Are Weblogs Changing Our Culture?
Does anyone ever call you Andy? I assume not.
And as someone who, back in the day, co-conspired (with Graydon Carter and Jann Wenner) to invent your journalistic sub-genre, or sport, of nipping at the ankles of the New York Times (as the boss of Spy magazine's pseudonymous J.J. Hunsecker), I know that such nipping can indeed change the direction of that particular battleship by a quarter of a degree or so over time. (It can also, as one would expect and as you too insistently remind us, make important enemies.) What the relentless focus of bloggers like you and Kaus on the Times and other big media institutions must surely do is make writers (poor Paul Krugman!) and editors just a wee bit more careful about accuracy, fairness, and all the rest, since they know you overcaffeinated watchdogs are watching, just itching to click Send. And speaking of anti-Times obsessives, I think Ira Stoll's blog Smarter Times, now in suspended animation while he edits the New York Sun, may be proof that blogs are not scalable conceptually: As an informing principle for an entire daily newspaper, fear and loathing of the New York Times is not quite sufficient. (By the way, I'm not a subscriber to the Sun, but this morning they delivered four unsolicited, unaddressed copies to the front door of my house in Brooklyn. Desperation marketing?)
Are blogs ever going to drive a transformation of the press as significant as, say, cable TV news has? Nahhh. Providing a self-publishing outlet for professional journalists' rejected print pieces isn't exactly, as we used to say, not so far back in the day, a killer app. I agree that providing talented unknown writers a means of getting prose in front of readers and editors is a nice hypothetical blog virtue: As a father, I think I'd much rather subsidize a year of blogging by my daughters in 2010 than pay for a year at journalism graduate school. Yet, as you also say, even this is a marginal expansion of opportunity: As we've learned in every digital realm, the proliferation of groovy new tools to make and distribute media (music, movies, bloggers' pensées, whatever) does not expand the more or less fixed pool of genuine talent in the world.
However, as a souped-up column format nesting within larger media entities (a la Kaus, Alterman, and Conason), I think this is probably just the beginning, since those guys, like you, speak to one smallish audience about one smallish set of subjects. (By the way, why doesn't Michael Kinsley blog here under the Slate umbrella? I'd PayPal for that.) There are obviously passionate constituencies and suitable big-name blog voices for other subjects. Mightn't it make sense, for instance, for Time.com to turn Joel Stein into a blogger, or for nytimes.com to do it with Alessandra Stanley, or villagevoice.com with Michael Musto? That is, it would make editorial sense—not financial sense, obviously, not today. But if more bloggers start being paid by rich institutions like Microsoft (Kaus) and GE (Alterman) to blog, then maybe we can start getting some real reportorial fiber into the very, very starchy blog diet. Which could betoken the beginning of a glorious Third Generation of journalistic blogs with impact and influence that would no longer be in question. Right?