Sunday, January 02, 2005

Mencken Pegs Coleman

In the midst of random poking around on Blogger (See that little “Next Blog” thing at the right side of the toolbar on top of this page? Click it sometime for a random blog), I discovered another Minnesota blogger (Blogizdat) with an opinion about Star Triune columnist (and frequent blog-fodder) Nick Coleman. Sheesh. We practically grow on trees up here.

Anyway, it turned out to be quite a good commentary on the topic, drawing from H. L. Mencken. Quoth the blogger Muzzy:

"The following is excerpted from a piece he wrote for the Atlantic Monthly in 1914 called Newspaper Morals, published most recently in the out-of-print volume 'A Gang Of Pecksniffs - and Other Comments On Newspaper Publishers, Editors and Reporters,' as selected and edited by Theo Lippman, published by Arlington House in 1975.

Mencken, of course, was an elitist, who believed the common man mostly incapable of reason and rationality. He famously distrusted democracy. But he also distrusted pretty much everyone and everything else, too. He was, first and foremost, a misenthrope, a curmudgeon, hence securing my undying admiration."

Of course, read the whole thing applies here. I’m not going to excerpt the Mencken stuff, because Muzzy already did that, so go check it out. But I do want to comment on a few of Muzzy’s points. He notes,

"It must be understood that the likes of Nick Coleman certainly see themselves as heir to a long tradition in journalism: crusader and showman."

This is undeniably true. I think one of the things that so offends Nick these days is that he isn’t recognized as a great Mencken-like crusader. And when his showmanship is also mocked, he positively loses it. In the carnival world of the media, he does not care to be seen as a clown (They have clowns at carnivals don't they? Or is that only circuses? Anyway...).

I don’t fundamentally disagree with this approach to journalism, with the qualification that in addition to this someone had better be reporting the facts as they are, rather than spinning them to the advantage of their “show.” But certainly, there are journalists practicing today, on the right as well as the left, who take this same approach. Some of them are even excellent at it; think of Christopher Hitchens on the left (as long as you can accept that “left” is not synonymous with "partisan Democrat" anyway), or Mark Steyn on the right.

Muzzy again:

"…as so many have already pointed out in the past few days, the Blogosphere threatens the livelihood of columnists like Mr. Coleman even more than it threatens more serious journalists. Anything Coleman can do as a very well-paid columnist - whine, argue, cajole, condemn, nitpick - can be done better and far more cheaply by the so-called Pajama Pundits, who sit at the local coffee-shop or their own kitchen, submitting more copy in a day than Coleman manages in a week. Bloggers are, in fact, the New Columnists, as well as News Gatherers. They don't have the resources to gather news on a global scale, but many of them d*mn well have the smarts and writing ability to run circles around the likes of Nick Coleman."

This is Nick’s problem. If he truly did strive for objectivity and performed serious original reporting, he would have an inherent advantage over most bloggers. We generally have day jobs, as well as strong opinions we’ve never learned to suppress.

But Nick, like so many other columnists, simply strives to plug his personal point of view, and comment on those of others. That certainly isn’t difficult for anyone else to do; and suddenly thousands upon thousands are doing it – for free.

So where could a “crusader/showman” like Nick turn now? Well, if that were my trade, I would examine the inherent advantages I have over all those opinion makers doing it for free:

  1. I get paid to do this, so I have way more time I'm able to devote than 95% of bloggers.
  2. I probably have excellent contacts I have developed over the years that can help me get at original information (in other words, I can offer some original reporting).

Barring this, you’re competing on raw talent alone. And as many of us in the IT sector have found, when the talent pool goes from small and localized to huge and world-wide, your talent is suddenly under the microscope and being re-evaluated constantly. Also, in that kind of market, talent often loses out to lower price.

In the case of Nick Coleman, it is rather evident that blogs like Powerline are winning the talent competition. And there are a lot of potential “Powerlines” out there, with more coming along every day. And (despite his delusions about the lucrative Rove-apportioned stipends to bloggers) Coleman certainly can't compete with them on price.

Muzzy offers a warning that I will dutifully pass along.

"Understand the following, and you will understand something Nick Coleman and his bosses don't: the Blogosphere is not some kind of new Fifth Estate, nor is it a passing fad. It is not something on the horizon, something in the future, something yet to come. It is here. It has already muscled itself a place at the table with the Ancien Regime, many of whom don't even seem to realize that their party has been crashed."

As another juggernaut of the blogosphere might say, indeed.


Blogger Muzzy said...

Thanks for your post, sir. And I thank you for the compliments. I responded here.

5:41 PM  
Blogger Mark Sides said...

"Sheesh. We practically grow on trees up here."

Well, what else do we have to do from October through March? Watch the Vikings go out in one in the playoffs? No Wild. T'Wolves don't get interesting until May. We either read the Strib or do something productive.

Mark Sides

3:26 PM  

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