Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Norman Spector Just Doesn't Get It

Tim and I spend a lot of time talking about blogs, and their potential future uses and impact (especially for politicians and politics), though we rarely seem to post on that subject explicitly. At the risk of putting up some relatively "dated" material (2 weeks is an eternity in the blogosphere), I thought I would link to an intriguing comments discussion arising from a Western Standard post between Kate McMillan of Small Dead Animals, Norman Spector of Norman's Spectator (and Mulroney's PMO, among other things), and an anonymous "ET", from February 26th.

The discussion is worth highlighting for a number of reasons. Though long, heated, and at times repetitious, I found it extremely valuable because it reveals (almost unconsciously at times) the attitude of a well recognized "traditional" political pundit (ie. Spector is a regular on Don Newman's CBC show and contributor to the Globe and Mail) toward blogging in Canada.

Canadian political blogging remains in its infancy. While Dean's campaign took off due in large part to internet-based organization, thus far we have seen no Canadian equivalent. Belinda Stronach's leadership campaign attempted to incorporate the ideas of a daily weblog and meet-ups to very little effect before abandoning the ideas altogether. While American blogs have played invaluable roles in driving media stories (much to Dan Rather or Jeff Gannon's dismay), Canadian online pundits seem to be speaking largely among themselves. Monte Solberg has begun a blog that is actually worth reading, and there is a sense that there is substantial interest - as Kinsella's allusions to the popularity of his site attest - boiling beneath the surface, waiting for a watershed. But to date, the major stories, and surely the way the major parties operate (in preparation for Question Period or otherwise) remains rooted in traditional media and traditional means.

In short, blogging is very much on the periphery of the Canadian daily political scene. And according to Norman Spector, it is destined to remain there. In the extensive discussion to the Western Standard post on teaching politicians to blog, Norman Spector puts forward a very "elitist" (for lack of another term) approach to the potential value of political blogging (and thus increased use of the Internet more generally?). Basically, under such a view, blogs are not to be understood as transformative in any sense, and would do well to employ strong editors.

To illustrate this, let us just consider a few of Norman Spector's comments throughout the referenced discussion.

[Background note: Spector's site is not what I would call a "blog" by any definition of the term, since his daily "Spectator" acts more as a news-gathering service with little, if any, of his own subjective insight. For my part, I do consider Andrew Sullivan, David Frum, and Warren Kinsella, for examples, to operate various types of "blog", since they update often on a wide variety of topics, of varied length and seriousness, that break the mold of a traditional newspaper column approach and often respond to feedback.

People who read the discussion will note that Spector seems infatuated with the idea that he is running a blog that is referenced in newspapers as [his quotes] "as one of the two hottest on the web, or among BC's top 10 blogs or to my writing as part of 'the most memorable battle in the history of the Canadian blogosphere.' The childishness is pathetic.]

Also, what I've attempted to provide here is a representative sample of the general thrust of Spector's argument, not lamely pull quotes out of context.]
"The great fallacy of the blogosphere is that all opinions are created equal; the great strength of the mainstream media is that editors weed out most of the crap."

"Most of the content on blogs is junk, and I greatly appreciate the confirmaton. MSM make lots of mistakes, but no one writing in the Western Standard, for example, could get away with the standards that you've exemplified here."

"[w]ith a few exceptions, the blogosphere is a miasma of ignorance, paranoia self-indulgence and prejudice."

"Many bloggers haven't the foggiest idea of what they're writing about. Many blog readers haven't the intellectual capacity to differentiate between high quality and the absurdities that pass for so much of the content."

"In the other corner you have most bloggers, who display none of the attributes of Taranto. Most can't think, can't reason, can't write and haven't the foggiest idea of what they're writing about most of the time. Notably, this never stops them from proferring an opinion, including on complicated subjects--the Mideast being a classic example."

"Their comment sections are filled with junk. Their work would never be accepted by a book publisher or by a newspaper editor and you won't find them commenting on television. They are living proof, if any is needed, that not all opinions are created equal. They have no influence, no impact and few readers. They are a big waste of their time and ours."

Difficult to register just how much I disagree on a fundamental level with these opinions, but the funniest aspect is how obviously wrong I think Spector is in his entire conception on the inherent value of blogs. How else to conclude that he simply doesn't get it. He expects everything he reads to conform to some unknown standard worthy of his time, despite the unregulated nature of the forum. Funny, I thought that freedom was part of blogging's charm!

This debate is a topical one we'll be watching into the future. Just yesterday, in fact, Spector published an article in the Globe and Mail in which he continues his attack on the potential value of blogging. Money (should I say most glaringly ridiculous?) quote:
"The vast majority of blogs are akin to teenage diaries that attract a few dozen readers a day. Space for immediate reader feedback suggests what talk radio would be without the seven-second delay or the host's ability to disconnect vexatious callers."
The response from the blogosphere came immediately. And rightfully so. By conceding that he actually doesn't read very many blogs himself, Spector basically concedes that he simply doesn't yet understand fully what he is talking about. The ease of obtaining a multiplicity of opinions strikes me as an overwhelmingly powerful "good" thing. Let the worth of an opinion stand alone on its reason and judgment, not merely because career editors in the mainstream media deem it worthy. But most critically, because individual blogs, collectively, can offer perspective that the conventional media just cannot touch, and basically for free. Direct, timely, inexpensive, opinionated, and beautiful.

Here's a novel idea - why not act as your own editor, Mr. Spector? That's what empowerment is, after all. Dive into the blogosphere for real. You'll find some valuable first-person accounts, commentary refreshingly beyond that of a daily newspaper or what an anonymous editor deemed acceptable. You don't even have to agree with people's opinions to find their contributions extremely beneficial. Imagine that.

Conservatives bemoan the ideological nature of liberal newspapers like the New York Times or Toronto Star. Liberals castigate Rupert Murdoch and Conrad Black for owning newspapers so they can sell the public a politically driven angle on the news.

Well, that monopoly is crumbing. Welcome to the New Generation.


Post a Comment

<< Home