CommunityFDL Main Blog

FDL Book Salon: The Rise of the Blogosphere, by Aaron Barlow

410xvb0wprl_aa240_.jpg

[Please welcome our guest author, Aaron Barlow, and thank him for joining us today. As always, we ask our readers to confine their discussion in this comment thread to the book and its related topics. The previous thread will do just fine for other social fun and frivolity, or other unrelated topic discussion. Thanks!]

I first met Aaron Barlow, one of the pioneers of ePluribus Media, before my FDL days when I joined with him in some coverage of the Guckert/Gannon National Press Club appearance. Aaron struck me then as incredibly knowledgeable and gently personable, and when I learned of the publication of his book, I was more than eager to bring him to our community for a Book Salon.

The Rise of the Blogosphere is a serious work of research, outlining the historical context for the emergence of blogs and citizen based journalism as part of the contemporary national conversation. Perhaps primarily targeted to students of journalism in formal training programs, it’s lessons nevertheless are relevant and interesting in their own right to anyone engaged in this blog world, either as a writer or as a reader and participant.

Rather than provide a more complete review or summary of such a meaty and engaging piece of work, I’d like to offer some snap summaries, impressions and questions for Aaron, especially with this particular community at Firedoglake in mind. But first, let me offer a quick sense of the sweep of Aaron’s research.

Aaron begins in the early, pre-Revolutionary stage of American history, and notes the emergence of pamphlets by people like Tom Paine, and the writings of others like Ben Franklin, who pioneered a new kind of populist discussion of news and events peppered throughout with opinion and overt interpretation.

There was no pretension of a lack of a point of view in those days, and writers, even those operating under pseudonyms (a common practice), developed their own following and their own audiences using what were often their own unique voices. In some cases, more than one person operated using the same pseudonym, a practice not adopted in the modern blogosphere, but one which, Aaron notes, foreshadows the emergence of the group blog as we know it today, whereby one blog site will include a number of writers whose combined perspectives form a kind of coherent world view, allowing for much more content to be delivered to an eager audience.

As the historical review proceeds, Aaron takes the reader through an understanding of the raucous politics and media inclusion in politics of the early constitutional period of American history, through the emergence of a stand alone press, on through to the development of a professional consciousness considered as “journalism” (though journalism has never strictly become a profession with a credentialing system and code of ethics, the way, for example, law or medicine have become). From there, Aaron moves on to discuss how the culture of professional journalism evolved under commercial pressure to become a kind of simulacrum of genuine public discussion, whereby media and journalistic celebrities functioned more to serve the corporate good than the public good, constituting a culture and social class virtually indistinguishable from the people in power and public life whose insider machinations began to compel them. Coverage developed according to story lines devoid of relevance to the impact of actual policies impacting the mass of people’s lives, and the people, sensing the news had become more irrelevant to their own concerns, began to hold journalists in ever greater contempt, often tuning the news out entirely.

Though some notable models of what I’ll call “un-access” journalism emerged, embodied in the work of I. F. Stone, it was not until the emergence of message board communities and their connection to the World Wide Web that the public debate began to become occupied by the public again. At this point in the book, Aaron’s narrative begins to include the first person pronoun “I,” and the effect is, I must say, rather liberating to the reader: at least, I found it so. As Aaron writes:

For a news media unused to having to react to a medium becoming as powerful as their own but completely outside the controls they had grown up with, professionally speaking, the blogs have been a vexation, at best. But they are the one the journalists will eventually have to learn to live with.

Oh, and while I’m quoting, let me bring out another (the hardest part about writing about a book like this is deciding what to quote, with so many juicy bits from which to choose):

The news media have been loath to recognize the fact of their own symbiotic relation to politics, imagining that they could cover politics without being involved in politics, that they did not, in fact, feed off politics. Choices made in the coverage, however, always reflect a political orientation of some sort or another; it’s impossible to report on politics in a truly objective fashion. Politics is not like a plane crash, where the observer can stand aside and record the event. Politics (and war, which can be seen as politics at its most brutal) isn’t a single event, but a panoply of connected actions, each relating to all the others, but in different ways and with various impact. Just by deciding which of these events is important and which to leave aside, the journalist is involved in a political decision. In addition, the press becomes a player whether it wills it or not, with press coverage itself changing the actions “on the ground.” By their presence, in other words, the members of the press change the nature of the decisions politicians make.

It is in this context, as Aaron describes, that the new, sometimes raucous, highly variegated online news, opinion, discussion and research movement has begun to blossom. The conceit of neutrality is precisely that, a conceit, and a defense against honesty. In my own psychological training, we traced how the earlier conceit of Freudian psychologists that a therapist could be a “blank slate,” exerting no influence on the therapeutic interaction, was recognized to be false. In fact, professional therapists understand now that this was not only false, but dangerous, as it inculcated a kind of ideological movement within the profession immune to self-awareness, the result being that therapists could with rationalized justification and little accountability act out their worst, most disowned unconscious impulses on their vulnerable, unsuspecting patients. Psychology had to change because the old model no longer served either the public interest or the interests of the profession, but professional journalists seem not yet to have made that transition.

With all that as a kind of backdrop, just a taste of the book itself, let me turn now to some questions to kickoff some further discussion in the comment section.

First, Aaron, given your historical review, what are the nearest antecedents to this site and community? I’m curious about what history may have to teach us. We’re undeniably a media site, engaging in research, even book publication (Marcy Wheeler’s Anatomy of Deceit), and yet, simultaneously, we’re an activist site and community hub. Organically, these things are rather inseparable for us, and that seems to me to be a throwback to an earlier era, based on your work.

