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Bloggers breaking out

I cannot begin to tell you how frustrating it is that I cannot link directly to this article in the UK Sunday Times about the growing influence of Blogging and Bloggers.

The article is focussed on the fall on former New York Times editor, Howell Raines and unequivocally places the responsibility for his downfall on the Blogosphere:

A proliferating band of independent writers known as “bloggers” (short for web loggers) is pumping out personal takes on the news, and one of the most persistent themes of their websites has been that Howell Raines, executive editor of The New York Times, would have to resign or be sacked.

The bloggers got their man last week and have been exulting in their power. After a rollercoaster two years in the job, Raines resigned from The New York Times last Thursday along with Gerald Boyd, the managing editor.

The article goes on to specifically mention Glenn Reynolds , Andrew Sullivan and Mickey Kaus and the leading role that all played in the relentless (and thoroughly merited) hounding of Mr.Raines, emphasising that, ten years ago, he would have gotten clean away with putting idealism before the truth. Nor is this the end but merely the beginning:

Their latest target is Maureen Dowd, a star writer who jeered at Bush for claiming that Al-Qaeda was “not a problem any more” and has yet to acknowledge that she played fast and loose with his words.

The article also goes on to hint at the depth of the libertarian/conservative influence in the Blogosphere:

The attacks on The New York Times have added to the suspicion among Democrats that internet pundits are part of the “vast right-wing conspiracy” once alleged by Hillary Clinton. The right is certainly gloating over the newspaper’s discomfiture. According to Kaus, a Democrat, “the blogosphere does tend to skew to the right, though not as badly as radio”.

And a warning of things to come:

Raines’s departure is allowing bloggers to indulge in further self-congratulation. The internet’s new breed of media commentators is already savouring its potential impact on the 2004 presidential race.

Which means that traditional opinion-shapers like the UK Times are also ‘savouring’ (or, perhaps more accurately, ‘fearing’) that potential impact as well.

I must say that I have had my doubts about the capacity of the Blogosphere to impact upon the wider world but perhaps I have underestimated it. When a handful of bloggers can force the editor of a publication as august as the New York Times out of his job, you know that the game has changed. The once-untouchable are now touchable and they know it. That, of itself, is hugely significant.

I don’t believe that British or European bloggers are yet having the tangible impact on this side of the Atlantic that US bloggers are clearly starting to have on that side but, then, orthodox opinions are far more hegemonic here. Still, I do not believe that the Guardian would have been forced to issue a shame-faced apology for its woeful distortion of the Paul Wolfowitz statement even a year ago. Maybe they feel that they cannot get away with that kind of thing anymore. If so, good.

The watchers are being watched. They probably don’t like it. I expect that, in due course, they will respond by lobbying the government to bring bloggers under ‘democratic control’ which is the widely accepted procedure for laying low the competition. When that happens, we will all know that we have truly arrived.

[My thanks to my dear friend and reader Nigel Meek for alerting me to the article in the Times.]

36 comments to Bloggers breaking out

  • You know, David, that concluding bit about the prospect of the Old Media lobbying for having the Blogosphere regulated sent a little chill down my spine. We’ve had some pretty influential voices, folks such as Cass Sunstein and Amitai Etzioni, arguing for exactly that, First Amendment be damned — except that what they argue for regulating is the entire Internet, lock, stock, and Root Domain.

    And Britain doesn’t even have a First Amendment.

  • The Pew report has an interesting question asking which source is your 1st choice 2nd choice for getting news.

    The figures for the internet are
    US 6% 11%
    Canada 8% 9%
    Britain 3% 5%

    These figures are probably good proxies for the relative power of bloggs. So it would seem that the internet in the UK is about half as developed as in the US – personally I put this down to the fact that the UK has a greater range of newsprint media.

    Interestingly however the US doesn’t lead in this field though – in Korea a whopping 30% put the internet as their 1st or 2nd choice for getting their news i.e. the internet is nearly up there with the newspapers and TV! So it is possible.

  • G. Cooper

    David Carr writes:

    “The watchers are being watched. They probably don’t like it. I expect that, in due course, they will respond by lobbying the government to bring bloggers under ‘democratic control’ which is the widely accepted procedure for laying low the competition. When that happens, we will all know that we have truly arrived.”

