"We're having a Dutch tulip moment with the bloggers. This, too, shall pass," he concludes.
But the unusually suave and erudite Powers boots it this time.
Newspaper reporters who barricade themselves behind doors manned by security guards and screen calls with Caller ID tend to lose contact with their readers—and more important, what their readers know. Blogs reconnect journalists with readers by reminding them how closely they're read outside the newsroom. I agree with Powers that most independent bloggers don't have the resources or skills for "heavy journalistic lifting," as he puts it. But what he misses, I think, is the fact that 1) the skills can be quickly learned by bright, well-read people; and 2) the Internet has leveled the resources playing field. Thanks to the Web and affordable databases, today's blogger has more information at his fingertips than the best investigative reporter at the Washington Post could acquire after a week's work at the Library of Congress.
Entrepreneur-loudmouth Mark Cuban, who owns the NBA's Dallas Mavericks, put it well in Blog Maverick this week. Reflecting on the Eason Jordan and Dan Rather sagas, he writes:
The bloggers are here, and they are ready to knock down the gates and get their pound of flesh. The traditional media has no idea what is about to hit them.
In every major conference, at every major speech, sitting at tables in restaurants, there is going to be a blogger or podcaster with microphone, PDA, Videophone, laptop or paper and pencil in hand. Listening. Taking notes. That information is going to be transmitted to and from a blog entry and placed in the hands of "the readers."
Unlike celebrities who hear or see the flash of the camera, the gatekeepers don't know they are there. Blogging in plain site. Questioning everything.
Cuban encourages the press to recognize and respect bloggers, which I think many journalists already do. I'd go one step further and encourage the press to use bloggers as stringers, as virtual assignment editors—and even as reporters, if they're willing to apply to their work the sort of rigor we expect in good journalism.
The "citizen journalist" authors of blogs, much lauded in some corners, aren't going to automatically produce great news stories any more than the "citizen builders" who buy their tools and materials at Home Depot are going to design and build the next Fallingwater. But bloggers and other unpaid Web contributors are throwing down a matrix of valuable information—notes, historical connections, documentary material, opinion, scoops—that only the hidebound can afford to ignore.
Next time he's in Washington, I'm going to invite Powers over for dinner. The first course will be a tulip salad drenched in lemon castor oil.
( Addendum, 2-23-05: Irony Alert! Not everybody reading this next item got my joke. I'm defending Kinsley here. The women named were either hired by Kinsley, promoted by him, or otherwise benefited from their professional relationship with him. My point: Kinsley isn't perfect, but he has a better record of hiring and promoting women than any journalist I can name off the top of my head. All apologies to those who didn't get the joke.) And before I go, I'd like to second Susan Estrich, who has attacked Michael Kinsley on the charges of sexual discrimination, which he feebly attempts to repel. In his long, miserable chauvinist career, Kinsley has done more to block women, their views, and their professional aspirations than any journalist I know. Just ask Dorothy Wickenden, Ann Hulbert, Jamie Baylis, Emily Yoffe, Helen Rogan, Suzannah Lessard, Jodie Allen, Judith Shulevitz, Jodi Kantor, Margaret Carlson, Dahlia Lithwick, Kathleen Kincaid, Lakshmi Gopalkrishnan, June Thomas, and others (Addenum, 2-22-05: Bonnie Goldstein). They'll fill you in. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)