"if the activity of criticism is more widely diffused, then the critic isn't dead."Now, Norm's post is largely a response to an argument that he provides a precis of. And it's an argument that Norm disagrees with, so I think you'll have to follow that link and read the whole thing.
But this issue - the way that 'democratisation' is diminishing the value of criticism - seems very pertinent to the narrower question of whether political blogs are a good or bad thing.
Or, more to the point, whether lots of people blogging about political matters (as opposed to political blogging) is a good or bad thing - because the two things are not the same.
I'd argue that political blogging - bloggers who focus largely upon court politics and have a ready opinion on everything - do not improve the quality of public life. The reverse is often the case. Such blogs are, for the most part, tedious rehearsals of the kind of bunfights that only appeal to political anoraks. It simply exacerbates the problems that the tabloid coverage of politics are creating - the centralisation, the perception of spin, the abandonment of principle in favour of crude focus-grouping, etc. I could go on, but I think that Chris makes this point very well here.
But what about the fact that more people blog about political matters? That is - I would argue - a different thing.
It surely must be a good thing that there is a wider discussion about public policy, and that people with an interest in particular issues can network with each other more effectively?
And while the quality of that criticism / political discussion is often quite mixed, it is worth contrasting the pre-democratisation situation with the one that the blogosphere has created.
The day before weblogs were invented, when there was a near-monopoly of comment sitting with a fairly small number of people who have to ...
- write on a few different subjects each week whether they have any expertise or not
- reflect the prejudices of their proprietor that their advertisers don't object to
- have to make it fit in the allotted space, and have to make it interesting
Somewhere, every day, on the subject that you want to read about, there is probably a blogger who has written a better article than any of those that are churned out by the professional commentariat. They will be discussing policy rather than politics - something that is frowned upon by the business logic of newspapers. And not being high-volume blogs, they won't have dozens of poisonous off-topic comments underneath them.
They will be presenting new evidence, avoiding the kind of journalistic groupthink that I remarked upon here. They will not be saying anything very exciting - but then, the most pertinent thing to say often isn't very exciting anyway. And they probably won't be writing because some PR has prodded them into it.
I would suggest that it is only a matter of time before variations on the theme of collaborative filtering starts to highlight and reward this kind of writing more than happens at the moment.