Thursday, May 26, 2005

Dismantling public education, devaluing information labor

More hometown news about two particular meanings of "information labor" which we normally overlook but which have profound importance to every locality around the US. If we truly are moving into a new global "informational" economy (a change from, but not a total elimination of, previous "agricultural" and "industrial" modes of development, says analyst Manuel Castells) then preparing the information workers of the future is a crucial task which must be handled by certain information workers of today -- we call them teachers, librarians, educational administrators and specialists. But often we forget these individuals and their labors, focusing instead and exclusively on the many information technologies of education alone: books, computers, and even buildings.

Even in a town like Madison which is known nationwide for top schools, a diverse student body, and supposedly "liberal" values in support of public education, it turned out after a city referendum vote on Tuesday that voters are unwilling to make increases in operating budgets that pay teacher salaries, but they are willing to maintain previous increases in capital budgets that go to preserving spaces and technologies. According to one of our local newspapers, the consequences will be quick and dramatic: "At noon Thursday, the Madison School Board will meet to approve the roughly 20 layoffs, depending on attrition, that come with eliminating more than 100 positions, Superintendent Art Rainwater said this morning." (cite:

Dismally, these are democratic decisions that are only made by roughly a quarter of the voting age population. As of 2004, Madison's voting-age population (estimated) was 178,904 out of a total of 217,935 persons (cite: [ But in the 2005 school referendum, it looks like roughly 43,000 persons voted, which would be a voter turnout of about 24%. This level was apparently "about equal to the turnout in 2003 when the last stand-alone school referendum was held." (cite:

I would guess that two major interest groups are voting here: elderly residents on fixed incomes facing rising property values and thus rising property taxes (a severe situation in Madison through the 1990s, with double-digit home price increases vexing both both longtime homeowners and potential first-time homebuyers) and young families with children now in school (and there for a long time to come) who also face high housing costs but are willing to sacrifice for these housing costs in order to remain in top school districts. Many of these families are employed by the state, either through government administration or our local university, where wage increases have remained flat since the turn of the millennium (while health care expenses and other costs have risen dramatically).

We can make arguments (which I personally believe) that keeping a top school system actually benefits everyone, even those not represented in the two interest groups above, by keeping Madison's economy strong and reducing need for other social services in the short term, and by preparing capable, productive citizens in the long term. Plus there's the simple fairness argument that those whose lives benefited from public schools in the past have a responsibility to support the public schools of today.

But this matters little to those with the greatest tax burden who perceive that through their lives they have already paid to educate generations of their peers. For them, funding schools through property taxes is regressive in two ways: it penalizes one for long-term ownership of any residential property (a supposedly dearly-held norm in our society, though perhaps never as common as our nostalgia would hope), and it penalizes those who remain in their residence when that residence is revalued through gentrification, especially when incomes stagnate or decline.

So at an individual level we would need a way to protect these vulnerable populations by either grading school tax based on longevity of homeownership or linking school tax not to property value but to income. But we should recognize that since these different interest groups -- wealthy without children, elderly fixed-income, young parents with children at any income level -- all are sorted into particular geographies because of the uneven and exclusionary patchwork of property types and property values, we will never be able to simply tweak the tax burden at an individual level to assure that each school receives a fair funding level, and that each household bears a fair funding burden. Instead, at an aggregate level we need to move funding limits away from local neighborhoods, districts, counties, and even states, and be willing to aggregate wealth for social distribution in order to improve the educational chances of the least advantaged. The time to push progressive solutions to the entire range of school-funding formulas, at all scales of governance, is long past. Madison has been insulated from this debate by luck of geography, affluence, and symbolic educational strength. But no longer.

