Never Pick a Fight with a Man Who Buys Ink by the Barrel

Er, has a blog?

And it all apparently started with the “Fisk,” the line-by-line disassembly of some piece of “journalism.” It was generally done by an individual, or at best disassociated random individuals, but now it’s organized, collated and cross-referenced.

Exhibit A: Newsweek’s The Birth of Jesus, an anti-Christian hit piece published in the Dec. 13 issue. In years past this, I’m sure, would have drawn several hundred to several thousand letters of outrage and protest from believers (and remember, I’m not one), and the editorial staff would have sifted through them all to find two or three to publish in the “letters to the editor” section. In a month or two. I’m sure at least one would have been a real doozy, too. Oh, someone might have written something that might have gotten published in some obscure religious magazine, two months hence, but it would have attracted the attention of a very small audience at best.

But not today. As Hugh Hewitt, an evangelical himself, national radio talk-show host and writer, explained in his recent Weekly Standard piece The Year of the Blog, “That was then. The blogosphere is now.” He goes on to explain how two highly credentialed and religious men, Dr. Albert Mohler and Dr. Mark D. Roberts, wrote and published on-line separate detailed critiques of the Newsweek piece. Hewitt then interviewed both men on his radio program, and invited other bloggers to weigh in. The complete list of respondents is available here. Hewitt states:

What the blogosphere allowed to happen is the organization of dissent which is focused, credentialed, complete, and–crucially–publicized. No fair reader of Meacham’s piece and the commentaries on it can conclude that Meacham produced good journalism. It is simply too one-sided, too agenda-driven, and too ignorant of serious scholarship to qualify as anything other than a polemic. The exposure of Meacham’s folly doesn’t guarantee that Newsweek won’t stumble again, but it surely must give others in his position pause. The blogosphere has experts and megaphones. As Joe Carter of Evangelical Outpost concluded “the mainstream media is only able to retain their influence by convincing the populace they possess special skill and knowledge. But as the Internet continues to fill with . . . debunkers, the media continues to lose credibility, influence, and power.”

Exhibit B: The Minneapolis Star Tribune and journalist Nick Coleman’s direct attack on Scott Johnson and John Hinderaker of Power Line in his column Megaphones without oversight: Blog swarms, opinion storms, and brand destruction. The response to this piece was widespread and immediate, and it’s all (or nearly all) collated at the aforementioned Evangelical Outpost. To quote:

The fact that such a large number of blogger wrote about the incident is rather extraordinary. But the true significance lies in the number of people who read about Coleman’s gaffe on these blogs. Together these sites have a daily hit count of over 350,000 while the Star-Tribune itself has a circulation of approximately 380,000. If we assume that ever(y) person who bought the newspaper today read Coleman’s column then we can deduce that for every three people who saw the piece slamming Power Line, two people read a defense of the bloggers. (Blog readership, however, has a great deal of overlap so that has to be factored into any conclusions that might be made about the overall site visits.)

Essentially, what we have are two “brands” going head to head for what Hewitt calls “mindspace” – the attention, respect, and trust of information consumers. At first it might appear that Coleman retains a slight advantage. He not only has more (potential) readers but he has them all in a central geographic location while the PL defenders are spread across the country.

But think about the implications from the perspective of “brand management.” Both Coleman and the PL crew live in the same city and both have their work accessible on the Internet. Yet Power Line was able to have a national effect and get their message across in a way that Coleman could only dream about.

The blogosphere is that megaphone Coleman is apparently afraid of, and he certainly got his blog swarm and opinion storm. What you see is thirty-nine uncut letters-to-the-editor. Each of those may have pertinent links to associated materials – something the dead-tree edition doesn’t offer. Each offers a different bit of perspective. The difference now is that you no longer have to accept just the paper’s opinion – you get, if you wish, multiple views. You get access to source materials when it comes to hard-news reporting, too.

Eric S. Raymond’s post made a point that expands on Hewitt’s above:

(The Mainstream Media is) most terrified of all at discovering how out of touch they are. In the past, your typical MSMer surrounded by other MSMers has believed that he is mildly “progressive”, merely holding the opinions that all reasonable people hold and opposed by at most a tiny and dismissable fringe of kooks and rednecks. MSMers are more undone than anything else by the discovery that the mainstream of the American population is rejecting them in droves for Fox News, talk radio, and the blogs.

And, Eric warns,

It’s a short step from this belief to Coleman’s flavor of quasi-paranoid ranting. Anybody who doesn’t think like the MSM cannot be authentic, but must instead be a paid or suborned tool of evil forces. Watch for this theme to show up more and more frequently in the next year as most of the MSM sinks ever-deeper into denial.

The old saying used to be “Never pick a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel.”

No longer is that necessarily true, and they’re waking up to that fact. The gatekeepers have discovered that the whole damned wall is down. Of course they’re afraid.

UPDATE 1/4: I found this interesting. Jack Kelly, writing in JWR on the topic of the decline of the news media concludes his piece:

Journalists tend not to like bloggers, because they report on errors we make. Dan Rather and former New York Times editor Howell Raines are unemployed chiefly because of the vigilance and tenacity of bloggers. (We journalists rarely turn the spotlights we use on business leaders and government officials on ourselves.)

People who work at journalism full time ought to be able to do a better job of it than people for whom it is a hobby. But that’s not going to happen as long as we “professional” journalists ignore stories we don’t like and try to hide our mistakes. We think of ourselves as “gatekeepers.” But there is not much future in being a gatekeeper when the walls are down.

Hmm… I wonder if Mr. Kelly reads The Smallest Minority?

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