We Just Have To Go Do The Work

Nicholas Lemann, in a story on blogging and citizen journalism in the August 7 issue of The New Yorker:

[N]ew media in their fresh youth [produce] a distinctive, hot-tempered rhetorical style.

…transformative in their capabilities…a mass medium with a short lead time — cheap…and easily accessible to people of all classes and political inclinations.

And quoting author Mark Knights:

…a medium that facilitated slander, polemic, and satire. It delighted in mocking or even abusive criticism, in part because of the conventions of anonymity.

Of course, Lemann and Knights are talking not about bloggers but pamphleteers in later Stuart Britain (1685 through 1714, apparently). Lemann is using Knights’ Representation and Misrepresentation in Later Stuart Britain: Partisanship and Political Culture to make a point:

Societies create structures of authority for producing and distributing knowledge, information, and opinion. These structures are always waxing and waning, depending not only on the invention of new means of communication but also on political, cultural, and economic developments.

Or, more directly, he’s bringing a rhetorical hammer down on the internet cheerleaders hailing blogs as a true revolution in news media and reporting. “[I]t is not quit as different from what has gone before as its advocates are saying.”

But Lemann isn’t opposed to bloggers or citizen journalism. Lemann imagines them “fanning out like a great army, covering not just what professional journalists cover, as well or better, but also much that they ignore.” Instead of stirring a stale pot, Lemann seems to plea for bloggers to deliver on the promise:

Reporting — meaning the tradition by which a member of a distinct occupational category gets to cross the usual bounds of geography an class, to go where important things are happening, to ask powerful people blunt an impertinent questions, and to report back reliably and in plain language, to a general audience — is a distinctive, fairly recent invention. It probably started in the United States, in the mid-nineteenth century, long after the Founders wrote the First Amendment. It has spread — and it continues to spread — around the world. It is a powerful social tool, because it provides citizens with an independent source of information about the state and other holders of power. It sounds obvious, but reporting requires reporters. They don’t have to be priests or gatekeepers or even paid professionals; they just have to go out and do the work. (emphasis added)