Unfortunately, the short-term reaction to this crisis of failing to fund information labor over information technology may be not a call to find a more progressive way to fund public schools, but a regressive and neoliberal response to move toward privatization of public schools. Already conservative "tax revolt" interest groups which formed during the 2003 Madison school funding referendum election have flexed their muscle in 2005, pushing the idea that government is out of control, wasteful, out of touch, elitist -- all of the garden-variety slurs used to delegitimize the collective provision of public goods that have been used in a wide range of economic conservative projects through the 1980s and 1990s, from the dismantling of environmental regulation to the destruction of the social safety net for workers. One Madison school board member apparently argued after Tuesday's election (paraphrased by the local papers here), "it's time to consider 'everything,' which, more specifically, he listed as 'closing some schools,' raising student fees and soliciting advertising to pay for all kinds of popular programs, from athletics to music." (cite: In this, as in many other crises of both government budgets and constituent priorities today, if social justice activists don't offer solutions, social privatization advocates will.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

State-of-the-art surveillance of information labor ... and wizards

You might expect that the highest-security sites of information labor might be US government weapons laboratories, or Wall Street brokerage firms, or even computer microchip research sites. But no, not according to a posting on the Harry Potter fan site "MuggleNet," apparently paraphrased from a Sun article:

Forty guards - backed by CCTV cameras - have been brought in to scan production lines at a secret Potter plant in old East Germany.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood prince is being produced in seperate chunks to stop workers leaking the plot before its official July 16 release.

More than 1,000 staff are scrutinised on the way in and out of the Druckerei GGP works at Possneck, which is surrounded by an 8ft chain-link fence with a guarded gate.

Security staff have orders to examine all bags - and even lunchboxes - as well as make random checks on lockers, desks and other workplace areas.

Mobile phones and recording devices are banned to stop printers reciting sections of text about Harry's adventures at Hogwarts School.

Publisher Bloomsbury is desperate to avoid a repeat of the security shambles before the launch of the last epic - Harry Potter and the Order of The Pheonix - when a copy was found in a Suffolk field. Author JK Rowling, 39, is especially anxious that the identity of the half-blood prince is not revealed to fans before they buy the book.

An employee at the plant said, "It feels like we are dealing with a manual on how to start a nuclear war instead of a children's book. We have all been photographed and we must wear special badges at all times. Two guards are positioned permanently in the space dividing the bookbinding department from the printing presses. And there are always four outside the main entrance checking everyone in and out.

"Security staff are even riding shotgun on the container filled with shredded waste when it is driven to be emptied. We heard the British publishers wrote a clause saying we would be liable for something like £2million is one single word of the book leaked out."


What's striking about such high-stakes surveillance is that it has nevertheless quickly broken down. From the same fan site the next day, citing another original article in the Sun (which I'm not linking to because it apparently contains Harry Potter spoilers):

Recently, thousands of £50 bets have been placed on a certain character (who we won't name) dying in book 6. The bets have been placed by residents of Bungay, Suffolk, where the sixth book is being printed. Warren Lush of Ladbrokes said: "We weren't foolish enough to take the bets. There are obviously people out there who have read the manuscripts." Another chain of bookstores said it was "obvious" that a manuscript of HBP had been leaked and read.

All of this might be dismissed as fandom hysteria were it not for the fact that similar security practices, and similar security breaches, are of increasing concern all throughout the "space of flows" that encompasses both the old economy and the new through the global information, communication, and transportation infrastructure. And both the presumed villians and the often invisible victims of such control stories are inevitably front-line information laborers. A nice nugget of fragmentary evidence for a longer study of workplace security, worker control, and the escalating efforts to preserve the profitability of private intellectual property rights in the information industries ...

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

When knowledge workers make mistakes

A big news item today started me to thinking about the checks and balances that the daily labors of knowledge workers are subject to in diverse settings. For the purposes of this discussion, I want to stress that "knowledge workers" are by definition engaged in the consumption, production and dissemination of something called "knowledge" which, we would hope, those workers ascribe some truth value to. So the checks and balances in question are meant to make sure that the objects and products of the knowledge worker's labor -- the "knowledge" itself -- is in fact sincere, transparent, and at least believed to be true by those using, producing, and distributing that knowledge.

In other words, we're talking about lies, mistakes, and everything in between.

