I'm a lifelong fan of Garry Trudeau's venerable political cartoon Doonesbury, but I'm a little troubled by Sunday's strip, in which mainstream journalist Mark Slackmeyer encounters blogger "SlamZ88." Mark asks:
Isn't blogging basically for angry, semi-employed losers who are too untalented or too lazy to get real jobs in journalism?... I mean, if the market really valued what you have to say, wouldn't someone pay you for it?Needless to say, this attitude pisses me off (pisses you off too, I would think, oh hypothetical blog reader). And I think it exists--I think there are plenty of people in the traditional news business who resent and disdain blogs, using terms similar to these.
I hope I'm wrong--you can look at the strip yourself--but I'm afraid that Mark, the voice of the well-credentialed journalism insider, is the voice of Garry Trudeau. The strip isn't totally one-sided, but it is skewed, and the punchline definitely comes at the blogger's expense. True enough, Doonesbury is not often crudely didactic. And Trudeau does often use characters who do not speak for him directly, and I give him credit in this strip for framing the issue effectively and provocatively in a few panels. On the other hand, if Trudeau wants to satirize the mainstream media, he typically uses Roland Hedley as the vehicle. Mark S. is usually a voice of wisdom, a trustworthy guide to what the author really thinks.
It's a shame that Trudeau seems to miss the whole point of the rise of the lefty blogosphere. Talent and "professionalism" are not the be-all and end-all, they do not perfectly define those who can make a valuable contribution to the public discourse. We've been sorely let down by the professionals, too many times to list, and we're ready to give the amateurs a listen. Journalism isn't rocket science. Sure, it takes critical thinking and hard work, but many people possess those gifts who've never been to J school.
(Characterizing bloggers as lazy is particularly galling. Like them or dislike them, the blogs that have gained attention are the ones that post new content several times a day. That takes work. In other walks of life, that kind of gumption is praised as being entrepreneurial.)
The news networks and the papers of record have terrific news-gathering resources, but they have huge blind spots and institutional biases as well. It's disappointing if the creator of Roland Hedley misses the point that insiderdom can be corrosive to integrity and objectivity. Also, even if we accept the stereotype of the squirrely badly-groomed blogger, it's disappointing if the creator of Zonker Harris can't spare more sympathy for the unemployable self-deluded oddballs of the world. Oddballs can be right too.
The strip pokes particular fun at bloggers' laundry lists of nit-picking debate points, and alludes to the John Bolton controversy: "109 points about Bolton... Who reads this stuff?" As it happens, Garry Trudeau is on the record as being opposed to the Bolton nomination for UN ambassador, so it's not that he has no opinion on the matter or thinks it's trivial, but what apparently gave Trudeau a special platform to judge Bolton is that they were classmates at Yale. Presumably, that Ivy League social connection gives Trudeau a well-rounded non-nit-picking understanding of Bolton.
Well Garry, my man, not all of us have shared a panty raid or beer bong with the guy. We may have to rely on obscure old news stories that we Googled up. Yet Bolton's a public figure, and we non-Yalies assert our right to comment on him.
While we're on the subject, Pandagon had a good post and discussion earlier today about the unfolding Valerie Plame investigation. I'm as happy as anybody to wish Karl Rove hasta-la-vista and don't-drop-the-soap, but what an infuriating commentary on the American corporate news establishment. When I ponder the Plame affair, I come away believing that LOTS of people, hundreds probably, in the Washington press corps knew quite well that a key White House political adviser had burned an undercover CIA operative. That said adviser was likely a backstabbing felon, and arguably a traitor to the interests of US national security. Yet the same Washington press corps, for many months, unanimously, in its careerist ass-covering conventional wisdom, during a presidential election campaign, declined to share that information with the public. Which is a disgrace, and an abject failure of the press to perform its role in the American system. Reason # 23810 for the rise of the blogosphere.