    It will also, I’d suggest, be the call to arms.

    Thank your for that post, Mr. Carr – I’m not a Sunday Times reader, so would have missed this commentary.

    If the Blogosphere truly was responsible for the demise of the humbugs and frauds at the New York Times (and I’m in no position to judge) and if, as usual, we are a few years behind the cousins, then I wonder if we might be able to exert a similar influence on the BBC … oh, sometime around 2007?

    Sooner, from preference, of course!

  • G Cooper

    I, too, dream of the day when the BBC is atomised and scattered to the four winds. Unfortunately, it is a great deal more secure than the New York Times or Mr.Raines because it is an arm of the state.

    The BBC can therefore luxuriate in its guaranteed status without having to concern itself with such matters as accuracy, truth or even balance.

  • mark holland

    The BBC can therefore luxuriate in its guaranteed status without having to concern itself with such matters as accuracy, truth or even balance.

    In 20minutes BBC2 will be showing Dan Cruickshank And The Raiders Of The Lost Art


    Sun 8 Jun, 21:00 – 22:00 60 mins

    It’s been called the worst cultural disaster since the Second World War – yet confusion and misinformation have surrounded the looting of the Iraq Museum ever since it happened. Now for the first time the true story can be told as Dan Cruickshank is the first journalist to get into the galleries of the Museum and see the scenes of devastation for himself

    How up to date will that be given what we now know? And we know it from blogs.

    I’ll be putting my head in the sand by watching libertarian rock band Metallica Live on MTV2 instead so I won’t know.

  • A

    Nice posting (again) from David!

    I tend to agree with the comments and analysis regarding bloggers becoming a force in the wider media arena. The basic idea of expressing your opinnion in easily accesible media (internet) and responding to feedback almost immediatly is very appealing to the “thinking public”. Thanks to ongoing developments in technology, blogging is becoming more and more widespread and easily accessible.

    For left-wing media, this really represents an unforseen danger… imagine having millions of proof-readers probing every article, searching for bias and material errors… and the capacity of publishing them for large audience…

    I don’t think blogging will become “mainstream” for a good while yet, however I could see it having major effect say in 2008 Presidental election. Especially if Hillary gets the Democrat nomination…

    Cheers. A.

    Ps. Regarding the Pew numbers…3/5% for UK is dismally small, but hey – importance is to reach the part of public that will vote, not the one which sit their arses watching Big Brother all day.

  • Local politics would seem to be a place where blogs will have a greal impact, too. Blogs are so easy to establish/disband that they can focus on relatively minor matters of local concern as well as knocking off executives of large global organizations.

    To my knowledge, there are no blogs in the Seattle area that have any political punch to them. I imagine such local political blogs will emerge in time.

    Perhaps we will also see blogs focussing on one company — let your imagination run free, though tech companies would seem a natural — run by some disgruntled employee. (Of course maybe there is and I am simply not in that loop, which is true.)

  • TomD

    One of the first steps necessary for control of the masses is control of information.

    The net and talk radio (in the US) have split the information monopoly wide open, to the huge benefit of personal freedom.

  • GT

    I doubt this very much.

    If Reynolds, Kaus and Sullivan had never been born Raines would have still resigned for the same reason, in the same day, at the same time.

  • George Peery

    The bloggers were down on Howell Raines — Raines resigned — therefore, the bloggers brought down Howell Raines. Hmm

    Raines was surely a pox on American journalism, and he is best off in retirement in Alabama (or wherever). Still, I am not appalled at Andrew Sullivan dancing on the grave of the erstwhile Great Man (who fired him) only because I believe little Andrew had, in the final analysis, rather little to do with it.

    Howell Raines was forced into retirement because his editorial skills were manifestly deficient and (consequently) because he lost the support of his newspaper’s staff.

    Bloggers who now think they can change the world (as Raines though he could) need a reality check.

  • Francis,

    I do seriously expect them to try this. If the current trend continues than it is not just orthodox ideas that under threat it is also the wealth and status of the people who peddle them. Nobody ever surrenders those things without a fight. Nobody!

