Friday, February 15, 2008

Does Blogging Drive Down Readership of Opinion Pieces?

Here is something that I have noticed about myself: Ever since I started posting blog entries, I have been reading other people's opinions less. I also note that I have become more selective about whose opinions I read. This is a big change from my reading habits of a decade or so ago.

It used to be that I religiously read every opinion column that appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer or the various magazines that came to our home. Didn't matter if they were liberal, conservative, or in between, I read them. This habit meant that I read columns by George Will, who I very seldom agreed with, and columns by Tom Oliphant, who I almost always agreed with. It also meant that I watched shows on PBS like Washington Week in Review or the News Hour, (although to be more accurate, that was more like 15 years ago.)

Now, however, I read opinion columns less and less and I have also stopped watching shows where viewers are subjected to hours of talking heads giving me their opinions. This trend started in the Clinton Administration. There was really no point in reading or listening to conservative commentators because after you had read a couple of them, you knew what the rest were going to say. It was some theme of "Clinton is horrible. He must be stopped, and the only thing that will stop him are those paragons of virtue, the Republicans." Unless you are Dick Cheney's wife, there is a limit to how much of this you can take.

The other thing, though, is that since I am now posting entries on blogs, I have much less time to read opinion pieces. I would rather read a news article, write my reactions to the article, and then post it as a blog entry than take the time to read a column by some right-wing whack job, like say Charles Krauthammer. After all, my time is limited and why waste it reading someone's opinion that will most likely just upset me?

Another reason why I read less and less opinion pieces is that I don't really think that most of the pundits and commentators are any smarter than I am, or for that matter, than some bloggers I read. The whole idea behind opinion columnists is that they have a degree of expertise that I don't possess. Once you determine that they don't have that expertise, then why read them at all?

An example is Maureen Dowd. Dowd very seldom gives you insight into a political problem that you couldn't get from your friends, although it is usually better expressed. Her whole style depends on making "clever" observations about political leaders' personalities and no observations about their policies. Since there is nothing in her background to indicate that she has more knowledge of human psychology than I do, why read her?

Given the fact that there are literally millions of bloggers around the world, this tendency, if indeed there is such a tendency, could have profound implications for the future of punditry. Newspapers may have to go back to being just about the facts, and not the opinion. Gee, wouldn't that just be terrible?

Anyway, if other bloggers have opinions on this topic, please share them with me in the comments section.

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