Newsweeklies Thwarted By Publishing Cycle, and New York Discovers Blogs

The major newsweeklies mock Vice President Cheney, New York profiles "blog moguls" and The Washington Monthly discovers a new way of quantifying media bias.

Fresh off its finger-on-the-pulse report two weeks ago about “students with everything going for them engaging in orgy lite,” as one irate reader described New York’s magazine’s recent cover story about “ambisexual heteroflexible teens” at a prestigious New York City high school, the magazine delivers again this week with another zeitgeisty must-read on …”The Blog Establishment.”

Yes, we know, we know, “2003 called and it wants its trend story back.” (New York’s use of the phrase “player-hater” in the piece does not help its case for timeliness). But wait. Hold the eye roll. You may just learn a thing or two here.

Has it ever occurred to you, for example, that “a blog is like a shark: If it stops moving, it dies. Without fresh postings every day — hell, every few minutes — even the most well-linked blog will quickly lose its audience”? That’s right. A blogger’s work is never done — and it is, for the most part, rather thankless work since, as writer Clive Thompson explains, “most bloggers toil in total obscurity” and rarely get paid more than “journalist wages.” And yet, Thompson declares in his next-to-last sentence, “the age of the blog moguls is here.” The proof, apparently, is one Peter Rojas, editor of the blog Engadget and “the best compensated blogger in history” (thanks to AOL paying $25 million for the company that owns his blog), who lives —just as you might expect — in a “bachelor pad on the Lower East Side” complete with Ikea desk.

One thing we didn’t expect to happen upon in Thompson’s piece was a contender for our ongoing Best Anonymous Source competition. It seems that bloggers (like politicians) prefer to do their back-biting off-the-record and Thompson (like Washington reporters) was happy to play along. Our favorite? When Thompson attributes an anonymous quote bashing an individual to one of said individual’s “frenemies.” (Take note, White House press corps. Next time you find yourself about to credit a nasty quotation to that old go-to, the “White House aide,” consider instead the “frenemy.”)

Moving on, Vice President Cheney’s timing over the weekend was unfortunate both for Harry Whittington — the man Cheney accidentally shot while hunting quail — and for the newsweeklies, which had to rely on the World Wide Web to cover the late-breaking story. On readers can enjoy a “Web exclusive” on the Cheney incident in which Timothy J. Burger wonders how it was that the vice president came to break “the no. 1 rule of hunting” — namely, “don’t shoot the people (or the dogs).” Burger writes that “if Cheney now finds himself criticized or lampooned” (if?), he will “ironically be in the same position he himself put Senator John Kerry in during the final days of the 2004 Presidential campaign” at which time “Cheney used his widely-known experience as a hunter to mock a duck-hunting foray in Ohio in which Senator John Kerry ended up shooting a goose.”

They’re lampooning away over on Newsweek’s Web site, where Andy Borowitz’s “Web exclusive satire” about how “the government plans to establish a color-coded system to warn of future veep attacks” sent us fleeing — against our better judgment — to the magazine’s cover story, “Sex and the Single Boomer,” about how “[Baby] Boomers are flaunting their sexuality.”

And, if you can’t bring yourself to read yet another magazine article about the Boomers, how about a piece on an equally neglected topic — media bias? In this month’s Washington Monthly Paul Waldman, a senior fellow at Media Matters for America, assures liberals that “it’s not your imagination,” that he has in fact crunched the numbers, “looked at every one of the 7,000 guests who appeared on the three major Sunday [political talk] shows from 1997 to 2005” and “found that the left of late has found itself outnumbered.” The “ideological imbalance” is not limited to “official sources that are interviewed: the elected officials, candidates and administration officials who make up most of the shows’ guests” but also exists in the “roundtable discussions with featured journalists,” Waldman writes. That the producers of these shows “believe that a William Safire (56 appearances since 1997) or Bob Novak (37 appearances) is somehow ‘balanced’ by a Gwen Ifill (27) or Dan Balz (22) … suggests that some may have internalized the conservative critique of the media, which assumes that ‘daily journalists’ are liberal almost by definition and thus can provide a counterpoint to highly conservative pundits.”

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.