I came across blogs some years ago by following Andrew Sullivan, whom I had previously read in The New Republic. From him I was led to Instapundit, who seemed a refreshing new voice in the wilderness of punditry. Someone who has a national following, is not crazy, and believes intelligently in the Second Amendment? This was indeed something new. But though Professor Reynolds possesses a supple and broad mind, it is in the end but one mind, and after a while his incessant harping on the same five or so topics began to bore. One of those five being how great this new thing, blogs, was going to be, and how it was going to unseat the monolith formerly known as The Media. Such a prolific writer naturally wrote a book on the topic, An Army of Davids, extolling the power of millions of little people battling valiantly against the media giant. As with the earlier wave of internet overhype, the dot-bomb era, there were various reasons adduced by Glenn to bolster his case that this time things would be different.
Mind you, I'm as opposed to the Media Monolith as the next guy, for the simple reason that all of these media companies which purport to be channeling different viewpoints in point of fact are all colocated in the same small space within the Northeast Megalopolis known as BosWash, most of them actually a short walk from one another in Manhattan. What might appear to the uninitiated as separate sources of information turns out for the most part to be the product of the same tiny group of people who all attended the same schools, work in the same jobs, have the same history together, and attend the same parties. It's not that they are lying to us, but rather that they merely all agree with each other and, like Pauline Kael's infamous exclamation of skepticism over Nixon, simply cannot believe that intelligent people could possibly disagree with the thoughts of the bright minds contained within their peer group. It's not malicious, but it is a blindness, one which does the country no good, because the vaunted free flow of information it ain't. A country of over 300 million consciousnesses needs more than the thoughts of seven original people as a basis for reasonable policy choices.
So it was with great joy that I first encountered the blogs, hopeful that we were indeed on the cusp of a new better era for information. Yet I soon discovered another serious problem with them. While even the liveliest writers like Glenn Reynolds and Andrew Sullivan become boring with time, I can live with that given enough inputs. No, exactly like the traditional media they criticized, these bloggers had produced a model which consisted of them writing and me and all the other Davids reading. In other words, exactly as before, I was relegated to the role of passive consumer of someone else's product. Far from an army, there were only a couple of designated generals, and far from allowing any Davids to join, no visible means of participation or feedback existed. Believing for a while that these writers were sincere in their stated aim of being a new medium for the masses, a couple of emails to each of them quickly shocked me back to reality: meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Far from wanting a new model, these writers simply wanted to be the ones in charge of filling the endless maw that is the anonymous "public". People like me in other words.
But then Instapundit led me to Roger Simon's blog, where there were comments, and the comments weren't garbage; some of the liveliest most intelligent discussion to be found anywhere was found within his comment section. I entered this discussion with trepidation after some months of lurking and participating in that discussion quickly became my chief passion for a few months. Hope again reared its enticing head and with the advent of Pajamas Media, it appeared that a new day was about to dawn for the whole concept of an internet-based amateur-based media service after all. True, PJM got off to a rocky start, with some rather nasty birthing pains (cf. Dennis the Peasant's blog for more information), but the whole concept seemed to be larger than petty squabbles, grander than any particular pair of erstwhile blogging partners whose relationship had come to an ignominious and inharmonious end.
Now, some years on, PJM has had the chance to prove itself. It's a fair time to see what progress has been made. To what degree have they solved the two cardinal problems of blogging, 1) that having only a few writers is boring, and 2) that there is no interactivity?
A quick perusal of PJM shows that problem 1) is somewhat solved. There are a number of writers listed on their blogroll, thirty or so, surely enough to keep a jaundiced reader entertained for at least a while. Poking through the list is rather disappointing though because these writers tend to have mostly the same opinions and to be interested on a daily basis in mostly the same subjects. And thirty or forty is hardly an "army". Up toward the top of the page the real story starts to emerge. When we find the editors and major contributors, it's Gerard van der Leun, it's Roger Simon, it's Glenn Reynolds, it's Victor Davis Hanson—all very fine writers 'tis true, all people who can write rings around me with their laptops closed. Still, bottom line, it's the same tiny set of people that Glenn Reynolds and Roger Simon were linking to years ago, the same tiny circle of friends linking to each other, with the little people (the "Davids") in flyover country allowed to read of the shoulders of the self-appointed greats. Is this so much better than the well-known incestuousness of the traditional media? One hardly is persuaded.
And where is the much-ballyhooed interactivity, the mechanism by which the new medium of the internet would transform the world of media to a boiling kettle of innovation, the garage band of the information economy? PJM does possess a comment section, but there don't appear to be (m)any comments. No one is participating, no one is interacting. Beyond the chance to be a distant echo to one of the Army of Good Blogging Friends, there doesn't seem to be any option to create one's own content. YouTube seems to offer superior prospects to me and thee.
I'm afraid the cold light of reality is shining on PJM at this juncture rather harshly. Far from having produced something new and interesting and involving, it seems to consist mostly of half-stale links back to the blogs of the Army of Good Blogging Friends, simply a warmed-over and more expensive version of what Instapundit was already producing in the first place. Where's the gain? Where's the value-added? There aren't many minds involved. There doesn't seem to be much news being disseminated, only opinion, and it's very very incestuous. I remain hopeful that the advent of the internet will indeed lead to a new level of community discussion and debate, a new era of community-based media, but I am sad to conclude that PJM is nothing but an empty shell of its original promise.