Thursday, April 8, 2004

Arianna Loves Blogs

Arianna Huffington is a blog groupie.

April 7, 2004 | I’ve got a confession to make. I’ve got a big-time crush. I’m talking weak-in-the-knees infatuation. But it’s not Brad or Orlando or Colin or any of the cinematic hunks du jour who have set my heart aflutter. No, it’s Atrios and Kos and Josh Micah Marshall and Kausfiles and Kevin Drum and Wonkette. Bloggers all. Yes, when it comes to the blogosphere, I’m a regular cyberslut. And I don’t care who knows it. Bring on the fines, Michael Powell!

Although I’ve only recently stuck my toe in the fast-moving blogstream, I’ve been a fan — and an advocate — ever since bloggers took the Trent Lott/Strom Thurmond story, ran with it, and helped turn the smug Senate majority leaderinto the penitent former Senate majority leader, a bit of bloody political chum floating in a tank of hungry sharks. Simply put, blogs are the greatest breakthrough in popular journalism since Tom Paine broke onto the scene.

I remember, around the time of the Lott affair, being on a panel organized by the Hollywood Radio and Television Society. It was filled with a number of familiar talking heads, including Larry King and Sam Donaldson. We were discussing the good, the bad and the ugly of mainstream journalism. At one point I launched into a rant about all the stories that I felt were important but were not getting covered by the big media outlets.

My fellow panelists, on cue, leapt to the defense of their mainstream brethren, pointing out that many of the stories I mentioned had, in fact, been covered on TV or by the big daily papers.

And indeed they had. Sometimes in 90-second news packages and sometimes even on the front page of the New York Times — above the fold.

But that, until the rise of the bloggers, was that. Issue noted. Let’s all move on. Reporters for the big media outlets are obsessed with novelty, always moving all-too-quickly on to the next big score or the next hot get.

That’s when it dawned on me: The problem isn’t that the stories I care about aren’t being covered; it’s that they aren’t being covered in the obsessive way that breaks through the din of our 500-channel universe. Because those 500 channels don’t mean we get 500 times the examination and investigation of worthy news stories. It means we get the same narrow conventional-wisdom wrap-ups repeated 500 times. As in “Dean is angry.”

Paradoxically, in these days of instant communication and 24-hour news channels, it’s actually easier to miss information we might otherwise pay attention to. That’s why we need stories to be covered and recovered and re-recovered and covered again — until they filter up enough to become part of the cultural bloodstream.

The vast majority of mainstream journalists head in the direction the assignment desk points them. This often means just following a candidate around, or sitting in the White House press room, and then rehashing the day’s schedule for their readers or viewers. Bloggers are armed with a far more effective piece of access than a White House press credential: passion.

When bloggers decide that something matters, they chomp down hard and refuse to let go. They’re the true pit bulls of reporting. The only way to get them off a story is to cut off their heads (and even then you’ll need to pry their jaws open). They almost all work alone, but, ironically, it’s their collective effort that makes them so effective. They share their work freely, feed off one another’s work, argue with each other, and add to the story dialectically.

And because blogs are ongoing and daily, indeed sometimes hourly, bloggers will often start with a small story, or a piece of one — a contradictory quote, an unearthed document, a detail that doesn’t add up — that the big outlets would deem too minor. But it’s only minor until, well, it’s not. Big media can’t see the forest for the trees. Until it’s assembled for them by the bloggers.

I also love the open nature of the form — the links, the research made visible, the democratic back and forth, the open archives, the big professorial messiness of it all. It reminds me of my schoolgirl days when providing the right answer wasn’t enough for our teachers — they demanded that we “show our work.” Bloggers definitely show their work. It’s why you don’t just read blogs — you experience them.

All of which has made the blogosphere such a vital news source in our country — and has made me besotted with blogs. It’s a crush that I’m betting will quickly progress to going steady.

I only have one question: Does the blogosphere have an ID bracelet? I sure hope so. []

Welcome aboard, Arianna. Stop by any time.