30 August 2003

And I wanna be a pamphleteer writer!

In other words, blogs are exactly what journalism and the pamphlet press were in the eighteenth century: a freewheeling culture with thousands of voices, and a genuine open marketplace of ideas. In America until the mid-20th century, in any town of more than a few thousand people, there was a good chance that two or more newspapers were competing for readers. The cranky small-town newspaper editor with a few hundred or thousand readers was an American icon; with small circulations and relatively low-tech processes, market entry was a lot easier than today. And the best corrective for any deficiencies in the cranky old fart's product was the ability of other cranky old farts to get a printing press and start talking back. Journalism wasn't a "profession" that involved climbing a career ladder in a few giant oligarchies. In those days of easy market entry and a diversity of voices, the main mechanisms for advancing the truth were competition and the adversarial process. In today's print media, on the other hand, the main safeguard for the truth in the oligopoly press is "professionalism" and a false religion of "objectivity." Newspaper concentration replaced the market mechanism, which promoted truth by an invisible hand, with internal safeguards like "professional standards." In the marketplace of ideas, like any other area of life, "professional culture" and administrative mechanisms for quality control are very poor substitutes for vigorous competition. With the internet, and the ability of these "dime-a-dozen blogs" to operate on a shoestring and challenge consensus reality, we are in many ways going back to the good old days. Journalism is no longer a "career ladder" for blow-dried "professionals." Instead of the canons of professional journalism, the main restraint on the big boys will be the ease with which the little guys can challenge their version of events.
-- Kevin Carson
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