    As the blogosphere increases its influence (assuming it does of course) then I expect some anguished op-eds to start appearing in the mainstream press about the ‘dangerous unaccountability’ of the internet, sprinkled with a lot of darkly phrased questions about the spread of ‘neo-nazi’ and ‘racist’ ideas.

    The nabobs in both Whitehall and Brussels will be particularly receptive to this kind of thing as they are already obsessed with finding ways to control the net.

  • JorgXMcKie

    Govts everywhere and everywhen have specifically tried to control 3 things: 1) use of force 2) food 3) information. While most still have a fair grasp on #1 and many have #2 (see especially Zimbabwe), #3 is proving to be very problematic. I don’t think it matters whether a govt is left or right, odds are it will want to “improve” the use of the web by writing laws that give the govt more control of the info portion. How well this will work is unsure.

    Anyway, I would bet large amounts of my own money that even 2 years ago Raines would have survived this situation. It would have been kept out of the general circulation of “news” and he could have continued (with the backing of ‘Pinch” Sulzberger) to terrorize his internal opposition. The bloggers made the info more widely known. Did they get him? No. But they made it possible for an internal revolution to succeed.

  • The London Times story can be found at:

    “Editor falls to bloggers’ rapid poison”

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2089-706335,00.html

    or for the printer friendly version at:

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/printFriendly/0,,1-524-706335,00.html

  • penny

    Dead Tree journalism is not going away any time soon because of the scale of advertising it can accomodate. But, the playing field is a lot more leveled thanks to bloggers. The days of owning the news are over which is good for democracy. Raines may or may not have been a casualty of this. It doesn’t matter.

  • G Cooper

    David Carr writes:

    “The nabobs in both Whitehall and Brussels will be particularly receptive to this kind of thing as they are already obsessed with finding ways to control the net.”

    I agree and I’m particularly concerned at the way the French are likely to approach this. No – make that the French and the Germans. Neither country has what could be called a relaxed attitude to free speech and the Europhile collaborators in the UK would, I’m sure, be only too happy to go along with them in an attempt to control freedom on the ‘net.

    As for the BBC, however, I’m not sure I agree that it is quite so unshakeable. In fact, I’m inclined to think that blogging could more easily undermine it than it could, say, a national newspaper. Newspapers are owned by corporations or individuals. The power of public opinion to force these to change is inherently limited to the influence it might exert on either advertising revenue or circulation. These are difficult levers to use.

    With the state-funded BBC, on the other hand, all that is required is for politicians to start sensing a wind of change in the public’s willingness to pay the licence fee.

    How eagerly would the present incumbent at No. 10, for example, now go to the wall for the BBC, given its treatment of him in the past year? There isn’t much love lost between either main party and the BBC, which has developed a little Lib-Dem agenda of its own in the past few years. The BBC has powerful enemies. All we need to do is convince them that the public is ready for a change.

    In these days of ‘I only watch satellite, mate’ that might not be as hard as we sometimes imagine..

  • George Peery

    Penny, blogging is an interesting new medium. I happily visit helf-a-dozen bloggers each day.

    But let’s get serious. The blogs have essentially no “resources” at all — not in the sense that the Telegraph or the Times or New York Times or Wall Street Journal have “resources”.

    Unless there is some breakthrough (one I can’t as yet envision) in how blogs operate, they will be relegated to being a “derivative” outlet — one that reacts to what other, more capable, outlets do (or fail to do). That is not necessarily a bad thing: quite the contrary. I’m only suggesting we keep things in perspective.

  • D2D

    They beauty of blogs and the internet as a whole is that when a story breaks I can go to several different sources in a brief sitting, and news comes to blogs almost simultaneously. Not only can I can different articles on the same item, I can get different opinions on the same articles, and sometimes I can actually access source material used by reporters and columnists for such articles. All from the comfort of my castle. It is people and entities such as Cass Sunstein, Amitai Etzioni, the U.N., and France that I am a vigirous practitioner of my 2nd Amendment rights. Just doing my bit to keep free.

  • I’m sure they’d *like* to control what’s said at some point, and that things like legalities, decency, and technological hurdles will be approached and circumvented.

