YOU’RE A CLERIC IN Sixteenth Century Europe — Germany, let’s say — and you’re at the end of a lifelong calling. You have been dispensing doctrine faithfully, and though never on the papal career track, you will go to your grave defending the Church. There’s this heretic Martin Luther out there, turning your cosmos inside-out, and you feel obliged to say something. Like this:
“As a retired mainstream media (‘MSM’) journalist — and thus a double-dinosaur — I don’t begrudge these knights of the blog-table their grandiose dreams. But I worked on a school paper when I was a kid and I owned a CB radio when I lived in Texas. And what I saw in the blogosphere on Nov. 2 was more reminiscent of that school paper or a ‘Breaker, breaker 19’ gabfest on CB than anything approaching journalism.”
Oh, sorry. Wrong century. But I did get it right that Eric Engberg, who dispensed that dismissive doctrine, has spent much of his life as a third-tier cleric in High Church Journalism. You’ll remember that it was Father Engberg whose on-air dismissal of Steve Forbes’s economic proposals ticked off his CBS co-cleric Bernard Goldberg. Goldberg rightly saw that Engberg and Cardinal Rather were selling indulgences to leftwing ideologues. He nailed his theses on the New York Times Best Seller list, an act of defiance which started everybody talking.
Thus begins the meta-narrative, to use the meta-journalists’ lingo, that brings us to the Bloggerstant Reformation. It’s as good a place to start as any. A priesthood of believers is out there, and they’re giving journalism back to the people. Anyone with a keyboard and an Internet connection can participate, and that’s got the high priests, some of whom might have come up through the Columbia or Medill Seminaries, on an inquisitorial warpath.
A skeptic will note, correctly, that Goldberg did not blog, and is not known as a blogger. He chose moveable type to make his case, leaving behind a life in television journalism — itself known, a half-century ago, as a reformist movement. Note, too, that Engberg wrote, a week after the Bush election, on CBSNEWS.com, a High Church concession to the Internet. The site provided him a place to write a modified personal journal, not a full-out web log, or “blog,” without requiring him to take the plunge. No doubt part of a retirement package.
SPREAD OUT ON MY DESK, alongside the laptop compositional device on which I type, are advance pages of a book to be published about the time you see this printed magazine page. Published by Nelson Books, which typically deals in evangelistic themes, it is titled Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That’s Changing Your World. Never mind the ontological redundancy of your life being subsumed under everything. I cannot, at this writing, give you the jacket price or number of pages, but, trust me, it will be prominently displayed near the entry of your Barnes & Noble and Borders. The book, yes book, is well worth reading because it is written by the ubiquitous Hugh Hewitt, a lawyer, a longtime friend of the reviewer nonetheless, whose talk show is syndicated nationwide, whose polemics get published in opinion journals everywhere, and who is himself a blogger, and rather famously so.
The Rev. Hewitt — no, he’s not; but he did go to Harvard, which he’ll let you know in short order, and he did no doubt stay in a Holiday Inn Express, even better — has committed this brief history of blogging, this consideration of blogging’s ultimate Meaning, this tutorial, to the printed page. It is an invitation from the Next World to those still living on the older shores, at least those who feel they first must read a book about the phenomenon. He does so as a fervent evangelist, urging the flock to put down their books even as they hold the covers open. And, yes, there’s the inevitable chapter on the Protestant Reformation, with all the references to Hus, Wycliffe, Luther, Calvin.
I have made the comparison several times myself, in speeches and elsewhere, but I simply can’t remember if I did so after my last conversation with Hugh. Before, I think. My own activities in journalism of late, having slogged away at it for thirty-something years, have been devoted to giving the dissemination of news back to the people and taking training back from the J-schools. We are breathing, Hugh and I, the same reformist air.
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