Nicholas Lemann in The New Yorker has a neat piece on the challenge of blogging and other new media to traditional journalism called "Amateur Hour: Journalism without Journalists." One of the most interesting bits compares the rise of blogs to the growth of pamphleteering and periodicals in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.
Based on research collected in the book Representation and Misrepresentation in Later Stuart Britain Partisanship and Political Culture by Mark Knights, Lemann notes that it was the combination of a relaxation of government restrictions on publishing, the rise in the availability of the printing press, and the growing urbanization of the populace in England led to a dramatic increase in the volume and impact of pamphlets and self-published periodicals.
The parallels between these "quick and dirty" forms of printing in the 17th century and modern blogging and podcasting are fascinating:
Pamphlets were a mass
medium with a short lead time—cheap, transportable, and easily
accessible to people of all classes and political inclinations. They
were, as Knights puts it, “capable of assuming different forms
(letters, dialogues, essays, refutations, vindications, and so on)”
and, he adds, were “ideally suited to making a public statement at a
particular moment.” Periodicals were, by the standards of the day, “a
sort of interactive entertainment,” because of the invention of letters
to the editor and because publications were constantly responding to
their readers and to one another.
The difference though, Lemann points out, is that the pamphleteering of that time had clearly measurable effects on political discourse and the press, whereas most claims of the impact of new media publishing are largely heresay and conjecture. Lemann contends that new online reporting and commentary does not
threaten traditional journalism so much as supplement and enhance good
In related news, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press released a new study that reveals that "online news has evolved as a supplemental source that is used along with traditional news media outlets." The report notes that news from the internet "is valued most for headlines and convenience, not detailed, in-depth reporting."
So for those of us who would like to change government policy, maybe we should spend less time at Blogger and more time at Kinkos.