Monday, September 13, 2004

Add Metaphors and Puree for One Minute

Via Glenn Reynold's longish post discussing yet another victory for the blogosphere over main stream media, I had the pleasure to read this post from Transterrestrial Musings by Rand Sandberg carving Tim Rutten of the Los Angeles Times a new one. (Said article being unavailable at the time of posting.)

Mr. Sandberg uses an old joke about sculpture to draw a parallel to reporting:

So a story has to be reduced to what the reporter considers to be its essential elements. Like the old joke about the sculptor, he takes the body of available facts, and cuts away everything that doesn't look like an elephant. But that's the key; the sculptor is carving an elephant--a decision usually made before chisel is taken in hand. It may be that the rock from which he's knocking off the non-pachydermic chips wasn't simply a rectangular block--it perhaps naturally started out with a resemblance to an elephant, but that doesn't mean that he couldn't have hacked out a hippo instead.

There is a metaphor that I have used in the past, and it too relies on a story about an elephant. It is the old fable about the blind men who were laying hands upon an elephant for the first time. When asked to identify what they were touching, each man reported very different things depending on where with respect to the elephant they stood. The man at the trunk said it was a snake, a second at an ear said a blanket, a third at a leg said a tree trunk.

When it comes to big issues, I don't believe that anyone person, no matter how skilled of a reporter he may be, is much better off than the blind men. There is simply too much to see. Bloggers are individually even more like the blind men, but with one critical difference. The old fable indicated that the blind men never spoke with one another. They never compared notes or even seemed to realize that they were talking about the same thing. Blogging is nothing but communication.

One of the angles of the "memo" story is that people were making credible assertions as to the falsity of the memos so shortly after the airing of the broadcast. The old media of television certainly got the job done right in getting the information out to the world. What was different in this blogosphere age is that the people who would have spotted the forgery even in the old days no longer have to get past the gatekeepers of old media to spread their arguments. The real value of the blogosphere is not that it gives better answers, but that it asks better questions.

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