To paraphrase your grandmother: if you can’t say anything new, don’t say anything at all.
So says Steven Berlin Johnson, who has wasted more time on yet another article (this one in the New Yorker) about the blogosphere vs. regular journalism. He proposes “five things all sane people agree about” on this subject, and asks all those who are just repeating them to please STFU:
- Blogs aren’t historically unique. (I am legally required to agree with this point, as it’s the basis of the Reader’s claim to have been performing bloglike functions in print since August 1985.)
- Most bloggers are all about themselves and are uninterested in news or politics.
- The remaining minority will continue improving their coverage and analysis.
- Mainstream journalism isn’t going away anytime soon.
- Mainstream journalism will continue to have a higher signal-to-noise ratio than most blogging.
Three out of five ain’t bad–I want to cross off, or at least scribble over, the last two points. If this be insanity, make the most of it.
Coming from what used to be called the alternative press, I was dubious of the mainstream media long before most bloggers were born. The signal-to-noise ratio in the mainstream media is unacceptably high because mainstream reporters have no straightforward way to explain that they have been lied to by government officials, other than to repeat the lies and (long after the jump) perhaps acknowledge that some people think otherwise.
Nor do the MSM have good ways to report on scientific issues where they need to distinguish between real scientific controversies (like just how birds are descended from dinosaurs) and bogus controversies ginned up by dogmatic special pleaders (like whether evolution ever happens). In such cases you often get he-said-she-said stories, a format that frequently ends up causing a measurable decline in the sum total of human knowledge.
Those are structural problems. In practice, conditions aren’t even that good, because mainstream reporters fail to follow their own best standards (or real-world expertise) even when their conventions allow it. Economists Dean Baker and Brad DeLong regularly pulverize the acts of journalism committed by the Washington Post and New York Times. The best recent example is here.