WSJ Takes Issue With Blogs

    December 22, 2006
    WebProNews Staff

The mainstream media has been accused many times of either misunderstanding or fearing the blogosphere. Since the Wall Street Journal is as mainstream as the Mississippi River, a damning indictment of blogs should carry some weight. Unless you look at it a little more closely.

WSJ Takes Issue With Blogs
WSJ Takes Issue With Blogs

Wall Street Journal assistant editorial features editor Joseph Rago probably crafted the best linkbait paragraph anyone has seen this year, even better than the work Daniel Lyons did with his Forbes-backed blog hit piece from October 2005.

To wit, Rago casts this little petrol bomb at the blogosphere:

The blogs are not as significant as their self-endeared curators would like to think. Journalism requires journalists, who are at least fitfully confronting the digital age. The bloggers, for their part, produce minimal reportage. Instead, they ride along with the MSM like remora fish on the bellies of sharks, picking at the scraps.

Mmm, scraps. He goes on to deride the quality of most blogs, calling them “pretty awful” and slagging the ones with larger followings as “downright appalling.” Rago fails to name any names, however, but if you spend any time reading OpinionJournal it becomes pretty obvious he’s not taking a shot at Michelle Malkin or Glenn Reynolds here.

Rago does spank both sides of the political spectrum in his writing:

Thus the right-leaning blogs exhaustively pursue second-order distractions–John Kerry always providing useful material–while leaving underexamined more fundamental issues, say, Iraq.

Leftward fatuities too are easily found: The fatuity matters more than the politics.

An aside about OpinionJournal: one of its main features is Best Of The Web, a daily piece primarily compiled by James Taranto. I like his work. He’s smart, funny, and wields a sharp blade of criticism that he isn’t afraid to use. But for Rago to drop his little drive-by into OpinionJournal makes me think Rago doesn’t read Taranto’s work.

You see, that Best of the Web stuff comes from…other websites! Other news sources! Material that OpinionJournal neither discovered nor covered originally!

It always helps in an argument to base one’s views upon a solid foundation. Rago is standing on shifting sand inside an hourglass. He even goes so far as to decry the mainstream media as having “collapsed itself.”

That’s not a very sturdy platform upon which to build an argument. Makes for tasty linkbait, though.

So let’s leave Rago and his blog polemic aside for a moment and step into a world his employer understands well – business analysis. We present for your consideration, the example of Bear Stearns, a global investment and financial firm the Rolex-wearing crowd knows well.

Back in January, I noticed a couple of analyst items that seemed to hint the 83-year-old firm had an ear to the blogosphere.

Their analysts suggested a couple of Google products, one an iTunes competitor, the other a Google Cube hardware box, could be forthcoming from the search advertising company.

I have nothing against the wildly speculative guesswork one needs to employ when discussing Google, mainly because I’ve indulged in it too. But I’m not a highly-paid analyst with a well-heeled client roster relying on my wisdom to make business decisions.

Those clients may be surprised to know that, thanks to what Bear Stearns and other firms refer to as Mosaic theory (scroll down that page), the information that pops up in their Blackberries and Treos courtesy of the analyst may have originated on blogs.

At the time, it appeared that the advice on Google’s plans came from two places – Garett Rogers “Googling Google” blog, and tech pundit Robert X. Cringely’s website. Neither the music site nor the black box have debuted from Google.

The Journal isn’t above writing about bloggers and their work. They’ve done their share of covering blogs and related issues; one current story on their Technology pages describes changes at Google’s Blogger service.

It seems that when they write a story about Google, that story, and its embedded advertising, receives placement in the Journal’s public section of its website, instead of going behind the subscription wall with the rest of its excellent content. That doesn’t happen by accident.

Now as far as the Journal goes, they aren’t above indulging in some remora-like snackery either. You see, I’ve retained some emails from a while back that I exchanged with one of their Dow Jones Newswire stringers who had obviously lifted a quote by a tech company representative from a blog without attributing its placement.

So please, Joseph Rago, leave the bloggers be until you’ve cleaned your newsroom first. But write some more delectable linkbait, because those are some really tasty scraps you’ve got going there. I can always use stuff like this.

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David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.