Blog Summit

March 18, 2006

The Inaugural 2006 WisPolitics/WisOpinion Blog Summit was today and I’m very glad that I went. The event had a few frustrations for me, but mainly it was very rewarding to shake hands with so many other Wisconsin bloggers.

I should have known that things were going to get weird from the beginning when our host asked for a show of hands: “how many of you are on the right side of Wisconsin politics?” A couple dozen hands went up. “And how many of you are on the left side?” Me and Jay and one other fellow raised our hands. The room erupted in snickering. I felt something needed to be said. Something that would unite us all in the spirit of blogging.

“Hey, I think we could take you!” I challenged, pointing at the majority of the room. (I know, you’re not really that shocked. But I’m pretty sure Jay was!)

Anyway, there was a nice keynote speech by Ann Althouse. (She gave a nice talk but I have no idea who she is.) And then there was another interesting speaker who talked about the legal aspects of blogging, especially defamation laws. (I was just hoping she didn’t scare people away from blogging or from enabling comments on their blogs.) After that, Jay and Owen shared the speaker’s table to discuss why they (and the rest of us) blog in the first place.

By the time the next panel of speakers got going I realized that something was bothering me. It took me a few minutes to sort out what it was, but finally I got it: I’m really struck by the fact that nobody has even mentioned that blogging is more than just politics and that bloggers are not just some new type of journalists. Blogs have unthroned the gatekeepers of information in these areas, yes, but they have done so for a lot of other areas of life, too. Blogs enable all individuals, rather than just a few, to share ideas not just politics, but about art, literature, music and all areas of popular culture. When the history of this century is written I believe the importance of blogs and will be best understood in this much larger context.

Sure, I recognize that the event is put on by WisPolitics and I understand that politics is the order of the day. I do get that. But I expected at least someone to make mention of the larger picture if only for background perspective. Discussing blogs only in the context of how they will or won’t influence politics is a shockingly narrow understanding of the phenomenon. I thought about the parable of the blind men and the elephant; everyone in this room thinks the elephant is like a tree, just like they all think blogging is political journalism.

So blogging isn’t just politics, but politics does abound. The discussion here was problematic, too. There was an understanding in the room that I did not share. Somehow the “mainstream” or “traditional” media was seen as adequately representing the left side of politics. This is not true. I know because I’m a liberal and my views are most definitely not represented on the television news or in the newspaper. Yet, somehow most of the folks in this room believe that one of the primary roles of blogs is to provide a voice to conservatives who have been shut out of the media. I’m here to tell you that blogs empower disenfranchised liberals as well.

Speaking of the media, apparently nobody got the irony of Charlie Sykes discussing how blogs were finally giving a voice to conservatives. Apparently nobody got the irony of Jessica McBride (journalism professor at UW-Milwaukee) sitting on a panel discussing the inadequacies of journalism as a profession. These folks, along with a couple of jaded politicians and “political consultants,” tried to make out that they were leading the charge against The Man, that as bloggers they were at the forefront of the People’s Rebellion against the Hegemony of Something-Or-Other. Nobody pointed out that they themselves are The Man.

Actually someone did. Someone raised his hand and basically asked if Sykes wasn’t the mainstream media who was? The best and most candid response came from panelist John McAdams, professor of political science at Marquette. Rather than clearly demarcating television, radio and newspapers from blogging and podcasting (which leads one to obvious questions about why these people are on the panel in the first place) he said “the mainstream media is a state of mind.” I took that to mean the mainstream media is “whomever I disagree with.”

In spite of all this I did have a good time and it was great to meet everyone. Check out the pictures I took!

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  1. Hey Scott it was nice to meet you today, looking forward to reading your blog! – B

  2. Scott, I was there, too. I have a blog that has absolutely nothing to do with politics, but personally, I didn’t take offense. I understand what you mean, but I think it was kind of assumed that we were there for political blogs.

