Wednesday, December 20, 2006

WSJ's Rago faces the challenge that is beating him

Joseph Rago of the WSJ's op/ed page has a haughty piece about the growing size and influence of the blogosphere. There isn't much to excerpt--it's the typical puerile scornfulness laced with a supercilious sense of superiority (his second sentence reads: "Even Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has [a blog].") that is always to be expected from movie/art/social critics. As a newly-minted editor of and writer for the nation's second largest newspaper, the competition that is killing newspaper's dominance in the dissemination of information by one thousand pin pricks is understandably threatening.

A few lines may as well be referring to the Journal's treatment of the immigration issue:
A tone of careless informality prevails; posts oscillate between the uselessly brief and the uselessly logorrheic; complexity and complication are eschewed; the humor is cringe-making, with irony present only in its conspicuous absence; arguments are solipsistic; writers traffic more in pronouncement than persuasion...
Of course that is exactly what op/ed boards can afford to do with little challenge. When was the last time the WSJ editorial pages were inked with the words of Stephen Camarotta, Mark Krikorian, or Tom Tancredo? Although the positions these men hold are much more popular and empirically-sound than the vacuous vitriol of the WSJ's writers who amazingly argue that immigration restriction will leave jobs that require the least specialization to go unfulfilled (an absolute impossibility in every general market theory) and present a false-dichotomy between open-borders and zero immigration.

Bloggers have provided the public with lots of information that newspaper fails or refuses to deliver: 'Memo-Gate', Bush's slight cognitive advantage over Kerry, the flawed exit poll results regarding Hispanic votes in the 2004 Presidential election, the real reasons coalition goals in Iraq are doomed, incorrect measurements of generosity, the utter unsoundness of the abortion-cut-crime theory, and on and on.

Still, it isn't in the realm of news reporting that blogs are truly revolutionary, although they're a welcome addition. It is in the realms of commentary and analysis. Many bloggers are purists in the way traditional editorialists cannot be. They work not for renumeration or even recognition, typing away under pseudonyms on their own time and dime.

Journalism as a putative vocation has always been questionable. What specific skills do journalists need to have to work in their putative profession? A working knowledge of the language they publish in? Some understanding of that language's idioms?

Journalism simply doesn't require a skill set that has to be acquired prior to success. To be a lawyer (the Bar), a programmer (various computer language certifications), or an accountant (CPA, CMA) one has to learn the rules, formalities, and laws governing these respective professions. Journalism requires nothing of the sort. Not surprisingly, scores and scores of people are better at journalism than many journalists. Add in the fact that you have to pay to access the latter, and its obvious why the opinion pages of the WSJ and the NYT are perpetually losing influence.

Competition is rough. Not only is the ability of people who work for less and do a better job than you do to have their thoughts made easily accessible an impossible obstacle for newspapers to overcome, the accountability that is mandated by instant repudiation (via comments) makes high-end blogs the location of choice for many of the most erudite consumers of information out there. Why would you read the WSJ's incoherent argument that by liking foreign sports players (an extreme example of merit-based immigration) you are being a hypocrite if you don't like hordes of uneducated, criminally and disease prone third-worlders streaming into your country, knowing that the paper will neither entertain nor even address the many challenges to the view it holds? Why not instead read as articulate people on both sides of the issue hash it out with everything they have and chime in yourself when something hasn't been stated to your satisfaction?

Parenthetically, Rago is addressing blogs in response to Time Magazine's interesting choice of 'You' as person of the year, and he's not alone in his cynicism. Perhaps Time is throwing in with the enemy, or perhaps its editors wanted to avoid the barrage of criticism from the blogosphere that would've been volleyed its way had it went with the runner-up, and named Ahmadinejad its person of the year.

Whatever the case, I understand the accusation that Time is stoking the egoism of so many faceless pundits with its reflective cover. Whenever I review old posts I'm always struck by how well-put my writing is. It seems to express with alacrity my thoughts to a tee. Even the delivery is patterned on the very thought processes that are pulsing through the neurons as I read. A few paragraphs in, I'm exclaiming "This is great! I could've written it myself!" And then I realize that I did write it myself, and it seems to so accurately reflect exactly what I'm thinking because it is exactly what I was thinking!

Newspaper circulation will continue to decline in absolute numbers even as the number of potential readers continues to grow. It will continually become a less and less attractive place for opinion especially.

1 comment:

JSBolton said...

There is an anger among the journalists and editorialists, which is actually greater than they dare show.
What they're losing is not so much circulation, as the near-monopoly position on public policy punditry, which they used to have before the blogger multitudes got to squawk back.
Questions which had been buried for generations, not least by the refusal of major media to publish divergent views on such closed topics, have been blasted wide open.
The media establishment does not like immigration to be a wide-open issue, although, it means less to them now that refugee privilege is being used by moslem enemies of tolerance, than it did when soviet refugees were forthcoming.
Here's an example of what for at least 60 years has not been publishable in our standard media:
We owe loyalty to fellow citizens such as the net taxpayers who are being attacked by immigration cohorts, which go on to net public subsidy here.
Such a statement has not appeared in those media for that long, even though it is true and the nation cannot mean less than that we do indeed have such loyalties and preferences.