    But really: what could they do? How can they control the internet?

  • Bloggers also have to accept while they are independent writers, in the main they are highly dependent on existing news sources. Some might consider this a parasitic relationship, but I suspect it is more symbiotic than we think.

    Blogs, at least to me, seem to be a type of peer review process for the news media, similar to that seen in the rapid responses at the British Medical Journal http://www.bmj.com However, blogs also peer review each other.

    I’d go along with the comments above from George Peery, you can overstate the political clout of the internet. We’ll never know what would have happened to Raines before the ‘blogosphere’ arose. Causality seems hard to prove, unless someone saw him leaving his office saying [scooby-doo on]‘And I would have got away with it too, apart from those pesky kids, Andrew Sullivan and Glenn Reynolds!’[scooby-doo off]

    I stopped buying the Guardian and Independent during the war, as I was so disheartened by their ‘agenda’. I’m pleased that the Guardian have retracted their Wolfowitz spin, perhaps they are more influenced by blogs, afterall they run one themselves and employ Salam Pax these days.

  • G Cooper

    Oh, the *internet* – certainly, you’re right, they can’t control that.

    But they could make it a criminal offence to post or host anything with which they didn’t agree. And they’ll already extradite you from Birmingham to Barcelona, if they feel like it.

    For ‘could’ substitute ‘will’ in five years or so, unless we are very assiduous in our defence.

  • As a Life Member of the National Rifle Association, I liked Mr. Cooper’s remark about about a call to arms. (Hope it never is never forced to take on a literal meaning….)

    The imperious tone of the Times is ominous indeed. Also ominous is the regulation of two very cowardly sites — Ebay and Yahoo — in France and Germany. I hope they prove unsuccessful in extending similar regulations to the Blogosphere — especially England’s finest bloggers. Most Americans would, I am sure, be honored to once again be allies of the British — this time in defense of free speech!

  • Theodopoulos Pherecydes

    The liberals are half right: there is a vast right wing, but it’s no conspiracy. The development of talk radio and blogs have allowed common sense conservatives to break the opinion monopoly of the bien pensants. It’s right out in the open.

    As to the NYTimes, I agree that blogs didn’t bring down Howell Raines, but they kept the controversy alive and THAT brought the guilt-ridden Alabama management fascist to his knees.

    If I were a Conservative Party politician, I would advocate privatization of the BBC and call the prospective disappearance of the license fee a “tax reduction”.

  • G Cooper

    George Peery writes:

    “But let’s get serious. The blogs have essentially no “resources” at all — not in the sense that the Telegraph or the Times or New York Times or Wall Street Journal have “resources”.”

    On the contrary. Modern newspapers (at least in the UK – the NYT is a bit of an exception) run astonishingly tight ships. The days of having stringers (“Our man in Tristan da Cunha was on the spot when the goat bit President X”…) are long, long gone.

    Count the proportion of stories in even a better quality broadsheet that come either from a press agency, government or NGO press office or some other equally unreliable source.

    Modern newspapers are very, very limited in their resources. And it shows.

    What the Blogosphere offers is (literally) a potential correspondent in wherever. True, he might be full of it, but tell me that isn’t equally true of a BBC, CNN, Independent or NYT correspondent?

    In truth, what a blog offers is, as someone else has suggested, a peer-review process. When the BBC lies to us, we can rebut it, sometimes with our very own ‘man in Tristan da Cunha’. Perhaps even more usefully, we can share the reading a Guardian article with countless others, dissecting the lies and spin from equally countless viewpoints.

    From a purely personal standpoint, I find Samizdata particularly useful for that. Other writers pick up nuances I might have missed. This makes life very much more difficult for the polemicist who masquerades as a reporter.

  • saedavis

    Governments own the physical nets. Corporations own the hosts. You must pay to operate a server.
    What in Blog’s name makes you think this is uncontrolled?
    Affordability?

  • George Peery

    As to G Copper’s response to me, I can only take his word for it regarding the British press. I’m American — I made reference to the Telegraph and the Times in the spirit of “ecumenism” and the assumption (based on what I’ve read) that these London papers are quite as capable as, e.g., the NYT, Washington Post, and the LA Times — all of whom have huge staffs and much moola.

