Sunday, July 28, 2002

Bloggers the world over, led by Instapundit Glenn Reynolds, are hooting in celebration of John Leo's proclamation, in an entire column on blogging in the oh-so-mainstream US News and World Report, that "[t]he main arena for media criticism....will be the Internet." Now, I'm as enthused about the blogging phenomenon as anyone (okay, as anyone I know), but in understanding its growth and influence, it's important to separate form from content.

A stroll through the "blogosphere", as it's called, reveals that a very large fraction of blogs are nothing more than the appallingly tedious, self-centered ramblings of appallingly tedious, self-centered people (whether "I Could Be Wrong" falls into this category is of course a question for you, the reader, to decide). Many more are simply Web versions of the moderated electronic bulletin board, a medium that has been used for decades now by technical specialists and hobbyist-enthusiasts to disseminate information and host discussions targeted at a particular narrow audience.

The relatively small collection of political and media-critic blogs that have risen to such spectacular popularity and prominence lately are simply new-technology equivalents of the low-budget "alternative" publications that sprang up in the political ferment of the late '60's and early '70's. Like bloggers, "alternative" journalists used the cheapest publication medium at hand to give expression to a nascent political faction that just happened to catch on and mount a serious challenge to one of the dominant political coalitions of the day. Back then, it was a radical-left takeover by educated upscale youth of the previously working-class, mildly populist institutions of the liberal-Democratic coalition; today, educated, upscale youth on the libertarian right are hoping to conquer the distinctly working-class, mildly populist institutions of the conservative-Republican coalition.

If they succeed, then blogs will be the Rolling Stone, Village Voice and urban "alternative weeklies" of the early 21st century--an established, commercially successful media vehicle catering to a particular political demographic. And if they fail, then blogging will likely simply return to its obscure specialist-and-vanity roots, until the next political upheaval--or the next technology--takes over. Either way, it will be the content it carries, not the blog form itself, that will determine its fate.

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