In the continuing bloggers vs. journalism debate, there are, of course, those who believe blogging is a worthwhile challenge to traditional journalism.

Writes Greg Sargeant in The American Prospect:

In recent weeks, one member after another of the D.C. media establishment has gone out of his way to depict bloggers as hysterical, angry and destructive. To hear them tell it, bloggers sitting at their computers are akin to squealing brats in high-chairs chucking baby food at their sober, serious elders — i.e., major figures at the established news organizations.

Not long ago, The Washington Post’s Jim Brady lamented “blog rage.” Joe Klein’s latest column complained about “vitriol” and “all the left-wing screeching.” Former Bill Clinton press secretary Mike McCurry recently told us that reporters are complaining they feel “intimidated” because “most of the blogosphere spends hours making them feel that way.” And a CBS opinion piece recently asked: “Does noise trump contemplation in the blogosphere?”

What’s all this really about? These skirmishes, obviously, are part of a much larger war between established opinion-makers and bloggers, in which the establishment figures continually profess themselves dismayed by the tone of the blogosphere. It’s a conflict that isn’t going away anytime soon. But guess what: This fight doesn’t really have anything to do with the “tone” of the blogosphere at all. Rather, it’s actually about the efforts of bloggers to establish the legitimacy of their medium, and about the reluctance of major news organizations and their employees to recognize that legitimacy.

Establish the “legitimacy of their medium?” Isn’t establishing legitimacy something you expect in the more traditional world. Again, this raises the question of whether or not blogging, like the Internet, is trying to become too legitimate for their own good.


Sargeant continues:

To be sure, some blogospheric elements do make it easier for critics of the blogosphere to toss out the “tone” red herring. I’m no blog triumphalist. There’s tons of work to do. Some attacks on the MSM are hysterical and ill-considered. And a fair amount of blogospheric media criticism is marred by its own hyper-ideological nature, which makes it that much easier for the targets of the criticism to dismiss it. What’s more, plenty of blogging — commentary and reporting — is just not up to journalistic snuff. Meanwhile, news orgs do sometimes show extraordinarily high standards or pull off incredible reporting feats that no web site could ever hope to emulate — yet.

But the attacks on the blogosphere are nonetheless flawed in a very fundamental way. The criticism is often premised on the idea that bloggers are somehow offering something dramatically different from what commentators like Klein are serving up. But it’s not really different. What Klein, like other commentators, delivers to readers (the column that appears in the hard copy of Time magazine notwithstanding) is words on a screen, and of course whatever sensibility, wit, analysis, and interpretive intelligence he brings to those words.

Now, all of a sudden, anyone can come along and, with little to no overhead, offer pretty much exactly the same thing. Aside from some obvious differences — bloggers sometimes double as political activists, and the idiom is different in some ways — the truth is that bloggers essentially offer exactly what Klein does: Words on a screen which are meant to help the reader interpret current affairs and politics. What’s more — and here’s the real crux of the matter — readers are choosing between the words on a screen offered by Klein and other commentators and the words on a screen offered by bloggers on the basis of one thing alone: The quality of the work.

In other words, as we have said here before, blogging thrives because, in the free-for-all world of the Internet, anyone with a modem and a mouth can become a publisher.

Is that good or bad? Don’t know. Jury is still out.