Bloggers as Editors

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RE: Cover Your Assgate, former Reason editor Virginia Postrel makes the point that bloggers act as editors:

Nowadays when stories go public, they get checked by after-the-fact editors with expertise in every field imaginable, and that checking gets published to the entire world via the blogosphere. Bloggers may not have editors, but they serve as editors themselves.

Whole thing here.

Another way of talking about the role of bloggers is that they help create what Reason's Julian Sanchez dubbed "distributed journalism." In a fashion similar to open source software, bloggers and other online types are able to vet and critique content in truly powerful ways, even if no one is in full possession of the facts of a story.

In this column, Julian looked at how that process unmasked some odd, unscholarly behavior by controversial gun researcher John R. Lott. It's worth a re-read.

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  1. “In a fashion similar to open source software,” Etc

    The analogy is somewhat flawed. Any industrial strength open source product is far less amenable to distributed development than people imagine; we are talking mature, usable products as distinct from the 123,456,789,000 projects that people have on the web. For instance, Linux has an iron council headed by the Linus that vets submissions to determine which one gets in. If your high availability application goes down, that is somewhat more serious than an argument over typography where nobody “really” cares if they get it wrong. So yes, there are areas where “experts” are in fuller possession of the facts than others. Which makes me wonder about blog editors.

  2. In some especially partisan matters the blogosphere isn’t all that great of an editor.

    Take, say, the controversy over Kerry’s actions in Vietnam. At first glance it would seem like the perfect thing for the blogosphere, since there’s a tangle of claims and counter claims and counter-counter-claims etc. “Kerry didn’t do what he says he did.” “The people saying that weren’t even present for the battle.” “Yes they were, and here’s a record.” “Well, that same official record supports Kerry’s version, not theirs.” “Well, Kerry wrote the after-action report, not them.” etc. etc. etc.

    The problem is that on some matters a lot of bloggers are correlated rather than independent. If bloggers were all independent filters then by analyzing the stories from countless different perspectives their errors would cancel out and their signals would add up constructively, removing all noise and leaving only signal. But if they are correlated by some factor such as partisanship then factions will emerge with similar stories. Their various “noises” are correlated and hence don’t cancel. Hence there is not yet a consensus on the charges against Kerry. OK, there is a consensus within each partisan faction, but the factions remain entrenched.

  3. thoreau,
    You are not implying that bloggers have agendas as well, are you? 😉

  4. thoreau,

    You’re right: they certainly tend to line up into ideological factions.

    But at least there’s an adversarial (or if you’ll permit the term, dialectical) process going on, in which the logic and evidence of each side are taken apart in painstaking detail by the other side.

    In other words, bloggers are doing what journalists should be doing. And what the partisan press of the nineteenth century did quite often, before the Walter Lippmann school of “professional” journalism as stenography became dominant.

    By looking carefully at what both (or all) sides of the blogosphere have to say about an issue, and their contending analyses and counter-analyses of the evidence, you’ll have a lot better feel for the facts of the case than you get reading the “he said, she said” crap that dominates the mainstream press.

  5. The problem with the Kerry in Vietnam theme is that there is only a tiny amount of information to parse that is available to the public. There are some ‘eyewitness’ accounts from 30 years after the fact, but not many documents available, and not much stuff that people can have personal experience with (everyone who was there is already involved, and that is only a few hundred)

    The forged documents theme works much better because being knowledgable about typefaces, etc. does not require having been in certain place at a certain time, and research material exists (typewriter manuals, etc.)

    I doubt blogs will ever be good at sorting out ‘he said / she said’ type scenarios. It is just not the strength of a wide network because original information is very limited.

  6. So once I was talking to a co-worker about political correctness and I pointed out that recently on a nature show they had featured the Texas Horned Toad. I complained that everybody knew it was actually called a “Horny Toad” and that the name had been altered because the word “Horny” had shifted in meaning over the years (it used to mean rough and bumpy, not aroused).

    My coworker who was from England questioned the existence of the beast. I related that they were very common in my youth before the fire ants nearly wiped them out. They’re fascinating creatures who can burrow straight down by wiggling rapidly from side to side and they squirt blood from their eyes.

    I told my coworker, “I’m a horny-toad lover.”

    My coworker looked at me for a long moment and then said, “That’s a phrase were the hyphens are very important.”

    I might suggest that “Cover-Your-Ass Gate” works better than “Cover Your AssGate”

  7. Shannon,

    Did they call it the “Texas horned toad” or “Texas horned lizard”? That link was to a “horned lizard” page, which is the more “official” name and may explain the nature show’s use of that name instead of horny toad.

