Crawl Across the Ocean

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Lowering the Tone

A while back I mocked the Globe's lack of courage in printing a column
about how bloggers were lowering the tone (and demeaning the discourse)
but refusing to allow comments on the column on their website.

But the truth is, I didn't really address the substance of the charge
that bloggers are lowering the tone because it's a complicated topic and
I wasn't in the mood to write a long post about it. Luckily for me, procrastination has paid off again, and Glenn Greenwald has written a masterful post on this very topic. Glenn's jumping off point is a Washington Post article about 'the angry left' but it doesn't take much imagination to see how his analysis applies to the Globe article by Russell Smith as well and to almost all of the media articles about blogs that seem to keep popping up with increasing frequency these days.

Says Glenn,
"Any time old, crusted, failing, dying institutions launch attacks on new and innovative competitors, it is an unmistakable sign that the attacking dinosaur feels threatened and feels its power slipping away. That dynamic, more than any ideological goal, is what is motivating the steadily increasing appearance of these types of hostile blogosphere caricatures masquerading as news articles. The reality is that the blogosphere need not be a hostile competitor of journalists, but can be a uniquely valuable research and analysis tool to supplement the governmental adversary role which journalists are supposed to perform.

But until they realize that, and as long as they continue to perceive that their stranglehold on conventional wisdom is being abolished as a result of the irreverent and increasingly substantive blogosphere, these types of "articles," devoted to the destruction of the blogosphere's credibility, are going to become more and more common - and more and more desperate."

He has lots more to say and it's all a great read.


  • Greenwald was way wide of the mark. First, the piece didn't paint all blogs as an outpost of ranting. It did focus on the increased prevalence of angry liberal blogs, which are a bit of a curiosity in a broader mediascape where -- as the article noted -- the angry and railing righty is common. Of course the piece highlighted over-the-top posts and comments; when the topic is the emergence of a large community of pissed-off liberals, you quote pissed-off liberals. When one writes a story about Michael Savage, they also highlight his more outrageous comments. I'm not sure what got up Greenwald's nose; I'm also amazed at his psychic ability to deduce that this was an effort by the Post to direcdit all bloggers. Odd technique on their part, considering the Post's wide use of weblogs and embrace of tools to forge more links with bloggers.

    Greenwald adopted the siege mentality of those bloggers who rail at any critical look at their hobby. (The alternating triumphalist-persecuted minority schtick, as it were).I found it ironic that after accusing the Post's typist of trying to "destroy the blogosphere", he then alleged cariculature and overgeneralization. Those last two apply better to Greenwald's post.

    A much more substantive criticism can be found over at Billmon's place, even though it also gets into some dubious speculation.

    Back to the lowering of the tone of discussion, though. Look at the higher-profile Canadian political blogs -- it's extremists and cranks like Kathy Shaidle, Jay Currie, Kate McMillan and Robert McClelland who get the attention and traffic. Blogs with more nuanced approaches tend to have smaller audiences. A good quesiton to ask would be why, among political and news blogs, do the rewards (links and traffic) tend to go to those bloggers that take hardline positions or are as partisan as hell, and whose favourite debate tactics are cheap shots, personal abuse, dumb nicknames and drive-bys. I think that's what people like Russell Smith are getting at when they say that blogs lower the tone.

    This tendency to reward boorish blogging is a lot of the reason I don't blog much anymore.

    By Blogger Ian King, at 8:12 PM  

  • I don't know Ian, I went back and re-read the Post article a second time after reading your comment, but I still think Glenn was fairly accurate. Billmon's post was good as well, but I thought Glenn's was better written (sure it's a little over the top from our perspective, but you have to appreciate the American perspective he is coming from where right-wing nuts, xenophobes and racists have been dominating the discourse on many different media for decades and the Post would rather write thousands of words about some angry left-wing blog nobody has even heard of) - so I linked to that instead. If the Post was regularly writing articles about the angry right in proportion to the angriness on the left, I don't think Glenn would have been so upset.

    I do agree in principle with your second last paragraph although you I think you are lumping together pepope who are genuinely cranks and those who simply use strong language.

    In fact, the post I was planning to write on the topic (in draft form at the moment) does go into that question (why is there a traffic bias towards angrier more partisan blogs) in more detail since I do agree that it can be tougher for less partisan blogs to find a significant audience (that's what I tell myself when I look at my statcounter - anyway)

    I wish that Smith had written a column getting at that phenomenon, but he didn't, at least not very well, or directly anyway.

    And rather than try to *counter* the trend by highlighting blogs which *aren't* lowering the tone, they choose to generalize about all blogs as if they were all the same.

    Says Smith, "A specific type of person becomes a blogger: usually an angry one."

    Very helpful.

    By Blogger Declan, at 11:38 PM  

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