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Columnist Sees Blogs as Threat to Society

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“Blog” was Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2004 and the popularity of weblogs had been in full bloom for some time before that. It is altogether fitting that now, at the start of 2006, blogs should filter down to the consciousness of Kathleen Parker, a syndicated columnist who writes for the Orlando Sentinel.

Her overlords at Tribune Media Services call her “a maverick conservative [who] offers readers the best of both worlds: the contacts of a Washington insider with the ‘Is-it-me-or-is-this-crazy?’ perspective of an outsider.” In “Lord of the Blogs“, an op-ed column that ran on December 28, it ain’t crazy so it has to be her.

In broad strokes, Parker dismisses the blogosphere as the playground of Lord of the Flies savages who have no right to opine on the news because they lack proper formal training and, apparently, souls. The fact that so many of us do what we do (gasp) for free further proves our worthlessness in her eyes.

Before opening the flood gates of irrational anger, however, Parker whitewashes this sepulcher with a paean to the joys of the Internet.

What is wonderful and miraculous about the Internet needs little elaboration. We all marvel at the ease with which we can access information—whether reading government documents previously available only to a few, or tracking down old friends and new enemies.

Yes, there’s that, but there’s good stuff, too. She fails to mention shopping, porn, a place for Anne Rice fans to meet without risking exposure to the sun, porn, and the ability for people from all over the globe to come together, exchange ideas and comment on all that information we can now access so easily (like free copies of columns by syndicated columnists, for example). Since it took Parker until now to weigh in on the “dangers” of the newfangled blogosphere, I guess we can cut her some slack in this department.

After extolling the virtues of the Internet, however, it’s time for Parker to stick it to the bloggers. You may have noticed the phrase “new enemies” in the quotation above. Who could they be?

I don’t mean al-Qaida or Osama bin Laden, but the less-visible, insidious enemies of decency, humanity and civility—the angry offspring of narcissism’s quickie marriage to instant gratification.

And I thought maverick conservatives were against the kind of moral relativism that allows one to mention bloggers in the same breath as Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. Certainly, there’s no question that some bloggers are narcissists—the type of narcissists who might want to have their little pictures and bylines printed next to their “is-it-me-or-is-this-crazy” profundities in a couple hundreds newspapers every day, for example—but there are a heck of a lot of bloggers who do their work anonymously. In the mainstream media, while the sources may be anonymous, the writers rarely are. Strangely, Parker doesn’t see anything narcissistic about this in the least. How, dare I say, narcissistic of her.

One thing Parker doesn’t like about blogs is their patina of “power untempered by restraint and accountability.” Toilers in the mainstream media, on the other hand, are virtual philosopher-saints who police each other (Jayson Blair, she says, is proof that this system works) and think only of serving their communities. (They also sell readers and viewers to advertisers, but she doesn’t see fit to mention that.)

Newspapers are filled with carpal-tunneled wretches, overworked and underpaid, who suffer near-pathological allegiance to getting it right.

Somebody call Charles Dickens! While that may be an unflattering way for Parker to describe the interns and copy editors who undoubtedly type her columns into Quark, it has the added distinction of being wildly inaccurate. I worked for a number of years at a major newspaper (far bigger than the Sentinel), and I can say that, just as in the world of blogs, there are all kinds of people working in the mainstream media. Some of them are just as Parker describes, some of them not even close. Paint with that broad a brush and you’re bound to gloss over a few things here and there.

“Bloggers,” Parker complains, “persist no matter their contributions or quality.” I am tempted to say the same thing is true of Andy Rooney, but that would just be glib, like much of Parker’s column. The truth is, bloggers can persist for as long as they choose to go on writing, but the same can’t be said for their readers. Every blogger has a more-or-less equal chance to gain an audience (something that could never be said about “mainstream” journalists), but that audience must be earned and then maintained, and this is usually done on the quality and consistency of the blogger’s work. Considerations like whose father plays golf with the publisher’s best frat buddy, who’s Gloria Vanderbilt’s son or who’s shtupping which editor rarely enter into the mix online.

One thing that really riles Parker is the substandard content churned out by bloggers.

Some bloggers…offer superb commentary, but most babble, buzz and blurt like caffeinated adolescents competing for the Ritalin generation’s inevitable senior superlative: Most Obsessive-Compulsive.

(Note to Parker: Something you should have learned in the 5th grade is that while alliteration can be clever and whimsical, it is by no means always so.) Anyone who has ever seen or read Robert Novak on a good day—or Tucker Carlson even on a bad one—knows that the blogosphere holds no monopoly on infantile tantrums. Sure, plenty of blogs are worse than worthless. Can the same not be said of the mainstream media?