The item was arguably the top story of the week: the accusation that Newsweek not only practiced shoddy journalism in reporting that US military interrogators desecrated Islamic holy texts as an intimidation tactic, but as a result is directly and morally responsible for the subsequent civilian protests, riots, and deaths in Afghanistan. I've been bothered by this story since it broke for several reasons: (1) apparently more than one government source that Newsweek trusted to confirm the accusation was unreliable; (2) even without government confirmation, independent former US detainees continue to make these accusations, some in a court of law; (3) the Bush administration put a striking level of public pressure on Newsweek to retract its story but is itself thwarting the investigation of US practices in military detention facilities; and finally, (4) Newsweek itself printed a pretty transparent accounting of how it came to print what it did, and how it investigated its own processes after the controversy began. Yet the whole story is being spun as "just one more example of that damn liberal bias" and the general untrustworthiness of the "media filter" (as the Republican National Committee calls it) otherwise known as professional journalism.

In refuting many of the specific allegations against Newseek, an Alternet piece today by By Robert Jensen and Pat Youngblood helps clear up much of the confusion:

First, it's not clear whether U.S. guards in Guantanamo or other prisons have placed copies of the Koran on a toilet or thrown pages (or a whole Koran) into a toilet. Detainees have made such claims, which have been reported by attorneys representing some of the men in custody and denied by U.S. officials. Newsweek's retraction is ambiguous, suggesting they believe the incident may have happened but no longer can demonstrate that it was cited in the specific U.S. government documents, as originally reported.

Given the abuse and torture -- from sexual humiliation to beatings to criminal homicide -- that has gone on in various U.S. military prison facilities, it's not hard to believe that the Koran stories could be true. Given that last month U.S. officials pressured the United Nations to eliminate the job of its top human-rights investigator in Afghanistan after that official criticized violations by U.S. forces in the country, it's not hard to be skeptical about U.S. motives. And given that even the human-rights commission of the generally compliant Afghan government is blocked by U.S. forces from visiting the prisons, it's not hard to believe that the U.S. officials may have something to hide.

Until we have more information, definitive conclusions are impossible. But if you go on a popular right-wing web site, youĂ­ll find the verdict that administration supporters are trying to make the final word: Newsweek lied, people died.

Yes, people died during demonstrations, and political leaders in the Muslim world have cited the Koran stories to spark anti-U.S. feeling. But reporters outside the United States have pointed out that these demonstrations have not been spontaneous but were well-organized, often by groups of students. The frustration with U.S. policy that fuels these demonstrations isn't limited to the Koran incident, and to reduce the unrest to one magazine story is misleading. Indeed, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a news conference last week that the senior commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. Carl Eichenberry, reported that the violence "was not at all tied to the article in the magazine."

So, why the focus on the Newsweek story? It's part of the tried-and-true strategy of demonize, disguise, and divert. Demonize the news media to disguise the real causes of the resistance to occupation and divert attention from failed U.S. policies.


Further, a column today online at the Nation reminds readers of the many other accusations of holy text desecration which have emerged from recent former prisoners of the US military around the globe:

Contrary to White House spin, the allegations of religious desecration at Guantanamo such as those described by Newsweek on 9 May 2005 are common among ex-prisoners and have been widely reported outside the United States. Several former detainees at the Guantanamo and Bagram airbase prisons have reported instances of their handlers sitting or standing on the Koran, throwing or kicking it in toilets, and urinating on it.

One such incident (during which the Koran was thrown into a pile and stepped on) prompted a hunger strike among Guantanamo detainees in March 2002. Regarding this, the New York Times in a 1 May 2005, article interviewed a former detainee, Nasser Nijer Naser al-Mutairi, who said the protest ended with a senior officer delivering an apology to the entire camp. And the Times reports: "A former interrogator at Guantanamo, in an interview with the Times, confirmed the accounts of the hunger strikes, including the public expression of regret over the treatment of the Korans." (Neil A. Lewis and Eric Schmitt, "Inquiry Finds Abuses at Guantanamo Bay," New York Times, May 1, 2005, p. 35.)

The hunger strike and apology story is also confirmed by another former detainee, Shafiq Rasul, interviewed by the UK Guardian in 2003 (James Meek, "The People the Law Forgot," The Guardian, December 3, 2003, p. 1.) It was also confirmed by former prisoner Jamal al-Harith in an interview with the Daily Mirror (Rosa Prince and Gary Jones, "My Hell in Camp X-ray World Exclusive," Daily Mirror, March 12, 2004.)

