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Blogs:

Are blogs bad? Or are they good? Well, are books bad, or are they good? How about newspapers? Conversations?

Some blogs are good, some are bad. A few provide very good reports of breaking specialty news (e.g., How Appealing). Some provide very good expert commentary on topics that few journalists know much about (e.g., Language Log). Some provide very good commentary by thoughtful people (e.g., Virginia Postrel's Dynamist), even outside relatively technical areas. Some provide high-quality selection services, pointing readers to interested sources they might otherwise have missed (e.g., InstaPundit and GeekPress). The overwhelming majority are of no interest to me or to most people — but that's true of books, too, and you don't see me ranting about how books are all tripe or all boring (even though most of them are).

Now different media do have systemic pluses and minuses; but those pluses and minuses are often overstated, and often too readily but incorrectly aggregated into an asserted net plus or minus. Consider something as simple as accuracy: Yes, newspapers sometimes offer some editorial checking of the author's work; blogs generally don't. But in practice, newspaper articles are almost never systematically fact-checked. (Some magazines fact-check, but to my knowledge nearly no newspapers do.) Occasionally an editor or someone else will catch an author's error, but pretty rarely. And on the other hand, many blogs are written by people who are much more expert in the field than the typical journalist; surely that contributes to accuracy.

Likewise, the typical newspaper article is much more carefully edited by the author himself than is the typical blog post. On the other hand, it's much easier to correct errors in a blog post after the fact, which lets bloggers work in feedback not just from their own editing or their editors' editing, but also from a large group of often highly knowledgeable readers.

So accuracy ends up turning less on the medium, and more on the particular characteristics of the institution and the author: Is the author really knowledgeable on the subject? Is the publisher (whether a blogger or a newspaper/magazine running a site where corrections are possible) willing to promptly put up corrections? Is the author trying hard to be objective?

True, if you asked me whether I'd put more trust in (1) a randomly selected article from a randomly selected newspaper or (2) a randomly selected post on the same topic from a randomly selected blog, I'd probably choose the newspaper. I imagine that the average newspaper writer has somewhat more training in accurate writing, and feels somewhat more pressure to be accurate, than the average blogger.

But I don't read either randomly selected blogs or randomly selected newspapers, and neither does anyone else. And if you ask me whom I'd trust more on coverage of sentencing law and policy, Sentencing Law and Policy or the New York Times, I'd surely choose the blog, since it's written by one of the nation's foremost experts on sentencing law and policy. More broadly, if you ask me whom I'd trust more on news analysis (not so much raw news, but news analysis) related to topics that I'm interested in, I'd probably say bloggers rather than newspapers: On those topics I care about, I'm familiar with who the best bloggers are, and on balance those best bloggers tend to be more expert (and more aware of the danger that if they err, they'll be promptly contradicted) than reporters at even the best newspapers.

And isn't that the way we deal with most media? We love books not because the average book is great, but because we've found the best authors (from our perspective), and their work is great. Likewise, judging blogs by the "average blogger" or even by "most bloggers" makes as much sense as condemning books as boring because 99% of all books will surely bore you.

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My Post on Blogs -- Bad or Good? -- Now in Hebrew,

here, in the Israel magazine NRG Maariv; the English version is here.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. My Post on Blogs -- Bad or Good? -- Now in Hebrew,
  2. Blogs:
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