August 24, 2003

Poor David Shaw: In the spi...

Poor David Shaw: In the spirit of Shaw's treasured dispassionateness, I offer without further comment the following excerpts from his profile of L.A. Observed's Kevin Roderick:

Unlike those bloggers who seem convinced that the world breathlessly awaits their every thought — and therefore leap out of bed every hour or so in the middle of the night to send those thoughts hurtling into cyberspace — Roderick says he'd like to spend "no more than an hour a day" on his blog. [...]

Over the past six weeks or so, he's posted an average of about half a dozen items a day, most of them purely informational, devoid of any judgment or sneering observation by Roderick. This is yet another — and thoroughly radical — departure from most blogger sites, where judgment and attitude are the coin of the realm.

Roderick's online model is more the Poynter Institute's daily media clearinghouse known as "Romenesko" (and formerly known as, rather than, say, (wherein the former editor of the New Republic offers his fervent views on every topic imaginable). [...]

He's experimenting with having visitors to post their own comments on his items, but he isn't interested in triggering or hosting any of the mean-spirited name-calling that seems endemic on the Web.

Your kindly-spirited name-calling-free observations are welcome.

Posted by at August 24, 2003 10:44 PM

Standard journalist paean to the gods of objective independence. Mere neutral observations - no judgment involved, not even in the selection of what constitutes news. Bill McGowan take note - you are soooo wrong - here's an example of The Ideal. The goal of perfect "The Watcher" status growing before our eyes.

So enlightened, so above the arrogant, solipsistic world of the typical blogger - a model of virtue, where declarations of not having an opinion on anything, are so noble, so in line with the "prime directive" of journalism.

Yes, bloggers should avoid "judgment or sneering observation". Leave that to me, where I, David Shaw, from my neutral perch as "Media Critic for the LA Times" can merely observe, without judgement or sneer, that "With a Terminator, a HuffenPuffington, pornographer and a self-described "ageless" billboard model among the 85,000 candidates for governor, the opportunities for online digression and vilification may be irresistible."

How dare mere mortals spend the "coin of the realm", and devalue my hoard of doubloons.

Pompous ass.

(I think I failed the kindly-spirited name-calling-free test - sorry)

BTW, I think LAObserved is OK.

Posted by: Ray Eckhart at August 25, 2003 04:31 AM

Yes, I thing Big Media papers like the LAT should make "devoid of any judgment" their motto.

Posted by: Crank at August 25, 2003 08:02 AM

I don't understand the 85,000 candidates remark. I thought there were fewer than 150.

Posted by: Luke Ford at August 25, 2003 10:23 AM

I don't have a problem with dispassionate blogging. I know that I sometimes make a conscious effort to remain nonpartisan in my political analysis to lend it some credibility or to make sure that I have my facts right -- before I launch into whatever argument I might make. It's funny, though, that Shaw would value dispassionateness so highly when he has such obvious disregard for bloggers in his article, and he clearly doesn't realize that there are many different kinds of blogs out there.

Posted by: Robert Tagorda at August 25, 2003 11:53 AM

Oh, and I see mentioned to Dan Drezner last week, this is my favorite comments section in the entire blogosphere because it's like a daily party happening here! Yeah, there's debating and all of that, just as you would find in other blogs, but the people who frequent the comments boxes here clearly have a ton of fun. And I don't see anything wrong with that, despite what Shaw might say.

Posted by: Robert Tagorda at August 25, 2003 12:00 PM

I don't bother with Romenesko much, but isn't he ferociously liberal? Everyone else here noticed that Shaw thinks that's neutrality, right?

Posted by: Cridland at August 25, 2003 02:51 PM

That's right pal; bloggers should stick to a brief, like big, grown-up journos do. All that writing for editorial approval is so earnest and wise. And none of those spontaneous ideas that naughty bloggers have, either. Someone gets out of bed to write something, I'm going to read it. The main reason blogs beat dead wood is they're prepared to scattershot and, if you don't like it, you get to reply. You try that in the UK and watch your letter to the editor disappear into the waste-paper bin with the dinky basketball hoop above it.

Posted by: Mark Gullick at August 26, 2003 09:09 AM

But Roderick isn't even dispassionate or objective. I think he's got a lazy blog. Just listing the offerings of KCET or KPFK without any comment is pointless. He's typing, not writing.
Shaw would like it, as this sort of blah-blog can't possibly compete with "real" journalists.

Posted by: Sasha at August 26, 2003 03:02 PM

I think Roderick does a terrific job.

Posted by: Matt Welch at August 26, 2003 04:02 PM

Only 1 or 2 comments per item over at LAObserved.

Posted by: Bill Peschel at August 29, 2003 10:24 PM

Not exactly a sticky blog. "A terrific job"--at what, exactly?

Posted by: Sasha at August 30, 2003 09:26 AM

OK, so if somebody over at disparaged blogs, I'm wondering if we'd see an outcry like the one we see in the, um, 11 comments here.

Probably not.

When you guys get up in arms about the latest salvo from David Shaw, or Bill O'Reilly, or whoever, you're simply lending credence to their underyling point: Their soapboxes are big. They have power. They have influence.

Yes, the Internet is a wonderful thing, because when it comes to voices, the more the merrier. But good Lord, the hubris certainly took hold quickly, didn't it? Somebody gets an inch, and they think they've got the whole mile.

