Two questions arose upon reading about Gregg Easterbrook's now infamous New Republic blog entry that criticized Jewish studio execs for making violent films. The first that popped into mind was, what was this eminently rational and entertaining writer doing making a statement that left him wide open to charges of anti-Semitism?The second question was what this would mean for the reputation of blogs as a mode of expression. After all, in the past year or so, blogs have grown in importance to the dialogues on everything from politics to movies to sports. As places where anyone can register an opinion without taking a paycheck from a media company, they have represented the democratic potential of the internet more than any relic of the dot-com era. They've been vital in the evolution of the coverage of stories from the war in Iraq to the Jayson Blair fiasco. Now, the Easterbrook affair, which cost him his writing job for ESPN.com, looks like the first moment of crisis for the medium, which was exactly how reporters covered the story. A common angle was that Easterbrook's impolitic comments exemplified the dangers of journalism without editors. The conclusion was that any editor would have scrapped Easterbrook's dodgy contentions, and controversy would have been avoided. For their part, bloggers rightly countered that even news organizations with many layers of editing, like the Times, make errors that range from the mundane to the egregious. This leads naturally to the question of what, exactly, defines a blog. Is it that very lack of an editor, an absence that allows for the independent spirit that distinguishes these websites from op-ed pages and columnists? Even before Easterbrook, it seemed obvious that this isn't the proper definition. What's more crucial to effective and useful blogging is an ability to grapple with issues in a way that isn't subject to the strictures of daily journalism that, while important to standards of fairness and accuracy, often undercut critical thinking on issues. In a typical news story, quotes often go unchallenged and reporters are more than happy with just putting in calls to all sides by deadline. In her book Political Fictions, Joan Didion takes journalists to task for this. Referring to straight reporting on political candidates' photo-ops, regardless of their absurdity, she saw "an enthusiasm for overlooking the contradictions inherent in reporting that which occurs only in order to be reported." The best blogs that take on news issues, and by extension the mainstream media they rely on for primary reporting, are those that tease out these contradictions. Slate, for example, not only has editors, but is also owned by a massive corporation. Its fresh, irreverent analysis and writing stand out from most of the mainstream, and show that it's not about not having an editor. It's having editors that allow their writers to write. -firstname.lastname@example.org
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