Jonathan Rauch, guest-blogging for Andrew Sullivan, has a bunch of stupid things to say about the blogosphere. Of course he’s being stupid on purpose, or to be more refined about it, he’s exaggerating all of his points and wording them with maximum hyperbole and provocation. His purpose here is to prove a point about the blogosphere: people get more pageviews and blog response by saying something outrageous, and that, among other things, is what leads the overall discourse in the blogosphere down the drain.
So am I proving Rauch’s point by calling attention to his hyperbolic post, or can I disprove it by reading past his provocations and purposefully rough-hewn arguments and pulling out -and refuting- his true points? Is this a test? In any case, Rauch’s core argument is wildly and obviously wrong, and it says way more about him than it does about blogs.
His first point is that “…the average quality of newspapers and (published) novels is far, far better than the average quality of blog posts (and—ugh!—comments). This is because people pay for newspapers and novels”
The average quality of blog posts, books, or any media, is relevant to the reader only to the extent that this increases the cost of finding what they read. In this way, complaining about the average quality of blogs is like a fisherman complaining about the average quality of fish in a lake rather than the quality of the fish he caught and how long it took to catch them. Also like fishing, the more time you spend reading blogs the better you get at reeling in good ones, and the less average quality matters to you. Being a clear novice, Rauch is probably pulling in a lot of small, inedible fish, and a fair share of boots. No wonder he’s mad about average quality, he has no idea what he’s doing. This he makes abundantly clear in his second point:
“If we had but world enough and time (that’s poetry, btw), we could search for good stuff all day long and the average low quality of the blogosphere might not matter. But average people on average time-budgets have to care if average quality drops, because that’s what they’re dealing with on an average day. “
The laughable idea that the way you find good blog posts is through brute force searching and spending all day says everything that needs to be said about how well Rauch understands how to consume information from blogs. One wonders if his failed attempts at becoming a daily blog reader each began by opening up Internet Explorer, directing it to Excite.com and searching for “internet blogs”.
His next point is that
“Yes, the new model is bringing a lot of new content into being. But most of it is bad. And it’s displacing a lot of better content, by destroying the business model for quality.”
I can understand why the struggle of old media companies would anger an old media journalist. But one can be furious about the impacts of the blogosphere on old media and still impartially judge the quality and utility of the of the blogosphere. Or at least one should be able to do this. Some, it seems, are unable. The idea that blogs are destroying good journalism is much more useful for understanding Rauch’s diatribe than for understanding the quality or usefulness of blogs.
To his last point:
“Yes, there’s good stuff out there. But when you find a medium in which 99 percent, or whatever, of what’s produced is bad, there is a problem with the medium.”
Again one can’t help but see the frustration of someone who has simply not mastered the form as a user. His entire position can be summed up as: “How are you supposed to work this this darned contraption?!” His opinion here has about as much merit as grandpa’s, who unable to hook up and operate the VCR proclaimed it worthless.