The overinflated pride of many bloggers leads one to question their judgment. In that case, I'll take a self-proclaimed "dispassionate" writer at the Times who rightly judges his power to be great, over a blogger who can't accurately gauge his own. At least the former has accurate powers of perception, which is all anybody's asking of journalism in the first place.

Posted by: Tomm at August 30, 2003 10:15 AM

It's undeniably true that David Shaw has a big, powerful soapbox at the LA Times. But it's beside the point. Shaw uses his power to dismiss blogs that use the full strength of the medium: immediacy, personality, analysis and reader interaction. He's too small-minded to accept blogs for what they are or imagine what they could be. Big soapbox, small brain.

Posted by: Joanne Jacobs at August 31, 2003 12:38 AM

Tomm -- If I understand your point, we shouldn't point out when someone misuses their soapbox, because then it somehow gives them more power, and exposes us as being full of hubris and pride? And you'll take a crappy writer at a newspaper over a good one on a blog, as long as the crappy one acts like a sanctimonious turd, and the blogger complains about it? Um, Okay!

Shaw's "powers of perception" have strengths and weaknesses. Before blogs, there weren't many places where you'd see the weaknesses -- which are glaring -- debated in a public forum. Rather, the journalistic establishment would shower him with one-sided praise, and the L.A. Times readers who found his M.O. boring, condescending and biased would share their criticisms over a private cocktail. Now, that gets to be aired out in public, which apparently annoys you. C'est la vie, I suppose! Me, I think it's useful to have the audience tussle publically over the merits and flaws of a writer's work, and I would hope that any journalist who wants to improve would seek such criticism out.

(And for the record, it ain't his writing about blogs that has provoked me to criticize David Shaw in the past.)

Posted by: Matt Welch at August 31, 2003 11:01 AM

Sasha -- Terrific at paying attention to many if not most corners of L.A. media -- book publishing, radio, newspapers, blogs, teevee, etc. I find it very useful, personally.

Posted by: Matt Welch at August 31, 2003 11:03 AM

Hi, Matt.

No, I'm not suggesting a moratorium on discussion of big-media pundits for fear of lending them more power. The Internet is a great outlet for media criticism, and serves an important purpose in that regard.

I'm simply pointing out the folly of bloggers fancying themselves as Big and Important. You're not necessarily guilty yourself (and you have jobs in real media, anyway, so you are Kind of Big and Important regardless).

I'm thinking more of others out there who think that a new technology has suddenly turned the order of things upside down. Despite the fact that they've been "empowered" by blogging technology for just a couple of years now, it seems they're already so psychologically bound to it that they take some kind of personal offense at words like those by Shaw. It's as if their world will come crumbling down if they're forced to face the truth: Just because their words are on the Web does not make them important.

The unfounded conceit is evident, for instance, in Ray Eckhart's post above, where he plays right into Shaw's hands. If anything is a "sneering observation," it's this Eckhart post.

This attitude -- born of hypersensitivity and producing knee-jerk defensiveness -- is rampant around the blogosphere. That's what I mean by the "get an inch, think you've got the whole mile" thing. It's as if some people are so intoxicated with the thrill of writing "publicly" that they presume it puts them on the same level as the LA Times. The premise seems to be: Well, after all, we're both just doing the same thing: writing publicly. You get the impression they think they're just like David Shaw, or Thomas Sowell, or Maureen Dowd, or whoever -- those people just happen to have jobs with the established media. There but for some quirk of circumstance go I.

Even Glenn Reynolds, who seems otherwise clear-headed, gets caught up in this trap. It's as if he so desperately WANTS blogging to be big-time, his judgment gets momentarily set aside.

There may come a day when the playing field is leveled. We're not even close to that point right now.

Posted by: Tomm at August 31, 2003 01:55 PM

Tomm -- Okey, fair enough. Though I would point out, that in the case of Dowd & Shaw, these are people who at this stage in their careers mostly sit on their duffs & pontificate, with the odd interview thrown in. This kind of writing is *precisely* the style that the *best* bloggers -- not all, not a majority, but the *best* -- pose a direct threat to. Hack professional columnists have the most to lose from an army of passionate amateurs writing for free.

I don't think that even the most bloggerly triumphalist of us really think that blogs are going to "replace" old media or whatever; I see that mostly cited by defenders of Old Media & skeptics of blogs, not by bloggers themselves.

And let me leap to the defense of Ray Eckhart -- he ain't a blogger, he's a reader. Regardless of whether his knee is jerking, I would just point out that he feels passionate enough about his favorite blogs that back-handed insults from the likes of Shaw get his blood boiling. Do people feel as passionately about their hometown columnists? I guess some do, but I haven't seen much evidence of it in L.A., that's for sure.

Jeff Jarvis has said that blogs bring two valuable things: passion and utility. If we're lucky, maybe some of that passion will rub off on the op-ed sections of daily newspaper. I for one love print publications, and newspapers especially -- I'm spending my Labor Day weekend re-organizing my giant closet full of dead-tree pubs. And as a fan of media, I couldn't be happier that there are hundreds of thousands of new entrants, written by people far more diverse than those you'd encounter in most newsrooms. Yes, many are guilty of thin-skinned reactions, biased writing, exaggerated sense of self-importance ... but most of them are pretty new at writing for an audience. What's David Shaw's excuse?

Posted by: Matt Welch at August 31, 2003 03:38 PM
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