    Incidentally, as a fellow horny toad lover (put the hyphen anywhere you want – I’m easy like Sunday morning), you may appreciate a research talk I heard a year or two ago (I’m a recently churned-out PhD from an evolutionary biology graduate program). Someone gave a great talk about a possible explanation for how the long horns on the back of the head of some horned lizard species evolved. His notion was that they’re at least partially a defensive mechanism against loggerhead shrikes, which often attack their prey from above/behind, pick them up, and impale them on thorns, barbed wire, or whatever’s available (talk about nature red in tooth and claw…). But with long horns on the back of their heads, horned lizards that are attacked by shrikes can more effectively defend themselves by throwing their heads back and stabbing the attacker (although often injuring themselves in the process).
    Anyway, I hope all will forgive the tangent, but I thought it was pretty damn cool. Here’s a link to a PDF of a short Science story summarizing the work if you’re interested, including a picture of the remains of a poor horny toad who met his end impaled on a tree branch:
    http://www.bio.indiana.edu/~brodielab/edb3pdfs/How%20the%20horned%20lizard%20got%20its%20horns.pdf

  8. Speaking as a former 10-year old boy, I can attest that the best use for horny toads is to hold them chest high in your hand, stroke their scales backwards (back to front), make them real mad, and watch them squirt black “ink” on your little sister. (At least it’s best until your dad finds out.)

  9. O’Reilly and Gillespie, in perfect agreement!

    O’Reilly just mentioned how “BLAWgers” (gotta hear him say it – sounded like he looks down on blogs but recognized their value and came to terms with it during the taping of the show) function (in so many words) as ex post facto editors.

  10. So Virginia did have to come back to kick some pansy ass, eh?

    Three quarters of all bloggers and ninety-nine percent of “eligible voters” will never be able to understand this, but a “self-adversarial” blog site such as this very one, Hit & Run, is nothing less than a pearl in a pigs’ sty.
    Yea, verily, a diamond in the squishy.

    Hit and Run has the potential to be the next “Edward R. Murrow.”
    If it doen’t become too statist.

  11. Their various “noises” are correlated and hence don’t cancel. Hence there is not yet a consensus on the charges against Kerry. OK, there is a consensus within each partisan faction, but the factions remain entrenched

    There is no consensus. Look at Instapundit, for example; Reynolds definitely doesn’t think it has been proven that Kerry was undeserving of his medals, although certainly he thinks there is strong evidence that some of those medals were undeserved.

  12. J,

    That paper is pretty nifty and yes I did mean “Texas Horned Lizard.” Evolutionary biology is one of the most difficult fields. It’s very easy to get sloppy. This was a very clever idea using shrike predation to measure adaptation. I especially like the first sentence.

    ‘Many descriptions of evolutionary adaptations are criticized as ?just-so stories? ‘

    I remember back in college I worked as an undergraduate in a neurophysiology lab. We used the giant nerves in the claws of blue crabs to study changes in potentiation in the nerve cell membrane. It was incredibly exacting work that had to be done in a vibration dampened Faraday cage.

    One day my professor was reading the school newspaper and he snorted in derision and threw down the paper. I ask him what was wrong and he said (I’m paraphrasing), “Those morons over in sociology think they’ve got some great new study. It takes me six months to build a profile of single nerve in a controlled environment and they think they can get a handle on human behavior with a couple of questionnaires. They find what they want to.”

    Huge swaths of the soft sciences in psychology sociology and the like are in my opinion “just so stories.” Yet it is these sciences that have the most impact on our political discourse and through that our daily lives.

    The thread can now return to AssGate jokes.

  13. Ruthless: Keep your eye on ’em. Who knows how they’re rewriting our comments during these increasingly frequent “maintenance intervals”…?

  14. “Hit and Run has the potential to be the next “Edward R. Murrow.”
    If it doen’t become too statist.”

    Ruthless,

    Exactly how is it becoming “too statist”?

  15. “Hit and Run has the potential to be the next “Edward R. Murrow.”
    If it doen’t become too statist.”

    Ruthless,

    Exactly how is it becoming “too statist”?

  16. “Hit and Run has the potential to be the next “Edward R. Murrow.”
    If it doen’t become too statist.”

    Ruthless,

    Exactly how is it becoming “too statist”?

  17. “Hit and Run has the potential to be the next “Edward R. Murrow.”
    If it doen’t become too statist.”

    Ruthless,

    Exactly how is it becoming “too statist”?

  18. I think too many people perceive blogs through the Democrats vs. Republican political equation.

    In many instances, non-political blogs are no less adept at scooping the news.

    Case in point: Tony Rafael’s excellent blog which specializes in covering the Mexican Mafia and urban gang culture.

    He wrote an excellent post about how various MM-connected Latino gangs in Los Angeles are committing targeted killings of African-Americans in specific neighborhoods at the behest of Mafia godfathers.

    However, despite his repeated efforts, the LA Times won’t touch the piece.

    In this particular instance, he isn’t a mere editor but someone generating an important, newsworthy story that for political reasons is being ignored by the local press.

    Check it out below:

    http://www.inthehat.blogspot.com

  19. Horny toads are almost as cool as tarantulas.

  20. Andy, I didn’t say it was becoming too statist. It’s just that, as an anarchist, I’m very sensitive.

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