There’s a fascinating post (and exchange of comments) in Nicholas Carr’s blog in which Jay Rosen plays a key role. (Matt McAlister’s blog tipped me off.) Carr (a former editor at the Harvard Business Review who attained semi-guru status a couple years back with the publication of an article called “IT Doesn’t Matter“) was making the point that the blogosphere is evolving into a hierarchy, with the elite displaying some of the same characteristics of, well, just about any other elite you can think of.
One of his examples was a q&a at a conference he had attended recently where Rosen was a speaker:
a woman in the audience expressed frustration about getting bloggers like Rosen to link to her site. She asked the professor if he had any suggestions. Rosen said that the best way to get a link from him is to write a post about one of his posts. He carefully monitors mentions of his work in other blogs, he said, and he frequently provides links back to them, at least when they have some substance.
Carr’s take: The blogosphere “has turned into a grand system of patronage operated – with the best of intentions, mind you – by a tiny, self-perpetuating elite.” Which was fine, except that it didn’t seem to square with Rosen’s persistent advocacy of a more democratic media.
Rosen responded (this is well down in the comments to the post; it doesn’t appear possible to link to individual comments in Carr’s blog) with an actual transcript of the question and his answer. The transcript more or less backed up what Carr had written, although both the question and Rosen’s actual answer were a bit more nuanced than Carr made them out to be. (Sound familiar?) Rosen went on to say that “I haven’t claimed the blogosphere is egalitarian” and then, in an apparent attempt to disavow any claim to be an elite blogger, he mentioned that his blog had only just cracked the Technorati Top 1000.
Carr responded to thank Rosen for the fact-checking, but reiterated his assertion that what Rosen and other top bloggers did amounted a “patronage system.” Things got a little snippier after that. Wrote Rosen: “To me, personally, he who debunks attitudes and ideas to which no people and quotations or links are attached is cheating, intellectually speaking. Most debunkers do this constantly.” In Rosen’s estimation, Carr’s contention that inhabitants of the blogosphere think it’s more democratic than traditional mass media amounted to “cheating.” Carr responded with several quotations from Rosen and other bloggers making exactly that claim. Rosen complained that Carr’s use of one of his posts was “very crude,” and so on.
This was all somewhat reassuring to me, in that it’s clear that the way I started my essay on newspaper ownership simply rubbed an existing raw nerve of Rosen’s. He really hates it when people characterize something as a widely held view and then don’t provide examples and links. Academics have always backed up such assertions through the use of footnotes; opinion journalists have traditionally been very lax about it. I still think the important test is whether your characterization is accurate, not whether you provide links. (And I think Carr’s assertion and mine both pass that test.)
As to whether the blogosphere is in fact elitist, two observations:
First, I’m entirely in agreement with Rosen’s assertion (in his initial response to Carr’s piece) that the blogosphere is “more open than the access system controlled by professional gatekeepers, and in that way more democratic.” It’s not utopia, either, but Rosen never claims that it is.
Second, Rosen himself is totally an elitist. His original critique of my piece and his response to my response both drip with condescension for this poor journalist he’s never heard of who doesn’t know how to link. (He’s much nicer to famous journalists he happens to know.) Then, most tellingly, he brags in an update to his original post about having “learned to link” from blogosphere pioneers Doc Searls and Dave Winer. Gee, I learned to link by using the text editor that comes with my TypePad account. Does that make what I have to say less valid?