Second, since I’m a forward thinking sort, and interested in helping to make this community self-sustaining, what developmental hurdles and cautionary tales might you relate about the ways that financial pressure can warp a given outlet’s mission? We hope to be able to support this site through some simultaneous model of voluntary reader sponsorships and some greater advertising support, but many communities will struggle with these same needs to create sustainability. I know you’re not a business consultant, but what are some of history’s lessons, based on your review? How can we ensure that we will not become like the establishment media outlets whose failures we have emerged in part to correct?

Finally, you observe in your book that, to the established journalistic community, “blogs” still seem to represent a large undifferentiated mass, rather than a wide spectrum of communities and degrees of reliability. We certainly came face to face with this impression when interacting with establishment media journalists during our coverage of the Libby trial. You write, “Two types of bloggers understand how best to manipulate this ocean, one being composed of people genuinely interested in discovery and the other of those interested in appearance and surface justification of prior belief.” You mention this at the outset of the chapter examining the Dan Rather Texas memo story, which emerged from the right wing online.

Though, currently, the lefty blogosphere seems more interested in genuine discovery, while the right wing has been working to prop up established power, I would expect the temptation to retreat from discovery into performing mere public relations for potentates will grow for the left as the lefty political movement gains more power. Human nature is not repealed based on political affiliation. You outline some codes of conduct for citizen journalists that I would invite you to discuss further in the comments, and in closing, I’d like to recount them. They are drawn, as you cite, from The Project for Excellence in Journalism’s “Statement of Shared Purpose”:

1. Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth.

2. Its first loyalty is to citizens.

3. Its essence is a discipline of verification.

4. Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover.

5. It must serve as an independent monitor of power.

6. It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise.

7. It must strive to make the significant interesting and relevant.

8. It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional.

9. Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience.

As I write these now, from my experience in covering the Libby trial, I can imagine that the establishment journalists I met would consider that they do all these things consistently as they practice journalism, and yet, their failures (demonstrated, in fact, on the witness stand) have led to the rise of the blogosphere. Clearly, these establishment journalists (“journalists?”) do not apply and interpret these principles in quite the way we here do. But that, I suppose, just brings us full circle back to the extensive work you’ve done in your book, and in that spirit I’d invite you to talk a bit more about how we sustain our interest and commitment to discovery as a movement, even as progressive politics (let us hope!) gain ascendancy over time.

Please join me, everyone, in welcoming Aaron Barlow.

Book SalonCommunity

FDL Book Salon: The Rise of the Blogosphere, by Aaron Barlow

410xvb0wprl_aa240_.jpg

[Please welcome our guest author, Aaron Barlow, and thank him for joining us today. As always, we ask our readers to confine their discussion in this comment thread to the book and its related topics. The previous thread will do just fine for other social fun and frivolity, or other unrelated topic discussion. Thanks!]

I first met Aaron Barlow, one of the pioneers of ePluribus Media, before my FDL days when I joined with him in some coverage of the Guckert/Gannon National Press Club appearance. Aaron struck me then as incredibly knowledgeable and gently personable, and when I learned of the publication of his book, I was more than eager to bring him to our community for a Book Salon.

The Rise of the Blogosphere is a serious work of research, outlining the historical context for the emergence of blogs and citizen based journalism as part of the contemporary national conversation. Perhaps primarily targeted to students of journalism in formal training programs, it’s lessons nevertheless are relevant and interesting in their own right to anyone engaged in this blog world, either as a writer or as a reader and participant.

Rather than provide a more complete review or summary of such a meaty and engaging piece of work, I’d like to offer some snap summaries, impressions and questions for Aaron, especially with this particular community at Firedoglake in mind. But first, let me offer a quick sense of the sweep of Aaron’s research.

Aaron begins in the early, pre-Revolutionary stage of American history, and notes the emergence of pamphlets by people like Tom Paine, and the writings of others like Ben Franklin, who pioneered a new kind of populist discussion of news and events peppered throughout with opinion and overt interpretation.

There was no pretension of a lack of a point of view in those days, and writers, even those operating under pseudonyms (a common practice), developed their own following and their own audiences using what were often their own unique voices. (more…)

Previous post

Globalization and Terror and More Obstruction at DOJ

Next post

Judy Finally Gets Her Wingnut Welfare!!

Pachacutec

Pachacutec

Pachacutec did not, as is commonly believed, die in 1471. To escape the tragic sight of his successors screwing up the Inca Empire he’d built, he fled east into the Amazon rain forest, where he began chewing lots of funky roots to get higher than Hunter Thompson ever dared. Oddly, these roots gave him not only a killer buzz, but also prolonged his life beyond what any other mortal has known, excluding Novakula. Whatever his doubts of the utility of living long enough to see old friends pop up in museums as mummies, or witness the bizarrely compelling spectacle of Katherine Harris, he’s learned a thing or two along the way. For one thing, he’s learned the importance of not letting morons run a country, having watched the Inca Empire suffer many civil wars requiring the eventual ruler to gain support from the priests and the national military. He now works during fleeting sober moments to build a vibrant progressive movement sufficiently strong and sustainable to drive a pointed stake through the heart of American “conservatism” forever. He enjoys a gay marriage, classic jazz and roots for the New York Mets.

130 Comments