    I can see how you might have felt uncomfortable with all the righty bloggers. I’m sorry you felt that way, because the bloggers I talked to were happy to meet the lefties. It was kind of like going to the museum to see the Vatican exhibit–I’m not Catholic, but I got a kick out of checking out the Pope’s stuff. 🙂

  3. yes, I assumed the event was about politics, too. It’s just that I wish it had been an event broader in scope. Also, I enjoyed meeting the righties, too! After all, Jay and I already know each other.

    (I still think we could have taken ’em though.)

  4. Only if the righties left their guns at home…

  5. Scott,

    No, I did not mean “whoever I disagree with.” It happens that I do disagree with the liberalism of the mainstream media. But quite independent of that, there is a particular worldview there.

    Think of it as a system of psychological identification. People who like and feel close to the New York Times, National Public Radio, journalism schools and so on are “mainstream media.”

    People who are suspicious of all of those and critical of all of those aren’t “mainstream media.”

    Working for Journal Communications (as Sykes does) doesn’t make one “mainstream media.”

    Being contemptious of talk radio and bloggers does.

  6. In my own view, “mainstream “media is any professionally produced media that reaches a large audience through long-established means. Talk radio fits right into that. Blogging and podcasting do not.

    Defining “mainstream” as a “psychological identification” with the NY Times and NPR seems like just what I said: an ideological definition in which anyone who leans right gets to label themselves “alternative” no matter how establishment he or she may in fact be.

  7. @ Scott:

    Sucks to hear that it was mostly right-wingers at the event.

    ““Hey, I think we could take you!” I challenged, pointing at the majority of the room. (I know, you’re not really that shocked. But I’m pretty sure Jay was!)”

    Yeah… and I think I have a few people who’d join the army..

    “I’m really struck by the fact that nobody has even mentioned that blogging is more than just politics and that bloggers are not just some new type of journalists.”

    Exactly… Blogs are more than just Politics, however, that’s the most visible type of blog that’s out there. Sadly, those are also the blogs that really get people fired up.

    “Somehow the “mainstream” or “traditional” media was seen as adequately representing the left side of politics. This is not true. I know because I’m a liberal and my views are most definitely not represented on the television news or in the newspaper.”

    Agreed. I work for the “mainstream” media… It’s most definately skewed to the middle if anything. Of course, they all could be correct in assuming the media is skewed left if all they’re comparing it to is Fox News Channel. (Not that I’m saying that’s what they’re doing, since I have no clue what they’re comparing to)

    @ Dr.McAdams:

    Mainstream media is not a “system of psychological identification”… It’s your TV, radio, newspapers and the ‘talking heads’ and columnists who go with them. So therefore, by being on WTMJ, Charlie Sykes is most definately part of the “mainstream media”.


  8. Scott, I too thought it was a bit unusual that little was mentioned about blogs expanding beyond the scope of politics, short of what Althouse had to say about using it as an outlet for her writing. A couple of times I wanted to say something, but every time I did I saw that big WisPolitics logo at the front of the room and realized that the event probably was focused on political blogs.

    But there’s very little debate over the validity of blogs when they cover sports, entertainment of popular culture. Maybe that’s why blogs’ roll in politics is always the focus.

  9. Was nice meeting you yesterday. Some of the other bloggers I had met already, but it helps personalize the interaction.

    Hopefully I will feel up to posting my thoughts on it later today.

  10. I’m the “Man”? That’s a new one.

  11. Jessica, to a blogger like myself you most definitely are “The Man.” You are a) a teacher of journalism at a respected university and b) a talk show host on a popular radio station. Does one have to be an anchor on a major cable news network to be The Man, or what? I mean, compared to a citizen blogger, you’re the Establishment.

  12. Dang it, Peter, your comments keep getting moderated because of the name of your blog. (Lots of spammers use that term so it’s instantly suspect.)

  13. Scott,
    I will just leave that field blank. Sorry ’bout that! Patrick at Badger Blogger has the same feature. We couldn’t figure out why nothing would post .. untill I stopped posting my blog name.

  14. […] Sean Hackbarth of The American Mind totally nails it on what’s wrong with the upcoming WisPolitics Wisconsin Blog Summit: the panels are chock full of traditional media personalities who happen to blog on the side. Several things bugged me about the Summit last year, and that was certainly one of the biggies. […]

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