As the new year begins, I want to start by giving thanks for something that happened last year: blogs. Blog is short for web log, a kind of diary or running journal that people post on the Internet. Although most are purely personal and of no special interest, a few have become must reading.
My favorite is one written by Andrew Sullivan, a gay British conservative with a Ph.D. from Harvard. As with so many of the most perceptive conservatives in the postwar era, Sullivan started out on the Left. He was at one time editor of The New Republic magazine, an important voice of American liberalism for more than 100 years.
Because he understand the Left so well, Sullivan is particularly penetrating in his analysis of it, especially when it comes out of academia or the New York Times. In fact, his criticism of the latter on his website cost him a job writing for the New York Times Magazine on direct orders of its executive editor, the extremely liberal and partisan Howell Raines.
Fortunately, Sullivan survived the loss of income by getting voluntary contributions from his readers. A recent fund-raising drive netted him almost $100,000 in $20 increments — a remarkable achievement and testament to his popularity.
Another site I check almost daily is written by Mickey Kaus and appears at slate.com. He is another former liberal who has drifted rightward, although not as much as Sullivan. Kaus sees himself as more of a New Democrat who is trying to save liberalism from its own excesses. Nevertheless, his insights are often penetrating.
One of the things I like most about blogs is that they provide links to articles, information, and commentary that would not otherwise come to my attention. All one has to do is click and you are instantly taken to the original source. I have found many valuable websites and documents this way that I use in my own writing.
As far as links are concerned, one of the most useful blogs is realclearpolitics.com. Every day it goes through a huge number of online publications and picks out those most interesting that deal with politics. It is really a one-stop shopping source that includes the latest commentary, poll data, and news. During the weeks leading up to the mid-term elections, I found this site to be invaluable.
Another valuable blog is Matt Drudge’s venerable site. Not technically a blogger, since he really predates the blog concept, Drudge views himself as a serious journalist who happens to write for himself, instead of a newspaper or magazine. In fact, he breaks a tremendous amount of news on his website and I find it worth checking several times a day.
Lately, some actual magazines like National Review (which operates The Corner), Reason, American Prospect, and New Republic have started blogs in order to post time-sensitive material by their writers between issues of the dead tree variety (i.e., paper). They vary a great deal in terms of both quantity and quality, but can be indispensable when you are looking for a take on breaking news.
One doesn’t even need to have a blog oneself to take advantage of them. Many allow anyone to post a comment and almost all make it easy to communicate via e-mail with their hosts. Indeed, that is one of their great strengths because it means that blogs are not dependent solely on the knowledge and information one person has. Rather, the blogger becomes a sort of editor, sifting through the knowledge and information of perhaps thousands of readers.
One of the criticisms of blogs is that they tend to shoot from the hip — posting information that is sometimes unreliable. But that is true of any medium that deals in time-sensitive information, including newspapers and broadcast-news programs. However, where blogs excel is in almost instantaneously correcting themselves. By contrast, papers like the New York Times often take weeks to publish corrections of factual errors, and television news programs almost never admit error — ever.
I think blogging is one of the most interesting ways in which the Internet empowers people. They cost almost nothing to put up and they allow anyone with an opinion the ability reach millions of people instantly and simultaneously. Blogs have become a kind of early warning system for me, alerting me about things like Trent Lott’s political problems days before it appeared in the conventional press.
Blogs are here to stay and their power will only grow. I think they are going to revolutionize politics and news gathering permanently.