Blogs challenge traditional media by going straight to the consumer

Jon Lauck

Jon Lauck

This year will be remembered as the Year of the Blog. What are blogs? They are personal Web sites updated and maintained by bloggers, or web loggers, who comment on the news, deconstruct the news, and make news, all while providing helpful links to readers.

The blog movement is important because it challenges the Old Order, or the existing media hierarchies, which are rapidly losing credibility. As the demand for more information grows, the more bloggers and criticism of the dinosaur media there will be.

The blog movement is essentially populist. Bloggers seek to circumvent the existing power structure dominated by media monopolies and provide information to news consumers directly. In this way, bloggers emulate the Populists of the 19th century who criticized railroad monopolies and formed their own newspapers to provide information to citizens.

The blog movement has been embraced by both the left and the right. On the left, bloggers like DailyKos made the Howard Dean campaign come alive and have pilloried President Bush and the war in Iraq. Generally, the lefty blogs think there are too many conservative TV commentators and radio shows and that the general media content is too corporate, uncritical and passive.

Many of the righty and non-partisan bloggers have been hammering away at mainstream news coverage (as opposed to commentators, which irk the left) for being excessively anti-war, anti-Bush and pro-Kerry. They have also shown the mainstream news media to simply be lazy and sloppy. Some of the revelations have been quite disturbing. Newspapers, for example, could often persist in doing poor work because as monopolists they had no competition.

The blogger Glenn Reynolds recently noted that Monopolistic or oligopolistic newspapers and broadcast outlets were the result of technology, economies of scale and scope that rewarded consolidation and led to virtually no competition among newspapers and very little among broadcasters. Now that’s changing, as alternative outlets like talk radio, cable television, and, especially, the Internet, have almost completely removed the traditional barriers to entry and allowed competition. But the loss of those barriers isn’t the biggest problem faced by the mainstream media. The biggest problem is that, like most monopolists, they’ve spent so many years enjoying their position and not worrying about quality that they’re left floundering now that the competition is exposing their faults.

There are number of bloggers in South Dakota, including myself, and they have focused their fire on the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. They have uncovered a litany of problems that should be addressed and encountered arrogant resistance to reform. Recently, when a man from Brookings wrote to the editor of the Argus and asked why a story had not run in the paper, he was harshly dismissed for being an idiot, for reading blogs, and for not having his facts straight. The Argus editor insisted the story had run at least twice. In reality, the story had never appeared in the Argus. With blogs, people are now aware of this and other Argus inadequacies.

Blogs have the ability to enhance democracy itself. As the founders said, American democracy was dependent upon a well-educated and well-informed citizenry.

When the citizens are starved for information or given biased information, however, democracy suffers.

It should also be said that the blog movement has in many cases been spearheaded by professors and students.

The nation’s biggest blogger is University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds. UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh and University of Chicago political science professor Daniel Drezner are close behind.

SDSU students and professors should join in. American democracy will be the better for it.

Jon Lauck is an SDSU history professor and a blogger. You can visit his blog at