Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 27, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

PACKER ON BLOGS, PART 2....Mother Jones has gotten the message: George Packer's ruminations about blogs in the May/June issue is now online in its entirety. It includes this paragraph:

This is potentially the most radical innovation of the form: It opens up political journalism to a vast marketplace of competitors, reminiscent of earlier ages of pamphleteering. It also restores unvarnished opinion, for better and worse, to a central place in political writing. Insult and invective were the stock-in-trade of the English political essayists of the 18th century, and of their American counterparts during the early years of the republic (when bimbo eruptions made their first appearance in press coverage of presidential campaigns). The explosion of blogs has blown a needed hole in the sealed rooms of the major editorial pages and the Sunday talk shows.

Now see? That's not so bad, is it?

On the other hand, there's also this odd pronouncement about the limitations of blogs:

Above all, they didn't grasp the intensity of feeling among Democratic primary voters the resentments still glowing hot from Florida 2000, the overwhelming interest in economic and domestic issues, the personal antipathy toward Bush, the resurgence of activism, the longing for a win.

This is truly peculiar. If there was any medium anywhere that did capture the "personal antipathy" toward Bush and the "longing for a win," it was blogs. This really seems to pop out of nowhere.

Overall, though, I liked the piece for pointing out both the good and the bad about blogs. In fact, Packer comes close to making a point that I've been planning to write about for a while: the question isn't whether blogs are good or bad, it's what they're good at and what they're not:

Blogs, by contrast, are atomized, fragmentary, and of the instant. They lack the continuity, reach, and depth to turn an election into a story. When one of the best of the bloggers, Joshua Micah Marshall of talkingpointsmemo.com, brought his laptop to New Hampshire and tried to cover the race in the more traditional manner, the results were less than satisfying....But the failure wasn't personal; this particular branch of the Fourth Estate just doesn't lend itself to sustained narrative and analysis.

I think that's exactly right. In the same way that TV is good at images and magazines are good at in-depth analysis, blogs are very good at some things and ill-suited to others. It's all about strengths and weaknesses, not good and bad. More on that later.

POSTSCRIPT: By the way, did you know that among English words of more than a few letters, "strengths" has the highest percentage of consonants? Just thought I'd mention that.

Kevin Drum 6:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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