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Blogging for dollars?

Eugene Volokh has said that he isn't going to spend a lot of time blogging about Plamegate, because it doesn't fit his criteria for interesting blogging. Now some people are criticizing him for taking that stance.

Ed Cone thinks that Eugene has a responsibility to discuss the story:

A weblog is not a game of Solitaire. You engage your readers. You promise them certain things. Volokh and Insty have created themselves as important commentators on the serious issues of the day.

To ignore this story is to abdicate a role they are only too happy to play in other situations, which in turn devalues their credibility when they want to put the pundit's hat back on.


Of course, as Volokh says, nobody is paying them and they are free to write what they want.

But if they want to be taken seriously as a new kind of journalist , then they have to assume some of the responsibilities of journalists, too. Otherwise, it's just a hobby.

Eugene's primary defense, as Ed notes, is that he's not getting paid to do this, and can write about what he wants. That's true, and yet it's not really a complete rebuttal to Ed's complaint.

Even if Eugene were getting paid, he wouldn't have a responsibility to comment on the story. Eugene is not a newspaper (though the Volokh Conspiracy may have more contributors than some newspapers). If he were, the complaint might have some merit; one can certainly argue that newspapers implicitly promise that they'll provide all the relevant news of the day. (Or perhaps explicitly promise it: "All the news that's fit to print.") But one can't make that argument of columnists. Nobody would tell Thomas Friedman, "If you don't comment on global warming, you will lose all credibility and I will cease to pay attention to your discussions of Middle Eastern politics," would they? (Indeed, many would argue that Paul Krugman would gain credibility if he'd stick to his areas of expertise, instead of commenting on every issue of the day.) We read a columnist to find his take on what he finds interesting, and we take him seriously if he demonstrates that he knows what he's talking about.

Now, Ed is right when he says that as a blogger, "You promise them [your readers] certain things." But you don't promise them that you'll comment on every story. Punditry is not journalism. It's a different animal. As a blogger and as a pundit, you (implicitly) promise that what you do choose to write is accurate. If you hold yourself out as an expert in an area, your accuracy can be judged against a higher standard. But you certainly don't promise to discuss everything. Even if it's a job, and not "just a hobby." And that doesn't change even if you're prolific.

[Perhaps, in light of these criticisms, I should have an explicit promise to my readers: I promise to write about what I want to write about, when I want to write about it, when I have time to write about it, for as much as I choose to write about it. No more, no less. Now you can't say you weren't warned. However, for large sums of money, I'll post whatever you want me to. Heck, for large enough sums of money, I'll run naked through the streets of Baghdad.]


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