But Parker is not interested in the journalistic ideal of balance in this case. Without getting into geese or ganders, it’s safe to say blogs get the short end of the stick in her rendering.

Each time I wander into blogdom, I’m reminded of the savage children stranded on an island in William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies.” Without adult supervision, they organize themselves into rival tribes, learn to hunt and kill, and eventually become murderous barbarians in the absence of a civilizing structure.

First with al Qaeda and now it’s “murderous barbarians”? She’s certainly puts the “hyper” in hyperbole, but what she’s describing is a problem with opinion journalism in general, not just blogs. When I think of belligerent partisan hacks, I immediately think of Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, Michael Moore and Al Franken, and the entire FOX News staff. How is this in any way special to blogs? It sounds like a standard Sunday morning on the networks to me.

Embedded in the hysterical quote above is a major theme of Parker’s infuriatingly condescending editorial and, perhaps, its hidden agenda as well. Bloggers are children without adult supervision.

Plenty smart but lacking in wisdom, they possess the power of a forum, but neither the maturity nor humility that years of experience impose.

Elsewhere she worries that bloggers “have grabbed the mike and seized the stage, a privilege granted not by years in the trenches, but by virtue of a three-pronged plug and the miracle of WiFi.” What it all comes down to is this: Parker and her friends likely spent their (or their parents’) hard-earned money going to journalism school (where they teach you how to write topic sentences and not to tell lies—a couple more things you should have learned by 5th grade). They “paid their dues” and now they’re jealously guarding the clubhouse, intent on barring anyone who tries to slip in the side door. I can almost muster a little sympathy for someone who sounds so much like an old horse-and-buggy driver circa 1905. As she feels her grip slipping, as the paradigm shifts and crumbles around her, Parker can do nothing but cling to the ancien régime of the mainstream press, fiercely loyal to “the way it’s done”.

The irony in all of this is that Parker employs the extended metaphor of Lord of the Flies but doesn’t recognize her own animalistic need to show her dominance by rubbing her supposed superiority in the faces of the less powerful and less deserving. She ruffles her feathers, puffs out her chest and then squawks nonsense that exhibits neither maturity nor humility: “Incivility is their weapon and humanity their victim.” So blogs are victimizing humanity now? Forget war, disease and pestilence; wipe out blogs and you will save humanity. You may come down off that horse now.

Parker makes it clear at the end of her column that she’s not talking about all bloggers.

I mean no disrespect to the many brilliant people out there—professors, lawyers, doctors, philosophers, scientists and other journalists who also happen to blog.

As long as you’re a professional of some kind, you’re fine. The opinions of the great unwashed masses of normal people, however, aren’t worth a thing. For Parker, who seems more conservative and less maverick with each passing moment, class and status are what really count in the end. It doesn’t matter what you have to say. What’s important is that you exhibit the correct social markers in order to appear to be worth listening to.

For those who don’t meet Parker’s arbitrary standards, only one thing will do: oblivion.

…we should beware and resist the rest of the ego-gratifying rabble who contribute only snark, sass and destruction. We can’t silence them, but for civilization’s sake—and the integrity of information by which we all live or die—we can and should ignore them.

First of all, some of the best blogs out there specialize in snark and sass. Without them the Internet would be as boring as, well, the Orlando Sentinel. Second of all, did I read that right?! Blogs are a danger to civilization itself? I guess they don’t teach a sense of proportion at journalism school. Either that or she’s still working her way through a potent batch of egg nog left over from Christmas.

Originally published as Bloggers: Scourge of Civilization

(parenthetical remarks)

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  • Joanie

    I wouldn’t characterize her as “conservative” as much as I would “elitist” as far as bloggers are concerned.

    She’s awfully dismissive of bloggers and the whole idea of blogging. While I do agree with her (to some extent) that there are some bloggers who are a bit canabalistic, the blogosphere has proved itself to be overwhelmingly generous and cooperative, capable of accomplishing great things. Think of the fundraisers for Spirit of America, Soldiers’ Angels, Hurricane Relief, and even breast cancer research! If we bloggers really were as cruel as the Flies bunch, we couldn’t have accomplished so much.

    You know, it just dawned on me. I’m a nurse. I think I qualify for an exemption under her rules. Or would I only be allowed to write about health? I’m confused. Hmm…maybe we should write and ask her to be more specific. You know, more responsible with her opinions.

  • Ruvy in Jerualem

    Nice job. Really nice job. Something that ought to get published in the Orlando Sentinel, I think. But the publishers probably do not have the cojones to do that.

