Author Topic: Death of Opinion Journalism  (Read 3133 times)

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BT

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Death of Opinion Journalism
« on: September 20, 2006, 10:58:01 PM »
Everybody Has One: Bloggers and the Death of Opinion Journalism
by Brendan Nyhan

Not that long ago, many people thought the Internet would break down partisan boundaries and improve the quality of political debate in this country -- a prediction that sounds as silly today as previous hype about the educational potential of television and radio.


Today, online politics has come to be dominated by two warring camps, just like offline politics. And while many critics complain about the polarization of the blogosphere and its effect on elections, how blogs will affect the economics of opinion journalism is less well understood. In particular, partisan blogs have become so popular that they are threatening the business model -- and the independence -- of center-left opinion magazines, which may be forced to toe the party line to ensure their survival.


I learned this lesson the hard way after I signed on as a contributor to The American Prospect's media criticism blog a few weeks ago. It seemed like a bit of an awkward fit -- the Prospect is a liberal magazine, and I had previously co-founded Spinsanity, a non-partisan watchdog of online spin -- but I assumed they knew who they were hiring. I was wrong.


Last Wednesday, controversy broke out when I slammed two liberal blogs for using an airline employee's suicide after 9/11 to take a cheap shot at President Bush. My post, which initially contained a minor factual error, prompted one of the bloggers, Atrios (aka Duncan Black), to label me the "wanker of the day" and to call on TAP editors to "rethink things a bit." Hundreds of Atrios readers filled the Prospect's comment boards with vitriol. In an email Friday morning, Sam Rosenfeld, the magazine's online editor, asked that I focus my blogging on conservative targets. He specifically objected to two posts criticizing liberals (here and here ) that I wrote after the Atrios controversy. I refused and terminated the relationship.


Why was I asked to slant my work to the liberal party line? In an email statement, TAP editor Michael Tomasky said that "[t]he Prospect is hardly averse to criticizing liberal verities" and that the magazine had no problem with my initial posts criticizing liberals, but "there were a few posts in succession that struck us as either inaccurate or an effort to draw equivalencies where none existed. The Prospect has always opposed a 'pox on both houses' posture, and that's what we came to believe you were doing."


However, no editor at the Prospect ever contacted me about the posts, nor did any of its writers attempt to engage me in a public debate. More fundamentally, while TAP can choose to (almost) exclusively criticize conservatives, isn't open and honest debate a value that liberals prize? Is it appropriate to largely ignore one side while jumping on virtually any misstatement from the other?


One important factor shaping TAP's decision may have been the popularity of Democratic bloggers like Atrios, who pump out a stream of pre-filtered news and commentary. Before the rise of online competition, opinion magazines had some freedom to be idiosyncratic and less partisan than their readers. The initial incarnation of the Prospect, for example, had a thoughtful, academic tone. But the availability of more points of view online (while laudable in many ways) has paradoxically increased the pressure on ideological publications to pander to readers, who have the option of seeking out exclusively partisan blogs instead.


In addition, the huge audiences of the partisan bloggers make them a key source of online traffic for opinion magazines if they supply ideologically favorable content. (At Spinsanity, we quickly learned that it was virtually impossible to get links from liberals when we criticized a liberal, and vice versa for conservatives.) Similarly, the risk of not getting links means that few commentators are willing to criticize the gatekeepers.


In some cases, the threat may be existential. Opinion magazines lose money -- a lot of money -- and are vulnerable to further financial losses. Atrios, Kos, and other liberal bloggers have attacked The New Republic for years, helping to undermine the center-left magazine's lagging popularity among liberals. If TNR's subscriber base were to shrink as a result of these attacks, the viability of the magazine could be threatened.


Considering these factors, TAP's decision makes perfect sense; they have no incentive to incur the wrath of the liberal heavyweights whom they depend on for traffic. According to Alexa.com, prospect.org is less popular than Atrios and dwarfed by Daily Kos (whose site also includes reader blogs and discussion boards). With Eric Alterman [a former MSNBC.com blogger now on Media Matters] and Markos Moulitsas Zuniga of Kos joining Atrios' attack on the Prospect Friday afternoon, the risk was real.


At a deeper level, these developments may offer a preview of the future of opinion journalism. Ex-reporters and political insiders currently dominate the nation's op-ed pages, but mainstream news organizations like the Washington Post are hiring a new generation of ideological bloggers who are likely to take their place. And conservative magazines, while less heterodox than their liberal counterparts, also face competition from ultra-partisan blogs like Power Line, Time's 2004 blog of the year (sample quote: "It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can't get anyone to notice.")


Ironically enough, the liberal writers who decry the excesses of capitalism have failed to recognize what it is doing to their business. In a marketplace where publications compete on partisanship and ideological consistency, our democracy loses.

http://time-blog.com/political_bite/2006/09/everybody_has_one_bloggers_and.html


Plane

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Re: Death of Opinion Journalism
« Reply #1 on: September 21, 2006, 12:19:52 AM »
    Is debate an adversarial exposition and search for truth , or more like a game of "King of the Mountain"?

BT

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Re: Death of Opinion Journalism
« Reply #2 on: September 23, 2006, 08:05:23 PM »
    Is debate an adversarial exposition and search for truth , or more like a game of "King of the Mountain"?

I believe it is a gathering of opposing forces where loyalty tests are performed periodically on the troops. At least that is how it seems lately.