    If that isn’t the case, then it only heightens my regard for the elite British press.

  • A switch on the old Stalin line: it ain’t the number of bloggers it’s WHO READS THE BLOGS. There are many more influential bloggers than the so-called big four and many of these have strong media readership. I’d point out that Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post is obviously a blog reader, the entire staff of National Review and Weekly Standard ditto, as well as the people at FOX. This increases the impact of blogs exponentially and this impact will continue so long as blogging is accurate.

    I hope the next target is the Los Angeles Times, a paper much worse than the New York Times in their blatant disregard for the truth. However, they simply ignore stories altogether, rather than just slant.

  • David Mercer

    I wholeheartedly agree with TP above, it was keeping the story alive that blogs contributed to Raines going down.

    Blogs can keep the fire burning under someones ass, in this respect their tendency towards the self-agreeing echo-chamber effect can be a Good Thing.

    There are increasingly more cases of mainstream media picking up a story off of a blog and running with it. Not always the blog(s) that started the story, or kept it going, but keeping it going until a sound-bite quality damning piece of dirt turns up helps. THAN the other media outlets will run like dogs with it.

    Blogs have become what everybody thought Usenet was going to turn into in the eighties. But Usenet turned out to be too easy to pollute. With blogs YOU control your individual soapbox, rather than it being an information channel on a dedicated topic, which can get hijacked.

  • Original material

    Let’s not assume that bloggers must only be commentators and act in a derivative function, not to denigrate in the least that job. Making sense of facts as reported by others is critically important.

    But when it comes to local politics and/or large organizations, bloggers can in fact be first reporters, able to ferret out information that is at such a fine a level of detail that “real reporters” miss it.

    As well, if “micro-payments” ever evolve, there can be an economic base for a blogger/reporter.

    Moreover, in terms of perceived power, don’t you think that there at least a dozen bloggers who could get an interview with, say an under-Secretary, (if not higher up the food chain?)

  • penny

    George, your point is well taken, but G Cooper is on to something. Who knows what blogs will yet morph into. Would I fund, via Paypal, a blogger to do on the ground reporting, say in Iraq? You bet. Better yet, multiple voices from the same locale. That’s what is missing in print news. By-lines are a rationed commodity.

  • Stephen Hodgson

    Kevin White
    But really: what could they do? How can they control the internet?

    Admittedly ‘controlling’ the Internet would be an incredibly difficult task for any single government or organisation to perform because there are systems spread all over the world and the sheer vastness of the continually growing non-centralised network is a major barrier to control and censorship but there are ways to control the flow of information around the Internet which are already being used in some parts of the world like China, Cuba and Vietnam. The governments of these and other countries have control of the telecommunications networks and Internet links in and out of their countries (although preventing access to the Internet via satellite link must be more tricky). You might like to take a look at the Internet Censorship Explorer to see how the governments of various countries are trying to filter content on the Internet. The Internet Censorship Explorer will look up a website you request using an open proxy server inside the country of your choice and acts as a useful tool for determining what is and is not accessible in particular countries (eg. access to Google has been banned in China).

    People inside countries like China have ways round the censorship systems such as using proxy servers in ‘free’ countries but unrestricted Internet access is much more difficult to find and if you’re caught trying to access information the Chinese government would rather you didn’t have access to (such as a blog which highlights human rights abuses in China or constantly complains about how the Chinese government operates) you’d better hope you don’t get caught. (However, it is worth bearing in mind that in the West computers with Internet access are commonly found in people’s homes whereas in China people are more likely to access the Internet from state-operated cyber cafes where access is easily monitored and is granted only after one has presented his ID card.)

    Various firms and governments in countries like the US and the UK are working on technologies such as Trusted Computing Platform Alliance (TCPA) and Digital Rights Management (DRM) which will seek to limit the flow of information across the Internet under the guise of preventing piracy of music and films.

    It’s important that all Internet users and advocates of free speech keep an eye on the development of any new technology which could potentially allow censorship of the Internet or make it easier for governments to control the flow of information because we must offer active resistance to the introduction of technology which restricts how computers and the Internet can be used to communicate with people around the world and propagate information and/or what software can be used.

