publius produced 85 blog items in defense of the new Constitution over a fervent half—year. Some were highly interactive —— for example, No. 66, posted on March 11, 1788, responded to the leading objections Hamilton had seen concerning the Senate's proposed power of impeachment.

The Bill of Rights, meanwhile, was a concept promoted by rival paleo—bloggers associated with Thomas Jefferson. Note that the very first amendment enshrined the freedom to argue.

Even better, he takes a good look at history and concludes that the current pretense of the mainstream media to be without bias is an historical oddity, itself the product of technology. Prior to radio broadcasting and then television, where the number of news outlets was constrained by federal licensing and technological limitations (of the time), most cities had newspapers of varying political stripes. Only when monopoly dailes took over, and when broadcasters feared to protect their licenses, did the cult of non—bias take hold.

Betsy does a terrific job upholding the honor of the conservative blogosphere. I am, of course, highly biased on the subject, but I think she comes across as far more appealing than her dour, pessimistic, and (by my lights) somewhat bitter liberal counterpart.

Congratulations to the blogosphere's newest cover girl. And congratulations to David von Drehle and the Washington Post for admirable work.