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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Continuing War on Blogs

The most recent volley has been fired, sadly, by Barbara Miner, whose work--particularly her work for Rethinking Schools--I usually enjoy immensely. Miner's essay essentially dismisses blogs, for being too numerous, too white and male, too exhausting, and (ironically) too co-opted by the mainstream now to be cool.

I'll give her the last one (Barney's Blog, anyone?), but I say it's ironic, becuase the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is busy trying to co-opt this blog game for itself at the same time it's trying to turn people away from real blogs like the one you're currently holding in your hands.

Follow the trail: It starts innocuously, with the paper giving its columnists and some reporters their own "blogs," which, the cynical me thinks, is an easy way to squeeze more content out of them for the same salary. For a long time, it was mostly sports guys, and some regular folk conned into blogging for the man through MKE or about the Packers. But the corral of corporate bloggers grows ever larger, with two of the most recent inductees being Eugene Kane and Spivak and Bice.

It is important to note, kind of as a prelude to the war's Lexington and Concord, that Greg Borowski article I was quoted in which, while not negative about the blogs, was generally dismissive of blogs' overall power and effectiveness. Call that the beginning of the strategic air war, so to speak: the softening up of the public so that they would be ready to ignore the blogs.

Kane opened the war wide when he wrote about blogging in his regular paper-and-ink column. "If a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it," Kane asked, "has it made a sound? In a nutshell, that's what I think about most blogs." Plugging his own blog as one of "the best," he blanketly labeld most of us as long-winded ax-grinders. He took more specific shots at particular Milwaukee-area bloggers, following up with more shots on his own tepid blog.

Spivak and Bice are blogging with the explicit task of "trudg[ing] through the scores of local political blogs so you don’t have to." Isn't that nice? Now you don't need to traffic your local independent bloggers at all, since the Spice Boys will tell you what is important.

Several other op-eds over the last couple of weeks have laid into blogs, including one by my own favorite target, Patrick McIlheran. And now there's one by Miner, prominent in Sunday's "Crossroads." Meantime, the Journal Sentinel is promoting its (presumably more responsible) blogs heavily on its website's front page.

This is absolutely ridiculous, but I guess this is kind of what happens when something gets commercialized, be it indy music, indy film, or whatever. I don't think it's because the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is afraid of us; I think, instead, they see the writing on the wall about traditional newspapers. I know, I know--every time a new medium comes along (radio, TV, cable news, the internet), the demise of the newspapers has been prematurely predicted. But the blogs are different in one significant way: No longer are we news and opinion consumers limited to professionals (who, after all, populate radio, TV, and cable news); we are able to get content from anyone, anywhere, anytime. Audience beware, of course, because not everyone is trustworthy or even a particularly good speller. But the multiplicity of voices is, to me, the singular appeal of blogs. I get enough Eugene Kane in the paper; I don't need him five days a week, several times a day. (But he, also, needs a spellchecker.)

If I were a better military tactician, I would propose our (bloggers') counterattack. But I'm one of those lousy pinko hippy pacifist types. I'm sure the gung-ho warriors among my colleagues in the right half of the Cheddarsphere will think of something.

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