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Live-Blogging at the Brookings Event on New Media

Earlier today, I attended a Brookings event on the new media and live-blogged throughout the event. Below are my comments, arranged chronologically from first to last.

10:15 AM

I'm writing this from the Brookings event on "The Impact of the New Media". What does live-blogging add to an event like this that regular old blogging might not? Possibly nothing, but it sounded like a fun thing to do, so here I am.

10:22 AM

The question has been posed to the panel of Shafer, Cox, Allen and Ratner (Sullivan is a no-show so far), do bloggers sometimes get it wrong? The consensus seems to be that that sometimes does happen.

I'm learning a lot!

10:39 AM

The issue has been raised of whether the blogs are a reflection of political polarization or help create that polarization. Probably both. I'm still learning!

Sullivan has showed up and Dionne posed a question to him re two of his recent posts, one of which denounced conservatives for pushing federal involvement in the Schiavo, while the other suggested the need to get rid of the Medicare entitlement. Is that consistent?

Sullivan replies that one of the greatest things about blogging is that you can say exactly what you want and publish it immediately. If it doesn't fit into pre-existing standard conservative or liberal categories, that's just fine. On the other hand, he points out, having maverick views on certain issues that differentiate you from your generally conservative or liberal readership can hurt your level of readership and ability to raise money. So there is a price for independence.

"A blogger has to be a pariah"--Sullivan

10:50 AM

Cox: Bloggers can be more independent than mainstream media. But, in important ways, it is becoming more like mainstream media. There are feeding frenzies as in the mainstream media, there is a blogger hierarchy just as there's a mainstream media hierarchy and, increasingly, many of the top bloggers know each other and interact with each other.

Reasonable points, based on my observations and experience.

Dionne raises the issue of bloggers being paid by political campaigns to generate buzz around candidates or to spread specific political attacks. Shafer argues the key thing is to evaluate the truth content of what is in the blogs, rather than worry too much about where some money that supports the site might be coming from. Allen points out, though, that there can be a problem when sources of money are not disclosed so that readers cannot factor that into their evaluation of content on a particular site.

Shafer pooh-poohs the idea that campaign finance laws should be brought to bear on blogs' activities and argues that this would amount to an infringement on free speech. Sounds right. Allen's full disclosure approach seems far preferable.

11:07 AM

Blogs and slander: Are blogs much, much better for the spread of slander than the old media? Shafer, who is emerging as a resolute defender of blogs, argues that, if there was so much exceptional slander on blogs, there would be more legal actions against them.

Sullivan characterizes blogs as more about gossip than slander. He also points out that much of the vituperation on blogs is directed against other bloggers.

Dionne raises the Martin O'Malley question. Would the mainstream media have publicized the allegations about O'Malley's private life (leaving aside the fact that, in the short run, the poster of these allegations appears to have hurt his boss, the Maryland governor, more than O'Malley)?

Shafer points out that mainstream media publish stuff all the time that they don't know for sure is true. So what's the big difference? There is nothing new here in what the blogs are doing.

The issue of comments sections on blogs has been raised. The consensus seems to be that there are a lot of intelligent folks out there who do comment on blogs or send in emails to sites and that's a good thing. I'll buy that, though the best way to harness and display all that intelligent commentary is left unresolved.

11:22 AM

Is blogging journalism? An audience member has posed that provocative question. Speaking for myself, no, I'm an analyst not a journalist and I wouldn't consider my blog journalism.

Cox also stoutly denies that her blog is journalism, though she does admit to occasionally commiting journalism outside the bounds of her blog. She says, however, that Josh Marshall is a journalist and much of what is in his blog could reasonably be considered journalism.

Sullivan argues that this is not an interesting question; bloggers are writing about the world and so are journalists (who are referred to by the universal term "hack" in England). The whole concept that you need special traing and adherence to these special standards to be a "journalist" is, in Sullivan's view, baloney. Anybody who does some research and/or analysis and writes them up in an entertaining and clear way is a journalist.

There is, however, a difference between reporting and commentary and it is true that almost all blogging is commentary, not reporting. But that is a different question than whether blogging qualifies as journalism.

Color this question "unresolved".

11:38 AM

What are blogs good for? Sullivan points out--very rightly in my view--that blogs can tap into sources of information and expertise very fast that might never see the light of day otherwise. He gives the example of trying to understand county-level developments in Florida and finding a professor who could provide him with just the information he needed which he could then immediately put on his blog.

Dionne points out that most people relate to information on the internet not through blogs but rather through conventional sites (e.g, newspaper websites). Allen adds that the readership of blogs is still quite small and that only a very small proportion of the public actually reads them (undeniably true).

Back to free speech. Shafer argues that blogs should be protected by the same regulations that protect mainstream print and broadcast journalism. And he believes they eventually will be. Anyhow, he says, all these media are bleeding into one another and becoming one big uber-media. Newsweek runs a story, it's also featured on its website and then blogs pick up the web version and link to it, comment on it, embellish it and provide more information that was not in the original story. To censor the blogs is to censor this whole process.

11:45 AM

Final comments: So, what to make of this event? Looking over the various points I posted about above, I guess I'd have to say that nothing particularly earth-shaking was said today. The discussion was generally interesting and certainly blogs were treated very respectfully as a new member of the media universe.

Perhaps that's the real news here: blogging has now developed a high enough profile and plays a big enough role in society that it can be the subject of a very pleasant and characteristically earnest Brookings event.

As to where blogging is going--no one here seems quite sure, other than it is likely to be more important in the future than it is now. And is blogging good or bad? It seems that most agree that it's more good than bad, though there are obviously some places where blogs go awry. But clearly blogs can provide much important information to readers faster than the conventional media--and in the process bring many, many important voices into the media universe that would otherwise not be heard.

And that's a very good thing whose implications we are only beginning to understand.