The Blog Of War -- Do Online Soldiers Really Want A Revolution?

I was not enthusiastic when Dick Meyer approached me about the suggestion from Hugh Hewitt that they make public their recent correspondence. Initially I was hesitant to put the back-and-forth on PE for a couple reasons.

First off, I felt like I had reasonably explained my position on the inane reaction to Brian Montopoli's story about journalist bloggers. Sometimes a list is just a list, but I don't think even Freud could psychoanalyze those who saw sinister motives at work in ours. Secondly, it struck me as being a smidge over-indulgent. Of course, so does this entry thus far but believe me, there's a larger point in here somewhere.

In the end, it was the idea of "transparency" that persuaded me that we should air the exchange for the whole World Wide Web to see. That and the rather revealing agenda at play on the part of Hewitt (I'll leave it to others to find Meyer's agenda). It's one I saw demonstrated elsewhere this week.

To my eye, Hewitt's criticism consisted primarily of two parts. One, he (and according to him, others) felt our list of "MSM" journalists who blog was an attempt on our part to create some sort of left-leaning caste system within the entire blogosphere. Two, he was angered not to have been included in the list himself, for either balance or stature or both. Together, they present an interesting dichotomy. It seems to me a point of honor among bloggers to be separated from the big, corporate "mainstream media" they love to hate for things like, well, compiling lists. Yet they want in.

Earlier this week I was fortunate enough to have been invited to participate in a discussion about blogging and the MSM at the Museum of Television & Radio. The topic was the "Intersection of Blogging and Mainstream News." On hand were news executives like CNN's Jonathan Klein, MSNBC's Rick Kaplan, CBS' Andrew Heyward and the New York Times' Martin Nisenholtz, among others. They were joined by bloggers such as Jay Rosen, Jeff Jarvis, Dan Gillmor and others. You can see the entire lineup here.

Many of the bloggers in attendance have already weighed in on the mostly on-the-record discussion, but first my impressions: I found the four-hour discussion interesting and informative and even illuminating at times. There was far less animus than I expected between the bloggers and MSM leaders, and a real willingness to listen. Business concerns were aired alongside journalistic worries. Success stories were told, warnings issued and some interesting, if vague, ideas floated. Overall there seemed to be some common perceptions about the current media landscape and the challenges that face everyone in it. But I didn't come away with any real answers to those challenges from either side.

One of the more interesting themes was blogging-as-a-revolution, the sense that this has changed, or is changing media as we know it. Most who weighed in seemed to accept that the revolution has already happened but its exact impact remains murky. A few felt there may be some technological innovation on the horizon we can't yet imagine that will bring it all together. You can see more in-depth accounts at Press Think, BuzzMachine and Susan Crawford's blog.

Reaction from the bloggers skips around but there is a constant theme of progress: The MSM isn't arguing at us as much as they used to and even though they still don't "get" it, we're at the table. But progress toward what?

As in the Hewitt example, there is a dual dynamic here. While it's not entirely fair to make broad characterizations of all bloggers (just as it's unfair for bloggers to do the same to the MSM), it's a pattern I've noticed on both the left and right.

Bloggers love to ridicule the MSM for being unresponsive, slow, bumbling, unable to innovate, unwilling to change and arrogant. Yet somehow, they want to be part of it. They dismiss mass media even as they compete to mass communicate, shutting off their televisions (when they're not on them) and closing their newspapers (when they're not in them) to check their Technorati hits. Bloggers are fond of the gate-keeper metaphor. Seems like they just want a key to come and go as they please.

Bloggers are also fond of holding MSM orgs to the highest of standards (as they should) while eschewing those same standards for themselves. "Facts" and "accuracy" are something for the MSM, not them. They're just bloggers, after all.

The irony is, the bigger blogger empires become, the more they need the MSM for a foil. Hewitt needs to rail against Public Eye as a tool of corporate media to help his own Web, radio and publishing empire grow larger. The MSM will never do right in their eyes, otherwise they'd be out of business. I've always thought of bloggers as the ultimate outsiders of media – independent, brash and unafraid. Increasingly they want to be insiders. What will happen to the revolution once they arrive?