Are Weblogs Changing Our Culture?

Can Blogging Save Liberalism?
Inside the Internet.
Sept. 5 2002 3:33 PM

Are Weblogs Changing Our Culture?

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Hi Kurtie,

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Does anyone ever call you Kurtie? I assume not.

Your last point is a tantalizing one. For most of us, blogging is not our day job, although it takes up as much time as most day jobs. For big media or big corporations to start funding individual blogs really would help put some more protein into our daily carbs. I like your idea of just getting some cash and paying, say, five good bloggers to write for a single online mag. In some ways, that's how reviews and magazines started out decades and centuries ago: a few like-minded souls collaborating on a literary-political project. Perhaps blogs—and the technology that enables them—will take us back to the 18th century. I sure hope so. Take a wonderful little blog, OxBlog. It's a small bunch of ex-pat grad students at Oxford who have essentially started their own magazine. This is a time-honored tradition, but now it's so much easier, and you don't have to do so much Xeroxing and desperate carting of expensive paper copies into college dining rooms. The potential for new magazines and journals exploding is enormous. Look, for example, at Indegayforum.org. Years ago, a bunch of us non-P.C. gay writers wanted to get some critical mass, put ourselves on the map, and also communicate ideas and foment debates. We started a listserv, out of which came what is, in effect, an online journal. I can't see any downside. And if we can get the economics right and actually bring money in, we really will have expanded the space for new ideas.

But part of me also likes the informal, this-isn't-what-I-do-for-a-living feel of blogland. It keeps it real. I also think it purifies journalism in a way. I mean, we're writing for free for anybody just because we love it. Compared to, say, the pampered life of a Condé Nast scribe, that's a refreshing spur to write stuff that actually matters, because you can, and say things you believe in without too many worries.

As to the protein, I think you miss a point. Our protein is the linkage. The greatest thing about blogs is that you can easily analyze the data news bloggers are writing about and make up your own mind. So the blogger's opinions are more transparent, more easily rebutted, and therefore demand greater care or style. No dead-tree writing can do that. And traditional writing online cannot quite capture that interchange between source and analysis. Again, it's win-win, I think. Not that blogs will replace the protein; but we all know it helps to have a balanced diet. (I think I'll retire that metaphor now.)

Blogs also have the ability to keep up pressure on people. Because we can post almost hour after hour, we can really force people to respond or react to our claims or arguments. Look at how Glenn Reynolds managed to grind the fraudulent Michael Bellesiles into the dust. Or check out Mickey's guerrilla warfare against Bob Reich, the American Prospect, or Howell Raines. The rat-a-tat-tat of a blog really does have an impact a one-off piece cannot. And it often metastasizes with input from readers. The dirty secret of my blog is that my readers have as much input as I do. I can raise a subject, and within minutes, I'll have a dozen other links, reflections, refutations on the very same topic. I remember back during the Florida election hell how I was rescued by a professor from North Florida, whom I'd never have found on my own, who knew more about Florida electoral intricacies than anyone on earth. On a daily basis, he'd help me get things right. The traditional top-down form of reporting can't do this as well. And the open-ended, open-minded culture of the blog form helps generate exactly the kind of detail and nuance that some mass media miss.

So, now let me get more grandiose. I think over the past couple of decades, liberalism in its classic sense has been under threat. Not just from crazy theocrats abroad but from P.C. paternalism and religious-right activism at home. The formation of solid camps of thought, and the punishment of heretics, and the maintenance of orthodoxy on all sides have inhibited a free discourse in ideas. And part of the reason for that was the limit on the numbers of vehicles for expression. After all, there aren't that many genuinely intellectual mags in this country, and the battle to influence them can be intense. But the fragmentation of media, accelerated by blogs, can break this up some and allow more complicated or unusual voices to emerge, without their having to ask permission or fight for space or suck up to people already in charge. If, say, the writers at Indegayforum had had no option but to try and get into the established gay press—which has been, until recently, extremely P.C.—it would have taken up a huge amount of time and led to enormous angst and wasted energy. Blogging circumvented that. It widens the sphere of possible voices exponentially. That's wonderful news for the culture as a whole. And for liberalism in its deepest sense.

Cheers,
Andrew

Andrew Sullivan blogs at the Daily Dish.

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