Writing in Slate yesterday, Timothy Noah suggests that newspapers should do away with the editorial page and expand the space they devote to "the signed column or op-ed." Although I'm an avid reader of some opinion columns, I've never bothered much with the official editorials, and Noah's helped me to understand why. He also, without intending to, addresses one of the things that frustrates me about certain elements of the blogosphere:
...editorials typically lack sufficient length to marshal evidence and lay out a satisfactory argument. Instead, they tend toward either timidity, at one extreme, or posturing, at the other. Almost every editorial I've ever read in my life has fallen into one of two categories: boring or irresponsible.
He points out that when the New York Times invented the op-ed page, they moved toward longer pieces -- typically 750 words or so -- and that "you can -- just barely -- fit a satisfactory argument into 750 words." This mirrors my own experience.
But it is a lot of work (and takes a fair amount of skill) to craft a 750 word argument, and it is not typically something that can be dashed off. It goes against the grain of the immediacy and spontaneity which is one of the hallmarks of blogs.
That short, immediate form works very well for those blogs that are primarily intended as pointers -- Boing-Boing is among the best of these. Wonkette achieved deserved attention during the last presidential election for making excellent use of the short form with a mixture of linking and satiric comment.
Using blogs as a vehicle for commentary or analysis, however, is more problematic, and I have more trouble coming up with examples where I think it's being done well. Too often, what passes for commentary is a heat-of-the-moment emotional response passing for opinion. Most of the chattering in the library blogosphere about Michael Gorman's various utterances (and the terrible damage that they're doing to librarianship!) falls into that category. I suppose it's cathartically satisfying for the authors to vent in that way. And perhaps it is comforting to many of their readers to have their own biases reflected. But I don't see that it moves the discourse forward at all.
All of these doubts are what I carry with me every time I open the "compose a new post" window here, of course. Keeping the blog up has been useful for me in that it pushes me to think my own opinions through more carefully and to work harder at expressing them well. Whether it is useful for anybody else remains a mystery.