Jumping the shark?

This was originally going to be a somewhat theoretical post about blogs but a comment on Liberal Oasis and a discussion about an upcoming news article led to a variation — have political blogs jumped the shark?

For those unfamiliar with the term, jumping the shark occurs at the point where a television show/event/personality began an irreversible decline.  My pondering stems in part from the fact that we’re hearing almost ad nauseum about bloggers at the DNC, the role of blogging in participatory democracy, the impact of blogs on the electoral process, etc., etc., etc. 

Blogs are a unique and valuable method of expression generally free from outside editing or censorship.  As an advocate of the marketplace of ideas theory, I think anything that enhances expression and adds to the number of ideas in that marketplace is laudable.  But overestimating the role and “power” of blogs may lead them to jump the shark.  Just take a look at some of the blogging from the DNC.  Quality and substance are giving way to an almost breathless “aren’t blogs a big deal” and/or “look where I’m at or who I’m with” syndrome.

Perhaps I am biased by my former life as a print journalist but blogs aren’t journalism and bloggers qua bloggers are not journalists.  With extremely rare exceptions, blogs do not interview a variety of people or sources in an attempt to provide a purportedly objective perspective or analysis.  They are personal communication tools.  And, because they are personal, they are inherently biased and only personal restraints shape the content.  In fact, I view political blogs as most comparable to the individuals (aka kooks) on street corners handing out photocopied screeds about some political, religious or alien conspiracy or wrongdoing.  I’m not saying political bloggers are kooks or off the deep end.  The point is that while a few curious people might look at the screed/blog entry before discarding it, a reader pays attention only if it comports with some aspect of their personal viewpoints. 

Do blogs offer an alternative to mainstream media and the vast (take your pick: left-wing, right-wing) media conspiracy?  They can but since they largely amount to preaching to the converted they have no greater power than any other alternative media.  The ease of access and distribution is outweighed by the countless blogs out there.  As a result, those having an impact are probably limited to those that are most widely-read.  Any impact on media coverage most likely stems from the traditional media having easy access to those blogs so that comments made give rise to story ideas or other editorial decision-making.  But to accord political blogs some sort of independent “watchdog” function or independent political force is unrealistic. 

Maybe all the current attention simply reflects an infatuation flowing from an election year.  Sadly, the focus on the perceived political impact of blogs ignores the fact that many excellent blogs are not political.  They look at booksmusic, film, Seinfeld, or any of the innumerable things that interest people.  In fact, I would guess politically oriented blogs are a very small minority of the blogs out there; they are just the current novelty.  Still, political blogs risk jumping the shark if their own view of their self-importance leads to their ideas becoming lost in an unbounded marketplace.

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