Tuesday, March 01, 2005

# Posted 6:33 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MORE OXBLOG Q&A: This time, I answered a think-tank questionnaire about blogging:

How do you explain the increasing attention people pay to blogs?
There is a tremendous amount of expertise in the blogosphere. We may be amateur journalists, but we are professional historians, lawyers, political scientists and bankers. As our audience began to grow, a greater number of journalists became fascinated with what we write. As the gatekeepers of public awareness, they had the ability to catapult us in the mainstream.

Some journalists love us. Some hate us. But most of them seem to recognize that our opinions are too well-informed to ignore.

What role do blogs play in the world of news and information?
Bloggers are opinion columnists who have escaped from the prison of the twice-a-week 800-word column. We don't report the news, we interpret it. We use both our expertise and our common sense to place current events in a context that may not be self-evident to intelligent, but non-expert readers (or journalists!)

Does blogging represent a threat to mainstream media?
No and yes. Bloggers depend on the MSM for almost all of our information about current events, especially abroad. No matter how hard we try, we will never develop our own network of foreign bureaus staffed by full-time correspondents. Our dependence is a fact of life.

However, we do threaten the reputation and self-confidence of professional journalists. Because of their admirable devotion to making our government accountable to its citizens, journalists have often lost the ability to criticize themselves and each other.

Unaccustomed to public criticism, journalists often develop a sense of infallibility that leads them to dismiss their online critics as fools or amateurs. That is precisely what Dan Rather did when Power Line exposed his shoddy reporting.

Although Rather wound up being humiliated, there is a very simple way in which professional journalists can defuse the threat from the blogosphere: by living up to their own standards of honesty and openness -- the same standards that they justifiably impose on our elected officials.

What are the limits to the influence of blogging?
The limits of blogging are the limits of opinion journalism. We play an important role in the interpretation of reality. But it is the correspondents in the field who put the facts on the table. And no good interpretation can go farther than the facts on which it is based.

Is amateurism in the blogosphere dangerous to public discussion?
Absolutely not. If anything, it has been a breath of fresh air. Bloggers have brought a new spirit of critical thinking back to a journalistic profession that has begun to resemble a monastic order.

Although the word 'amateurism' bears a connotation of ignorance, bloggers tend to be highly-educated professionals in other fields of endeavor. Moreover, journalism isn't like medicine. Although only trained professionals should dispense medication, any informed individual can dispense valid opinions.

Ian Duncan Smith just wrote in the Guardian that "bloggers will rescue the right." How do you interpret that statement? Does the fact that many blogs are openly partisan contribute to the further polarisation of public debate?
Two or three years ago, there was a lot of talk in the United States of blogs being a conservative medium. For whatever reason, a disproportionate number of the blogs that achieved prominence in the early days were passionately conservative. Shortly thereafter, the explosive growth of blogs such as Calpundit (aka Political Animal) and the Daily Kos demonstrated that liberals were just waiting for their champions to emerge.

When it comes to polarization, I am not concerned at all about the role of the blogosphere. The op-ed pages of every newspaper are filled with strong opinions. What matters is whether an opinion is well-informed, not whether it is an opinion. If you are concerned about polarization, then write a letter to Pat Robertson or Maureen Dowd.

Blogs occupy an increasingly important role in U.S. politics. Do youthink they will have a similar effect in Europe?
I have no idea. Yet after living in England for three years, I wouldn't be surprised at all if there were millions of Britons willing to go online to read the opinions of those who are shut out of their mainstream media, which is far more partisan and blinkered than its American counterpart.

How do you operate? How much time do you invest into your blog? How many hits do you get per day? Can blogging be profitable?
I operate in a somewhat impulsive manner. I read the daily paper and whatever else interests me. When I'm provoked by what I read or feel that an important subject is being ignored, I write about it.

I probably spend around 1-2 hours per day, five days a week, reading and writing. [That is definitely an underestimate. I guess I subconsciously didn't want my adviser finding out how much time I spend online. --ed.]

Right now, OxBlog gets around 2200-2400 hits per day. Yet during the presidential race, which lasted [for us] from January to November of last year, we were getting 3500+ hits per day. Also, if one of our posts get picked up by major blogs such as Instapundit or Andrew Sullivan, we can get five, ten or even fifteen thousand hits in a single day.

How will blogging develop in the next 5 years?
To my mind, the most important trend out there is the rising number of major media outlets that have added blogs to their websites. Although we now think of bloggers as a separate species, the medium itself is extremely flexible. Moreover, it is a medium that has a more rapid response time than almost any other while heightening the level of interaction between author and audience. Over the next five years, I expect blogging to become increasingly widespread -- perhaps even mundane! -- way of delivering news opinion.

However, I am also confident that there will also be an increasing number of expert amateurs ready to jump into the fray and make sure that the blogosphere never loses the outside-the-box attitude responsible for its initial prominence.
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