    They will continue to take information off the blogosphere (and internet news and chat lists) without crediting the authors. And they will continue to get the details wrong.

    That is called thievery and plagiarizing, if my dictionary is right. And getting the details wrong is just plain laziness.

  • Dave Nalle

    The elitist attitude of mainstream journalists towards bloggers is well documented. We’ve even seen it rear its ugly head here on BC. The fact is that the blogosphere is a huge, chaotic morass of information, but in that giant mess there’s at least enough good work going on to make journalists feel threatened and to embarass them from time to time. The smart ones have figured out how to use the blogosphere to advance their careers, but those who can’t for whatever reason take that step lash out with jealousy and hatred born of fear.


  • uao

    Journalists like Parker (be they “mavericks” or not) have increasingly been making these kinds of comments.

    Part of it is self preservation. If she’s a columnist, and not an investigative reporter, then all she does is put a spin on things.

    Which is what most “news” bloggers do. Put spins on things. Precious few do their own investigative work, beyond googling stuff.

    So if a columnist is getting paid 40K and up a year to put spins on things, and bloggers do it for free, what’s going to happen to the columnists.

    That’s the rea; war here; blogs will never put newspapers out of business. I don’t believe people get thier news from blogs, even when they say they do.

    A blogger can’t compete with newspaper or TV resources, unless they are wealthy and know how to investigate.

    But a good blogger can write as good a spin as half the columnists in the country, many of whom have degenerated into a bored, smug hackdom anyway.

    Lousy bloggers write lousy spins, but nobody reads the really lousy ones anyway.

    If blogging continues to grow (which it may or may not; a lot of new bloggers got into it when it reached fad proportions, and something like 90% of all blogs die within a year), expect the columnists’ wails to grow more shrill.

    But it’s their own fault; if you put mediocre effort into your work (as Parker did in this mediocre, innacurate, bland, and generally uninformative article) then you deserve to be usurped by a hungry blogger working for free and putting effort into every post.

    The newspapers will survive, and good columnists will too. The mediocre columnists will be handed pink slips as newspapers and magazines hire the cream of the new blogger talent pool to replace them, probably at half-price.

  • Ruvy in Jerualem

    I agreee with uao that the journalists will get more and more shrill as time goes on, partcularly the columnist types. Who likes his ricebowl tipped over?

    There is a threat to us scribblers. If the hacks do get the ear of enough legislators in DC, they may try to pass troublesome legislation controlling the internet. This has already been alluded to on BC (can I work in a sentence or two with AC and FC?).

    The other threat is SLAPP suits. I don’t have all the details (apologies to you all for seeming unprofessional) but a SLAPP suit from some sweetheart like Ms. Parker can put a lot of us back financially.

  • Pete Blackwell

    I sent my post to Ms. Parker and had an amicable exchange from her, so I don’t think any suits are forthcoming. Your point in general is well taken. But let’s not forget, we have numbers on our side.

  • uao

    Any journalist or news organization that attempts a SLAPP suit against a non-libelous blogger is going to have a lot of wrath thrown their way, I’d imagine, and not just from the blogosphere. It’d be like trying to put out a campfire with kerosene.

  • Elvira Black

    What a terrific piece (your’s, not Ms. Parker’s).

    It is generally true that mainstream journalists have to pay substantial dues to get in the publishing game in the first place. It can be damn tough to get that first byline–even tougher to get paid decently for subsequent ones, especially in newspapers–and competition is fierce.

    However, once you gain the loyalty of a good editor, the hardest part is arguably over. A syndicated columnist is virtually guaranteed a hefty daily readership. And it doesn’t hurt if she’s offensive and controversial, either.

    The typical blogger, on the other hand, can start publishing his/her writings in about 10 minutes’ time after setting up a free blog account. That’s the easy part. But now that you’re “published,” how the hell do you get anyone to read you?

    Despite all the SEO optiimization tricks and other blog-whoring techniques, the truth is that ability and perserverance generally win the day, just as they do in print journalism on the front end. The blogosphere is in many ways a true meritocracy. If you’re interesting enough and you stick around long enough, you will gain some loyal readers–ones who can actually interact with you and vice versa–since they too are likely to blog. This eliminates the condescending, lofty perch of exclusive “authorship” that Ms. Parker apparently relishes so.

    Ms. Parker sounds like a typical conservative hack to me. But despite all her indignant “dear me” sputtering, I’m sure it’s just a matter of time ’til she has her own blog up and running–if it’s not set up already.

  • Richard Brodie

    There is a threat to us scribblers. If the hacks do get the ear of enough legislators in DC, they may try to pass troublesome legislation controlling the internet.

