Bad News, Richard Posner and New Media

Richard Posner, who is a Federal Appeals court Judge as well as Senior Lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School and an active Blogger, is one of the most prolific writers in the United States. He has a lengthy article in the New York Times Book Review, Sunday, July 31, 2005.

It is a superb piece of writing and a profound analysis of the role that the media play in the everyday lives of the American people. He makes a series of points that I would like to comment on: the proliferation of Blogs means that audiences have more power; that the traditional press has lost a significant percentage of its readership, especially among the generation of twenty to forty-year olds; that the media have become more sensational and polarized along traditional political fault lines of right and left. There is a great deal more in the article, but these three points are central to the Posner’s direction and orientation.

It is interesting the Posner has the stated aim of reviving and enriching public discourse and that he has on numerous occasions commented on the weakening of the role of the public intellectual in American life.

Blogs

The vast majority of Blogs are directed towards a very small readership. They are really more like old style bulletin boards, written sometimes for the pleasure of writing and other times to proclaim allegiance to one or another of the many ideologies that surround us. In general, however, the vast majority of Blogs are private and confessional in orientation. They testify to the everyday experiences that people have, but more importantly Blogs are a sign of the extraordinary importance that Bloggers place on the activities of writing. Ironically, it is the news media, which has highlighted a relatively small number of Blogs and made them the reference point for what is happening in the Blogosphere as a whole. Clearly, publicity is a good thing for those Blogs that receive it. But, for the most part, Blogs are private affairs, diaries that have the potential to be read by a large number of people, but generally are read by family and friends. Are they important? Absolutely. Are they a significant shift in the way the public (which is an amorphous term anyway) sees itself and its neighbors? Yes. Is news being disseminated in a different way because there are now so many people commenting on nearly every aspect of American life? Yes, but here I depart from Posner’s analysis, because my own feeling is that that it is almost impossible to summarize what is being said with the kind of accuracy that is needed to explain and comment upon most Blogs.

Blogs, in my opinion are not about the creation of large communities of interest. They are about communities dividing into smaller and smaller groups with people sharing their interests and concerns through the written word and sometimes through the use of visuals. Blogs reflect and represent something akin to what happens among people when they use the telephone to talk to friends and family. They are about telling stories and more often than not, the stories aren’t that interesting to anyone outside the group. Posner makes a common error in media analysis. He uses the mainstream media themselves as the source for commentary on Blogs. What we need, I believe, is a more historical overview, which links Blogs to nineteenth and twentieth century reading clubs and other organized community based clubs and groups.