In comments, Kate Gilbert is the voice of the new internet-enabled public sphere. Juergen Habermas, please pick up the white courtesy phone:
Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: Henry Farrell and His Commentors Say Smart Things : I've been thinking about this a lot but in a different vein. I think one of the "issues" for "real journalists" is that they think the world consists of professional writers and amateur readers. Our job when we read them is to accept what they say (pace minor corrections) in an utterly passive way. But blogs blur that distinction--not only for writers but for readers. Because every person who posts and comments on someone else's blog is also blogging/reporting/commenting. Shafer's main complaint, the main source of his indignation, is that "someone sent their readers over..." to criticize Howell. Its analogous to the second order Howell/Post untruth that Abramoff "directed" the indian tribes to donate money.
As a blog reader and occasional commenter I read and commented over on Howell's thread--but of course not because I was "sent" or because I was a wholly owned "reader" of Atrios or whoever. For one thing, I read a lot of blogs as I read a lot of newspapers, so the idea of being labled as one kind of person/owned by one kind of blog is absurd. For another thing, cyberspace means I was already "over there" through links. I wasn't "going somewhere" I was already there. And finally, of course--through comments on comments of comments, through links and links and links--I and all the other commenters were already in a dialogue with Howell and the WaPo even if they didn't recognize it or refused to participate in it. Just as it was legal for the Indian tribes to make donations to both democrats and republicans.
Shaefer thinks the reader's job is clearly separate from the writer/pundits job. But on blogs that simply isn't the case. Great blog posts often get elevated to the main page. Good comments spin off new threads. Links from commenters create new information for other readers. By contrast, the WAPO/Shafer model is that the reader simply reads and then either rejects or aborbs the information privately. We are to to read/buy/consume news from an authoritative source. When told about tissue paper I should buy tissue paper. When told about wealthy getaways to the islands I should long for one. When told about political "facts" I should nod my head. Anything *other* than that makes me some kind of raving lunatic who simply doesn't know my place.
The WaPo, the Times and other journalists who don't blog regularly, and who think of themselves as above the political fray, are actually frightened to discover that their formerly anonymous, passive audience contains large numbers of active, angry, politically informed people. That's not who they were writing for. Its not the job they signed up for.