Blogs vs. the Mainstream Media: The Real Digital Divide

By February 13, 2006General

Interesting piece in the Sunday Washington Post Outlook section by the apparently beleaguered executive editor of, Jim Brady. His shell shock is apparent from the tone of his article entitled, “Blog Rage ” (subtitled, “Flogged by the Blogs”). He talks a bit about the dust-up with Post ombudsman Deborah Howell and her battle with liberal bloggers after she ran an erroneous piece on Jack Abramoff which she later corrected. For her sins, she was barraged with a thousand negative comments, some ten percent of which, by Brady’s reckoning, were vile enough to not be included in a family newspaper which at least once has printed the “f”-word. No matter. He goes on to do some significant head-scratching and hand-wringing about blogs, all the while not exactly sure what the hell to do about them.

We mentioned in this space last month that we were invited to an off-the-record lunch at the National Press Club sponsored by the Shorenstein Center for Journalism at Harvard. They invited a number of folks from the mainstream media (hereinafter the “MSM”) — CNN, the Post, CBS and Slate, among others — and about ten bloggers, split evenly between the right and left. In the spirit of that gathering, we won’t identify any of the victims.

We suspected that a split would emerge pretty quickly in the room between the left and right. We were half right…

A split emerged almost instantly in the room, but it was not along ideological lines. Rather, it was between MSM and the bloggers. The MSM, for its part, was clearly at wit’s end. They talked about the need for rules in the blogosphere and expressed frustration that although they were trying to make nice with the lot of us, that the niceness didn’t seem to be reciprocated.

One of the liberal bloggers who had dueled with the Post’s ombudsman challenged, “What happened to [her]?”, pressing the MSM to define the horrors (by their standards) that befell Deborah Howell. At the end of the day, in his view, she received a thousand comments, ten percent of which were unprintable. The other bloggers nodded and smiled. Welcome to the blogosphere.

In Brady’s article, he says:

Personally, I don’t believe there’s any such thing as ‘the blogosphere’ as opposed to ‘the mainstream media.’ It’s silly to assign organizations to one category or the other, pretend that there’s uniformity in either grouping, or imagine a battle between the two. According to Technorati, a search engine that tracks the blogosphere, there are 27.6 million blogs on the Web, and they cover countless topics. Blogs are at odds with each other just as often as they’re at odds with the media.”

But here’s where he mises the boat, as was clear from our session at the Press Club last month. There is a huge divide between the MSM and the blogosphere. As we said at the Press Club, the MSM is trying to colonize the blogosphere, but we don’t really want to wear shoes after all, as it turns out. What has happened is that the blogosphere has become the de facto ombudsman for every MSM outlet in the country, free of rules or profit motive that (understandably) constrain groups like the Post. The other beauty of the blogosphere is that the politics of each blog tends to be unabashed, rather than masked behind a thin — and ultimately specious — claim of fairness.

To be fair, as we also opined at the Press Club, we’re not sure what we’d advise the MSM to do about blogs. Do they beat ’em or join ’em? They have tried to join, but in the attempt, a line we stole from somebody clever, they end up looking like your parents trying to dance to rock and roll music. Where are the rules? Where’s the decorum? When do we get to do the Lindy or the Fox Trot? Way back in July when Post/CNN guy Howard Kurtz asked if our Lou Dobbs stuff wasn’t “a little personal”, we replied, “It’s the blogosphere!”

In any event, here’s a link to Brady’s piece. It’s endearing for its earnestness, a little maddening for its cluelessness. No doubt he’ll get a ton of comments and e-mails, some of which he won’t be able to print.

Welcome to the blogosphere.

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