TCS Daily

Hugh Hewitt's 95 Theses

By Edward B. Driscoll - January 25, 2005 12:00 AM

While it's not the first book on the subject, Radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt has written perhaps the most easily accessible book on the Blogosphere yet -- what it is, what it's accomplished, and where it's going. Blog also unique in its discussion of the business aspects of blogging.

Hewitt is one of the few members of an old medium (one of the oldest -- AM radio) who gets the new one. CNN doesn't get it: they run articles called "Very few bloggers on Net" whose content unwittingly belays their headlines; and their new president became infamous for referring to bloggers as pajama-wearing losers. And Dan Rather thinks that all bloggers are on Karl Rove's payroll. (Which would be news to Zephyr Teachout.) And some of the old guard on the right aren't necessarily any more enlightened when it comes to the Blogosphere of course.

But Hewitt has had a slew of bloggers on both sides of the aisle on his radio show: Glenn Reynolds, Mickey Kaus, Matthew Yglesias, and the members of Power Line -- chosen as "Blog of the Year" by Time magazine and then immediately attacked by Nick Coleman of their hometown newspaper, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, a fellow who really doesn't get blogs.

Forest, Trees

Perhaps what makes Hewitt's book so accessible is that Hewitt is no great technophile himself. Unlike many authors of Internet-oriented books, Hewitt doesn't consider himself on the cutting edge of HTML code or XML feeds. James Lileks, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist whose "Daily Bleat" online diary is a Blogosphere favorite, is a frequent guest on Hewitt's show. He recently wrote that "Hugh's preferred method of putting pictures up on his website no doubt consists of taping them to the monitor face in, so we all can see them."

Hewitt doesn't argue with that description, saying with a chuckle, "I'm a total technological idiot. What I have is the ability to post, and I have a staff of Web designers who got it to that point; and when it breaks, I call them. All I know how to do is post, and link. So I am as low-tech a blogger as there is out there."

On the other hand, Hewitt feels that approach has actually been a plus in writing Blog. "It's a forest and trees thing. The techno-wonks are all lost in 'the beauties of RSS feed', and whether or not videoblogging is going to overwhelm conventional blogging.

"I'm stepping back and looking at a new communications technology available to anyone with a nickel and a modem, and saying that that's got huge consequences."

The 21st Century Reformation

How huge? Well, Hewitt compares weblogs to Martin Luther's Protestant Reformation of the 16th century.

Isn't that a bit presumptuous? Is the Blogosphere really comparable to the Reformation?

"Absolutely", Hewitt says (and other bloggers agree). "The Church lost control of the text, and when they did that, especially with its translation into German, individual people began making decisions for themselves. Today, Big Media has lost control of the information flow, and the consequences are immediate and all around us. And business, especially, is figuring this out."

While Hewitt's conservative radio show and frequent mentions of Luther may pigeonhole Blog as a conservative book, Hewitt asserts that "Blog is a business book. Yeah, it's got the history of blogging in it, but it's very much a business book." And he offers numerous tips for businesses to reduce the affects of a "blogger swarm" attacking them, get started blogging themselves, and tips to help individual employees avoid being fired from their blogging.

"I don't think it's wise to edit someone who's already begun blogging", Hewitt says, an allusion to an incident in 2003 at The Sacramento Bee. In the midst of California's bruising 2003 recall election cycle, the paper forced opinion columnist Daniel Weintraub to have the posts on his burgeoning political blog examined by an editor before he uploaded them to the Bee's Website, thereby defeating much of the spontaneity and off-the-cuff feel of a Weblog.

So what can Hewitt do on his blog that he can't do with his radio show? "You can be much more specific and detailed and 'inside baseball', because you can't broadcast a national radio show at a level of political sophistication which is demanding too much, or you'll lose most of your audience. I can't spend forever on the radio talking about Mary Mapes and Michael Smith, and their emails, because it's just too hard to follow that narrative. It's got to be written down and people have to be able to study it."

And Hewitt says "the ability to direct people to additional resources is much more spectacular on the blog than it is on the radio." It's asking a lot of a listener to remember an interviewee's name, and especially a URL, when he's driving home from work. But it's easy to go to a Website and see the link there.

Blogosphere's Future Is Multifaceted

What's next for the Blogosphere? It won't always be a smooth straight line from here to devouring the mainstream media. This month alone has demonstrated that as blogging grows in popularity, there will be downsides as well. Shortly after conservative opinion columnist Armstrong Williams admitted to receiving payola for his efforts to promote the Bush administration's "No Child Left Behind" education policy, came the admission from Howard Dean's director of online organizing that two leftwing bloggers were paid to promote his candidacy. (Which at least shows that Dean's campaign understood the power of Weblogs.)

"There's got to be transparency", Hewitt says. "But it can't be imposed; it's going to be self-correcting. I think that anybody who takes any money for anything on their blog had better be very transparent about it, or they'll be badly shaken in the credibility department."

Another development that's sure to have mixed blessings for the Blogosphere is ghost-blogging. In Blog, Hewitt encourages well-known celebrities (specifically, Bill O'Reilly) to hire "ghost-bloggers" to help them establish a presence in the Blogosphere.

Beyond those trends, Hewitt believes that original reporting, along with audio and videoblogging, will all become increasingly more prevalent.

"And with these camera-equipped cellphones, nothing is going to be private anymore. That's what's amazing to me: people with cellphone technology can record anybody anywhere -- paparazzi times a billion. And it's all going to go on the Web."

If you'd like to be on the Web as well, Blog is a great place to learn how.


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