  • I think its fair to say that blogs are always going to have less financial resources than papers regardless of paypal etc. So I think cooper is wrong that blogs will ever overtake papers as news sources – the difference between a blog correspondent and a BBC correspondent is that one may lose their job if they lie, the others looses nothing so I’d trust Fisk before an unknown blogger.

    Where Blogs do have a competitive advantage is in opinion pieces; in newspapers, whether to run the piece is just part of the editors call which is fallible – e.g. Raines and Augusta. On the Internet, the editor disappears and whether the opinion piece is any good is very rapidly evaluated by links. The blogosphere acts like a very rapid market editor

  • Stephen, thanks for a very informative post. I knew about DRM, but hadn’t really given the matter of pure information control much thought. I echo the Curmudgeon’s (Francis Porretto–first comment at the top of the page) sentiment–chilling.

  • jerseycityjoan

    I have to admit I don’t like the sound of:

    “I even managed to meet a new potential client for my latest business endeavor, a blogging consultancy that will show companies how blogs can greatly assist their businesses. Together with two fellow Samizdatistas David Carr and Adriana Cronin, who was the one who thought up and elaborated the idea, we have started a new venture called the Big Blog Company.”

    Isn’t the whole point of a blog to express the individual opinion(s) of the blogger(s)?

    But who knows, maybe we’d all be fascinated to learn about the secret life of a Coke bottle at fillmeupagain@blogspot.com

  • Tombo

    Re. bloggers’ impact on the Fall of Raines, the bloggers were crucial–not for their speed in exposing Times’ distortions or lies, but because of their reach and persistence.

    Reach is crucial. The bloggers could tap into literally thousands of watchers, including journalists both outside and inside the Times, who fed them with evidence of Raines’ distortions and absurdities. As the exposures increased, the reach became greater, and more exposures flowed into Instapundit and the other sites. Think “viral”, or “snowball.”

    Secondly, the bloggers kep the story alive. Mainstream media has the attention span of a dumb twelve year-old. The Raines story was front-and-center for Sullivan for over a year.

  • Richard Boggs

    There was a post about 30% of the Korean people getting their news from the Internet. One reason is a Korean blog that puts stories from the public up on the blog and pays a small amount to the writer. The staff pays the writer based on how important the piece is. The higher up on the blog page the higher the payment. Maybe that should be adopted in the US and Britain. Also now that cell phones can transmit pictures of events directly onto the Internet, so the riot and disaster can be covered by a blogger fast than the print or TV reporter. This week there was a computer conference where the print and TV reporters were told that the remarks were off the record but nobody told the bloggers in the audience so the remarks went out onto the internet for all to see. So there is a great future for the news on the Internet.

  • JB Elliott

    While I agree that the ousting of Raines and Boyd shows the increased power of blogs, at least in the world of the media. I don’t really know that this will be reflected in the 2004 elections. I believe it will be more of a comparison to the power of polls in the early days. It’s a matter of what the media uses for sources. For years the media has over-relied on polling data to project the outcome of the election. The media tends to think that the topics being reported in the media are what is important. So the fact that multiple newspapers or electronic media will report the same story multiple times means to the media that it is an important story that everyone cares about. In this case, because they now read the blog sites, the fact that this story was covered on multiple sites with many, many postings made this an important story. Actually as the number of people actively participating in blogs is probably no greater than the number of people actually deciding what to print in the papers in the US, neither necessarily reflects what the public really believe in.

    I do believe that bloggers come a lot closer to the public viewpoint and have the potential to make the major media more willing to look outside of their current narrow focus on what they think is important to report and how to report it. Consider the recent news that the Minneapolis Star Tribune is considering dropping it’s oh so very PC ban on references to sports teams with American Indian nicknames. The willingness of the blogs to stick to the pervasive misreporting of the NY Times, Dowd and other reporters likely has much to do with this. I can’t see anything else that would make an editor say “At a time when newspaper accuracy and balance are constantly challenged, our commitment to direct and straight-forward reporting has to be the priority.” (Anders Gyllenhaal).