Attack of the blogs

Jonah Goldberg

5/27/2002 12:00:00 AM - Jonah Goldberg
We don't know exactly how many there are. But they number in the tens of thousands. They are everywhere among us. They intend to tear down the world as we know it. And there are more on the way. No, not al-Qaida; I'm talking about bloggers. What's a blogger? While it may sound like unsavory slang from a British public school, it's actually short for a web-logger, or someone who runs a web log. What's a web log? Just another word for a Web page that is updated a lot (webbies like to make things sound very technical) The thing to keep in mind is that blogs are lone-wolf Web sites that report, comment and dissect the day's news as the authors see fit on the author's timetable. The form and content varies wildly. AndrewSullivan.com, run by Andrew Sullivan if you couldn't guess, is a blog. The Kaus Files is a blog. Instapundit is a blog. Dynamist.com. OxBlog, Uthant.com, JunkYardBlog, VodkaPundit, QuasiPundit, MuslimPundit … the list could go on and on. There are war bloggers and peace-bloggers. Commie bloggers and Nazi bloggers. Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, atheist and pagan bloggers. Eric Alterman of the leftwing Nation nastily denounced blogs and then started one. Even National Review Online, which I edit, has the "Corner" a multiple-author blog that runs 24-7. Depending on whom you believe, blogging is either having its 15 minutes of fame right now or these 15 minutes actually constitute the opening scene of a new thousand-year bloggian reich. The bloggers talk of the growing power of the "blogosphere" and how there's a "blogging revolution" taking place. The hype is often over the top. Newsweek recently asked "Will the Blogs Kill Old Media?" Dave Winer, a leading software designer and blog booster, bets that more people will get their news from bloggers than from The New York Times by 2007. Now, I'm a small-c, big-C and even a bouncy-c conservative. And one requirement for being any kind of conservative is that you have faith in the adage "there's nothing new under the sun." It is this faith that has always made me a bit of a skeptic about the Internet, even though I make my living from it. Believing there's nothing new under the sun doesn't mean I can't recognize the great technological marvels of history -the wheel, the printing press, the rising-crust frozen pizza. These were all new and wonderful things. Indeed, it was a conservative, St. Augustine, who essentially invented the idea that history is the story of technological innovation. But, Augustine noted that while the doohickeys keep changing, human nature and the laws that govern it remain constant. And this gets to the heart of why I don't think there will be a blogger revolution. As a full-time conservative and part-time media critic, I am in total sympathy with the idea that Big Media is bloated, smug and less responsive than it should be. But, because human nature remains constant, we can also count on the fact that most people are lazy -in a good way. Surfing among thousands of bloggers is harder than reading one or two newspapers. The average consumer wants to get his news and opinions from predictable and -just as important -reliable outlets. And on the supply side of the equation, no matter how big a megaphone a Web site might be, a television network is a bigger one. And size does matter. Indeed, we've had these debates before. Video cameras, CB radios, ham radios and, just a few years ago, the Internet all sparked predictions of a new "citizen media" which never came to be. One reason is resources. The New York Times has reporters in Kinshasa, Moscow and Baghdad; the bloggers spend their days discussing what those reporters report. It's horse-and-sparrow journalism. The horse blazes the trail and eats the hay. The sparrows feed on what the horse leaves behind in steamy piles on the road. Already, there are at least 40,000 blogs. Every day I hear from two or three new bloggers who want me to post a link to their allegedly revolutionary site. Why? Because my Web site has a million readers a month and theirs don't. And, just like with a tree falling in the woods, you cannot be a revolutionary new voice if nobody hears you. Blogs are a positive development. Big-league media can use more critics and good writers can always use more opportunities to get noticed. The best bloggers will either be snapped up by larger organizations (Mickey Kaus, for example, has joined Slate.com) or they will become media players in their own right and maybe, someday, make a legitimate profit. But the idea that the blogosphere will overpower the establishment media is batty. Imagine a bunch of students in large classroom. If one student rises up and shouts his disagreement with the professor, that's lively and interesting. But if 50 students do the same thing, it's just noise. And, besides, there's a reason most students are paying to hear what the professor thinks, not what their fellow students have to say.