Blogs breaking logjam of journalism

Posted: Jul 13, 2003 12:00 AM

If not for blogs, Howell Raines might still be editor of The New York Times; Trent Lott might still be majority leader of the U.S. Senate. And we might never have learned the name of "whatshername," Blue-Dress Girl, Lewinsky.

OK, maybe not. Raines and Lott would have left anyway, and Lewinsky was inevitable, but their stories might have evolved at a slower pace. A human rather than a technology-driven pace. For such is the gift, the curse and the essence of the blogosphere. Speed. "Instaneity," a word I just made up because we need it. News in a pixel instant because New York minutes have gotten too slow.

For those who still lead normal lives free of Internet addiction and news obsession, the blogosphere refers to an emergent new world inhabited by "bloggers" -people (or so they say) who keep "Web logs," or diary-style journals on the World Wide Web.

Anyone can have a blog, be a blogger and set up camp in the blogosphere, which is swelling faster than South Texas with new arrivals. Some blogs are strictly personal, diaries for the exhibitionist; some are political and news-driven; some are run by amateurs, others by journalists (not that the two are mutually exclusive), and others by doctors, lawyers, teachers and soothsayers.

I'm not an expert on blogging, but I am a fan. As a regular visitor to a dozen or so news and opinion blogs, I'm riveted by the implications for my profession. Bloggers are making life interesting for reluctant mainstreamers like myself and for the public, whose access to information until now has been relatively controlled by traditional media.

I say "reluctant mainstreamer" because what I once loved about journalism went missing some time ago and seems to have resurfaced as the driving force of the blogosphere: a high-spirited, irreverent, swashbuckling, lances-to-the-ready assault on the status quo. While mainstream journalists are tucked inside their newsroom cubicles deciphering management's latest "tidy desk" memo, bloggers are building bonfires and handing out virtual leaflets along America's Information Highway.

In some areas, bloggers are beating the knickers off mainstream reporters and commentators. Bloggers are credited, for instance, with ramping up interest in Trent Lott's suicidal praise of Strom Thurmond's segregationist history. Bloggers like Andrew Sullivan, former editor-in-chief of The New Republic magazine and author of , was riding herd on Raines and The New York Times long before Jayson Blair became synonymous with criminal journalism. He was insisting on Raines' dismissal while everyone else was tapping the snooze button.

And of course Matt Drudge of  escorted Monica Lewinsky onto the stage.

During the Iraq war, "warbloggers" often posted new developments far ahead of the mainstream. Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online, slept maybe 4.5 hours the entire three weeks as she posted on the site's group blog, "The Corner." Put it this way, as you were waking up, Lopez was on her third Diet Coke.

The best bloggers, who are generous in linking to one another -alien behavior to journalists accustomed to careerist, shark-tank newsrooms -are like smart, hip gunslingers come to make trouble for the local good ol' boys. The heat they pack includes an arsenal of intellectual artillery, crisp prose, sharp insights and a gimlet eye for mainstream media's flaws.

Glenn Reynolds, the blogosphere's Rowdy Yates ( ), as well as a University of Tennessee law professor, last year wrote, "Big journalism is in trouble," and proclaimed "the end of the power of Big Media."

He's right about the trouble part, but the blogosphere may help more than hurt. The view from my bunker suggests that blogs can't be anything but good for journalism. Just as a new restaurant is good for established ones, competition is good. And fun! As another famous cowboy recently put it, "Bring `em on!"

Besides, for all their trail-blazing and herd-prodding -you knew this was coming -the blogosphere still ain't a newspaper. You can't hold the blogosphere in your hands. You can't feel a blog, smell it, fold it, hand it across the breakfast table or throw it down in a rage. You can't cut out stories and strawberry them to the fridge, line the birdcage, swat flies, house-train the puppy or wrap fish in it.

In the end, a blog is just a blog, but a newspaper -cradled caffeinated in a morning lap curled barefoot into the seat of a porch rocker -is a read.