As I start to sift through all those blogs that went unread during my week in Smalltown, U.S.A., I’m digging up all sorts of interesting things. Here, for instance, is a revealing little ripple from Instapundit:
BLOGGERS DON’T NEED EDITORS OR PUBLISHERS: Strangely, this leads Editor and Publisher to dub bloggers “self-important.”
Self-important, self-sufficient. Whatever.
UPDATE: Stefan Sharkansky emails: “I’d add ‘self-correcting’, with the emphasis on ‘correcting’. Can you recall the last time any newspaper issued a correction for factual errors on the editorial page? I can’t.”
Me, neither. And the thing we in the blogosphere have discovered that has yet to penetrate through the thick skulls of editorial-page editors is this: Self-correction is interesting. It’s one of the reasons why I like reading blogs, and why I like writing this one.
I know something about editorial pages. I worked on a good one for several years, and also wrote a biography of H.L. Mencken, who spent a sizable chunk of his career doing the same thing. As a result of his experience, Mencken had nothing but contempt but most editorial pages and editorial writers–you can find the details in The Skeptic–but he made a special point of printing any letter to the editor that attacked him personally.
OGIC and I get a lot of e-mail. Not only do we answer all of it, we post some of it, invariably to readable effect, because virtually none of it comes from cranks. It comes from smart people who read what we write and have smart things to say about it–sometimes amplifying what we’ve written, sometimes challenging it. And because neither one of us makes the mistake of assuming that we’re always right, we’re happy to keep the ball rolling by letting you show that we’re not.
The ease and immediacy with which blogs permit self-correction, public response, and further amplification is central to their appeal. Take another look at that Instapundit item: first he quotes from (and links to) a published article. Then he comments on it. Then, a little later, he receives and posts a comment on his comment. All this happened well within the space of what used to be called a “news cycle.” In fact, it probably happened inside of an hour–maybe even less. OGIC and I (usually) aren’t that quick on the draw with our e-mail, but the point is that we could be, given sufficient time. And once we do get on the stick and post what you have to say, it frequently results in a whole series of profitable exchanges involving all sorts of other people. What’s more, our referral log keeps us up to date about what other bloggers have to say about us, and when appropriate we pass that on, too.
Is this “self-important”? I don’t think so. If anything published in this space is important, it’s because you make it so, by reading it and responding to it and linking to it–a process that can take place not in a month or a week, but right now. Which is why blogging has caught on so quickly, and is becoming an increasingly significant part of the world of journalism: it’s fast, and anyone can do it. You don’t need a degree in journalism (nobody needs a degree in journalism), much less a printing press. To re-paraphrase the much-paraphrased words of A.J. Liebling, freedom of the press used to be for those who owned one. Now it’s for anyone with a computer, a modem, and something to say.
Take it from one who’s spent his entire adult life writing for and editing newspapers and magazines: except for politicians, journalists as a group are the most self-important people in the world. That’s why some of them are so horrified by blogging, and go out of their way to knock it. They don’t like the idea of a level playing field for opinion. They like it much better when theirs are the only opinions in play. And now they’re out of luck. As Rodgers and Hammerstein might have put it, ain’t that too damn bad.