Thursday, July 29, 2004

# Posted 7:52 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DID THE BLOGGERS MAKE A DIFFERENCE?  A few hours from now, the convention will be over.  Sometime tomorrow or perhaps even tonight, a journalist will sit down and ask him- or herself the inevitable question: "We've heard so much about bloggers and their outside-of-the-box thinking.  But did their coverage of the convention really provide anything that mainstream journalists didn't?"

Even though I am a huge fan of blogs [Full disclosure: I have a blog myself. -ed.], I don't think we revolutionized coverage of this convention.  After all, how can you revolutionize coverage of a non-event?  In that sense, our failure was inevitable.

On the other hand, if blogging doesn't add anything to the mix, why are mainstream journalists starting up blogs by the busload?  TNR and TAP set up their blogs quite a while ago, but still felt compelled to set up new blogs dedicated exclusively to the convention. 

The Associated Press has set up a convention blog staffed by a Pulitzer Prize winner with 40 years of experience covering conventions.  That's got to be a blogosphere first.

What all of this suggests is that there is an emerging distinction between blogging as a medium and bloggers as people.  Matt Yglesias writes that:
At the end of the day, blogging is just a mode of presenting text (and, to some extent, images) and a set of computer programs that make it easy to present text in that way. It's not a method of doing things. The result, I think, is that the phenomenon of the "blogger" has no real future, though the phenomenon of the blog does. At the end of the day, Brad DeLong is an economist, Lawrence Solum is a legal theorist, I'm a commentator, Jeralyn is a criminal justice expert, Laura Rozen is a national security reporter, etc. These are trades -- areas of competence, whatever -- that we can all ply in a variety of media, print, web articles, blogs, academic papers (where appropriate), live or taped radio or television interviews, etc.
I think Matt is really on to something here, although the distinction he draws needs to be sharpened. DeLong, Solum, Rozen and Merritt [That sounds like a law firm! -ed.] all have professional expertise that they express through their blogs.

The interesting question is whether these professionals would have been able to exert as much influence on public opinion in the absence of a medium such as blogging that has almost no start-up costs.  How often would print or broadcast journalists want to talk to Brad, Larry, Laura and Jeralyn if they weren't bloggers?

The answer to that question isn't so simple.  I get the sense that Solum was pretty important before he had a blog.  And Rozen is a journalist.  But will blogging change what kind of journalist she is?

Now think about someone like Juan Cole.  He has been mentioned by the WaPo [no permalink] and others specifically because of his blog.  While Cole may be more of a historian rather than a blogger, his expertise has become available to a much wider audience as a result of his blog.

In short, one might want to stop thinking of bloggers as go-it-alone amateur pundits armed with nothing but a computer and opinion.  Rather, the most influential kind of "bloggers" may be those professionals who use blogs to leverage their expertise and reach a wider audience.

Of course, there will still be tens of thousands of pure amateurs out there in blogosphere.  And God bless'em.  Some of them may acheive tremendous success and even give up their amateur status (think Kevin Drum).  Others will simply be bit players who help keep the big-name bloggers honest by reminding them of the self-critical, watchdogging roots of the medium.

In the final analysis, I disagree with Matt when he writes that
increasingly, [blogging] will be done by more-or-less the exact same group of people who are producing text in other formats.
Yes, professional journalists may come to dominate the blogosphere.  But other kinds of bloggers, both professional and amateur, will continue to be extremely important as well.  While there may be no such thing as a "blogger", there will be increasingly well-defined roles within the blogosphere, each of which contributes to making it a more interesting and provocative whole.

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