    The much bigger looming threat is international UN/ITU control, which is now being pushed by totalitarian regimes interested in being able to censor criticism. This will be justified using the most dangerous word ever coined, “xenophobia”.

    xeno – strange, foreign, different.
    phobia – fear


    criticism of China by an American blogger = fear of that which is foreign and different = xenophobia = a justification for shutting the offending website down

    Kofi Anan specifically mentions xenophobia as being against the UN Human Rights Charter, and therefore something that will not be allowed once control of the root file is wrested from the United States.

  • Brian Sorrell

    There’s a certain elitism to blogging as well — it requires free time and a computer and an Internet connection. Yes yes, one can do this from a public library or some such place, but most of us are at least doing well enough for ourselves that we don’t have to work constantly and we have enough disposable income to purchase a computer.

    In my estimation, there are good points on both sides of this discussion. It seems to come down to an evaluation of when authority becomes tyranny — in Parker’s case, she does not convey a sense that what used to be journalism’s assumed authority has crossed the line to tyranny.

    Bloggers should keep in mind that one day, blogging will likely follow the same path.

  • diana hartman

    i am a master calligrapher…there are only a few alphabets i don’t know by heart, and fewer still that i haven’t at least tried…
    damn lot of good it does me as computers and their perfection and creation of fonts have taken hold of even the most die-hard lovers of this craft…
    computers haven’t paid their dues or done their time and neither have the oodles of people who present their certificates and “self” addressed wedding invitations as if they’d done them themselves when of course nothing could be further from the truth…
    fortunately, calligraphy isn’t my only passion…i also love and do well at writing, photography, drawing, and raising children to indulge their creativity as well as exposing them to the history and wonder that is all art in every part of the world where we’ve lived…

    kathleen parker need get over herself…so what if bloggers have filled a niche that she couldn’t forsee, a niche that her entire class of person didn’t forsee and didn’t take seriously…and too bad that there are those writing the kinds of things she writes and those reading the kinds of things she writes — elsewhere…
    that’s what happens when the world changes and we don’t…we get left out and left behind if we don’t find a new way to do our thing…it’s too bad for those who didn’t bother to, as my grandmother always said, get their beauty school certificate “just in case”…
    while many of us will never get an interview, much less a job like kathleen has, she feels threatened by the “children” and is using her craft to pre-emptively strike at those she feels most threatened by…
    me thinks thou doth isn’t so very confident…to bring up the tail end of her fit, she advises her readers to “ignore them” but not before not ignoring bloggers herself to the tune of some 777 words…a hallmark card would’ve been less wordy…

    there are always going to be areas of the world where only a degree-holding and experienced journalist can go…she need not feel as put out as she alludes to feeling in her article…

    if she wants her domain to be exclusive, then she might consider using a little foresight and follow a new path into unchartered territory — just like the bloggers did…

  • Joseph Johaneman

    Wow, this is a wonderful piece. Thanks for posting it. It’s a shame that journalists like Parker feel threatened by bloggers. That’s basically what it comes down to: fear. She sees millions of pages of information being produced every day and she sees competition that just can’t be stopped. Blogging is a juggernaut, and though I imagine the momentum must eventually slow down, I don’t think it’s going to happen soon.

    And since when is a Journalism degree a necessity for accurate reporting? During the fall of the Berlin Wall, most of the accurate information came on IRC (Internet Relay Chat) from people who were there on the scenes. Blogs provide the same kind of freedom: an ability to publish news and commentary that’s open to everybody. Blogging is available to everybody in a free society, and though it entails risk, it’s open to people in societies less free. Blogging is the great equalizer of our times. In a decade, perhaps, something else will come along, and Blogs will begin to fade out, much like IRC has. (Though IRC still exists, it’s nothing like it was just five years ago).

    And the nice thing about blogs: If I don’t like it, I can just hit the home button on my browser and go somewhere else. I didn’t pay for it, so I don’t have to be upset about what it contains. On the other hand, if I have to pay for a newspaper and I’m disappointed with it’s contents, I’ve now lost 50 cents. Newspapers basically depend on advertising revenue, and they become slave to those advertisers. There really is no free (as in freedom, not cost) media left in America except for blogs.

    Just my 2 cents.

  • phxfreddy

    Are you crazy ? Rush Limbaugh, Robert Novak and Ann Coulter are the only guys actually earning their damn pay ! The rest are a bunch of blather on for the requisite amount of time before the next commercial is inserted for crunchy revenue stream goodness.

    Otherwise concur with the idea that she is just sad its not an exclusive club anymore where her country club journalists hold the only clubs.