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"Digital Mob":

The folks at Technology Review is upset that the "digital mob" is too critical of the MSM and has claimed the careers of Dan Rather, Eason Jordan, and Jeff Gannon.

Perhaps all three men deserved their fates; maybe the blogosphere is to be applauded. But in each case, bloggers expressed an unseemly triumph after they got their man. It's hard to feel happy when bloggers turn into a digital mob. Blogs are powerful, but bloggers are rewarded for expressing extravagant opinions. And at least for now, their postings are not subject to the processes common for most stories produced by MSM: sober debate among colleagues, followed by reporting, line editing, copyediting, legal vetting, and fact checking.

What's curious about this is that the primary charge against the MSM is that it does not involve as much "sober debate, . . . vetting, and fact checking" as its defenders like to claim. Wasn't this precisely the critique of Dan Rather? Doesn't the success of blogs demonstrate that the MSM has lost much of the moral high ground upon which the Technology Review critique is premised? These are hardly original points, but many knee-jerk defenders still miss them. In my opinion, if the MSM did a better job of the things that should distinguish it from blogging, the "digital mob" would be much less of threat.

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I agree with Juan's criticisms of the "bloggers as digital mob" argument, and just wanted to add this: The reason that we dislike mobs is that they have the power to cause physical damage entirely unrelated to the persuasiveness of their ideas.

But when bloggers "hound[] . . . prominent newsmen from their jobs," they don't do it through force -- nor do they do it through "extravagant opinions" as such. A news organization isn't going to fire someone because people express unfounded opinions about them; and to the extent the news organization fears public reaction to unfounded opinions, it has plenty of opportunity to make its own case to the public. Unlike some of the targets of media criticism, the media targets of blog criticism have ample means to publicly defend themselves. The wealthy established media should have little difficulty rebutting unfounded opinions spread by amateur bloggers.

Of course, when the opinions, however extravagant, are actually well-founded, the media may well respond to them. And prominent newsmen who have indeed done something wrong may be dismissed by their employers, not because some oh-so-scary "digital mob" is threatening to rip apart the jail if the prisoner isn't handed over, but because bloggers are making a persuasive case that the newsmen have indeed badly erred. "Blogs can . . . be destructive and unaccountable," the Technology Review story says. Yet they are accountable in the simplest and most effective way: If their charges against newsmen aren't persuasive, there'll be little reason for the newsmen's employers to act on those charges.

Finally, Technology Review complains, even though "[p]erhaps all three men deserved their fates; maybe the blogosphere is to be applauded," "bloggers expressed an unseemly triumph after they got their man." Heaven forfend! "There's a mob outside the window, Sheriff -- and they're . . . gloating." "What has this country come to, deputy? I guess we'd better give them what they want."

Let's just say that if "mobs" were simply famous for persuading media employers, through the force of their reasoning, to fire errant newsmen, and then "express[ing] . . . unseemly triumph," then "mob" wouldn't be much of a pejorative.

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