Are Weblogs Changing Our Culture?

The Blogosphere Weighs In
Inside the Internet.
Sept. 4 2002 3:06 PM

Are Weblogs Changing Our Culture?

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Hi Kurt,

Wanna meta-blog? I'm sorry to have waited a little to respond, but I got blogged down on my own site and also wanted to check out responses to our e-mail exchange in the blogosphere. Here's Meryl Yourish, an excellent blogger, lacerating yours truly on the issue of whether blogs are inherently individualist: 

Rebecca [Blood] can write earnestly about weblogging communities because so many of them exist. A quick look around the Internet will show that. Sullivan is a perfect example of the kind of blogger that permeates the blogosphere these days: Ignorant, unknowledgeable about anything save his narrow little slice of blogdom (and that not much), yet thinking that he has been informed from on high as to exactly what constitutes blogging. It is exactly the thing that drives me crazy whenever I read something like it on any blogger's site. Here's a clue, people: There are thousands of blogs out there, and just as there is no one way to write a book, no single person has the claim to the "right" way to write a blog.

Actually, I'm completely in agreement with Yourish there. I was merely expressing my own opinion that blogging is more suited to individualism than collectivism. Which is not to say that collective blogs like this one don't have merit. Or this one. But my deeper point is that I'm not a big fan of bloggers who are chippy, who seem not a little snarky about bigger blogs. The point is: A blog works if it addresses its audience, whether that audience is five or 500 or 5,000. In fact, many blogs, by their precise nature, are never going to get that big. So, why worry about the bigger fish? Enjoy yourselves.

Blogger NZBear weighs in as well, in a meta-meta-blog on this meta-blog. He writes: "Slate should have provided a counterweight to his journablogging heavyweight status. Picking a non-journalist, lesser known blogger to complete a trifecta with Andersen and Sullivan would have made the discussion deeply more interesting." But here's another piece of blogging's genius. We just did that! You can rectify editorial choices in real time all the time. If this conversation takes off, we can even continue it without Slate at all!

I want to make two quick points before clicking send, Kurt. The first is the question of whether blogging will actually change the media in any big ways. The small ways are already happening. Check out this embarrassing correction in the New York Times today. (Scroll down to the "Editor's Note.") Now, it wasn't only bloggers who exposed the Times' error in characterizing Henry Kissinger as an opponent of war in Iraq. But they certainly helped raise the volume. Blogdom has forced the Times to correct itself many times over now, which can only help improve journalism. But will bloggers actually deeply undermine editorial and corporate power in the media? So far I think the answer is no. Blogs aren't replacing mainstream media; they're infiltrating, supplementing, and buttressing it. Look at two blogs, kausfiles and altercation. They're housed by Slate and MSNBC. Same with Joe Conason's at Salon. Does this weaken or strengthen their reach and power? Or are they in danger of being co-opted? One obvious way in which blogs strengthen independent writers' hands is that when a piece is chopped up, or killed, or mutilated, a writer can now publish it himself if he still thinks it's worth something. But one obvious way in which blogging undermines a writer's independence is that he doesn't get paid anything to speak of. At the rate I'm going, my media criticism may make me unemployable and has already led to a steep decline in free-lance income. So, it's a two-edged thingy.

But at a more profound level, I think the real power will be unleashed by unknown writers finding a way to get their work in front of readers more easily than ever before. The whole process of interning, or begging for work at local papers, sucking up to agents and editors, and so on can now be supplemented by real self-publishing. You can make your own clips! This can only help—however marginally—discover new talent. The discipline of writing for a real paper or magazine is still very, very useful. Blogging well is not as easy as it sometimes looks. But all in all, the new form and new medium can only advance a writerly meritocracy. And that can only be good, no?

Cheers,
Andrew

Andrew Sullivan blogs at the Daily Dish.