"Bloggers have no checks and balances. [It's] a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas."
--JONATHAN KLEIN, former senior executive of 60 Minutes, on Fox News
WELL, LAST WEEK, THE INSURRECTIONARY PAJAMA people--dubbed "pajamahadeen" by some Web nuts--successfully scaled one more citadel of the mainstream media, CBS News. One of the biggest, baddest media stars, Dan Rather, is now clinging, white-knuckled, to his job. Not bad for a bunch of slackers in their nightclothes.
You have to ask: Is this a media revolution? In some respects, sure. The Web has done one revolutionary thing to journalism: it has made the price of entry into the media market minimal. In days gone by, you needed a small fortune to start up a simple magazine or newspaper. Now you need a laptop and a modem.
Ten years ago I edited a money-losing magazine, The New Republic, which had 100,000 subscribers. Two weeks ago on my four-year-old blog, AndrewSullivan.com I had 100,000 readers in one day alone. After four years of blogging, I haven't lost a cent and have eked out a small salary. And I don't even have an editor! Technology did this. And it's a big deal most people have yet to understand.
The results, however, are in. Without blogs, there wouldn't have been a Drudge Report to help speed the impeachment of a sitting President. Trent Lott, hounded by bloggers for a racist remark originally ignored by the big media, would still be Senate majority leader. Blogs played a critical part in the downfall of Howell Raines, former executive editor of the New York Times, in the Jayson Blair scandal. Blogs created a forum where Times insiders could leak and vent, where critics could ridicule and where Raines' editorship could be rattled until it was scuttled by one wayward reporter. The same kind of Web scrutiny added to the forces that brought down the BBC's leadership in the aftermath of a disputed story alleging that Tony Blair's government had "sexed up" evidence of Iraqi WMD. I still wonder if Raines and Rather knew what hit them.
The critics of blogs cite their lack of professionalism. Piffle. The dirty little secret of journalism is that it isn't really a profession. It's a craft. All you need is a telephone and a conscience, and you're all set. You get better at it merely by doing it--which is why fancy journalism schools are, to my mind, such a waste of time.
Blogs prove this. One of the best is a site started by a law professor in Tennessee, Instapundit.com This "amateur" has earned the trust of his readers simply by his track record--just as the New York Times did a century ago. And after a couple of years, his readership rivals and often eclipses those of the traditional political magazines. Does he screw up? Of course he does sometimes. I've done so many times myself. But the beauty of the blogosphere is that if you make a mistake, someone will soon let you know. And if you don't correct immediately, someone will let you know again. And again. Like Internet Jack Russell terriers, readers grab ahold of your pants and don't let go until you have made amends. Blogs that ignore critics will lose credibility and readers. It's the market at its purest. And readers may have more and better information at their fingertips than the best researcher in the world.