The toilet incident was reported in the Washington Post in a 2003 interview with a former detainee from Afghanistan


But this still leaves us with a climate where contradictions in this cycle of knowledge production abound. Journalists who can't rely on the federal government to supply public information must turn to anonymous whistleblowing sources inside that government; but when those sources make mistakes or intentionally mislead, it is the journalists who bear the blame -- blame handed out by that same federal government (and itself reported as the authoritative "news of the day").

What seems to be happening is a basic misconception between, and conflation of, two different types of knowledge production: enterprise journalism research and institutional strategic communication. By "enterprise journalism research" I mean the seeking out of stories off the daily "beat" of routine news production, involving arduous information gathering from multiple sources, cross-checking the truth value of that information and the reliability of those sources, interpretation of that information in historical, social, and political-economic context, and finally disemination of that information in a clear narrative form. Get the facts, check the facts, analyze the facts, and then tell the story of the facts, to put it another way. On the other hand, the goal of "institutional strategic communication" is to influence this process at all levels: become a source (preferably, the only source) for other information-gatherers so that your ideas are valued; undermine the reliability of other potential information sources so that their ideas are devalued; promote a set of historical interpretations, social categories, or political-economic theories for framing any information that is gathered; and finally, spin the resulting narrative depending on whether the story it tells makes you look like a hero or a villain.

Given this framework, what strikes me most about this Newsweek episode is that the enterprise journalism side has responded carefully, transparently, and consistently all the way through. Information was assembled, vetted, and distributed; then that information was challenged, and upon further investigation the original vetting of the information fell apart. The breakdown came to light, was double-checked, and admitted in a relatively short span of time, from the originating media outlet. This story was faulty; but the overall process of knowledge production and verification, both internally and externally, was apparently functioning as best as we might expect.

On the other hand, the strategic communication side has clearly spun this event for its own gain, has ignored evidence outside of the Newsweek report of the very charges the Newsweek report attempted to corroborate, and claims the system of enterprise journalism as a whole is broken upon the evidence of a single failure that was, quite quickly, corrected. It strikes me that if the federal government itself were held to the same standards -- not only standards of careful knowledge production and dissemination, but standards of admitting and correcting mistakes when they are uncovered -- then the Islamic world's perceptions of us (which, remember, is the whole issue) might be much different to begin with. And perhaps not only the lives lost in the recent Afghanistan riots, but those of countless (literally, uncounted by the US government) Afghan and Iraqi civilians might have been spared.

Sincere knowledge workers within a capitalist political-economy -- I count myself as one of them -- are subject to varying opportunities and constraints as they try to sell what they see as the truth. Journalists in particular face tight deadlines, recalcitrant sources, and editorial censorship often related to advertiser demands. These and other structural aspects of for-profit knowledge production in 21st century global journalism need to be investigated, analyzed, and challenged themselves -- often by other sincere knowledge-workers (subject to their own structural constraints) that we like to call "researchers" or "academics". But no matter how sincere our efforts, how sincere our beliefs that the knowledge we have uncovered is the truth, we will make mistakes. Still, our media -- like our academia, and especially like our government -- is only "biased" or "broken" to the degree that it refuses to learn from those mistakes. I for one think that US journalists have shown progress in this and other recent crises of truth; I don't think I can say the same thing about the US government.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Geographies of compromise and contradiction

More hometown news. Here in my state of Wisconsin, where economically-conservative lawmakers lament (without reason, I frequently believe) that the state needs a more "business friendly" climate, local areas from towns to municipalities to counties are frequently urged to offer tax reductions, infrastructure subsidies, and outright grants in order to attract capital in the form of fixed investment in production, distribution, or retail spaces. Neighboring cities fight for the right to build new campus-like headquarters for global software development firms; neighboring counties compete to be the first to have a regional Wal-Mart distribution center; neighboring regions compete in the supposedly zero-sum game of attracting in-state and out-of-state tourist dollars with increasingly elaborate water parks, sports stadiums, and casino resorts. Any short-term local "incentive" is deemed proper if, in the long run, there is a chance of growing the area's tax base and employment rate through the attraction and retention of mobile capital. Usually the rhetorical framework for such projects is one valorizing "local control" over "big centralized government".

But apparently once localities push on the other side of the equation, with efforts to attract and retain increasingly mobile labor (though that labor, tied to family and community in a myriad of ways, is nowhere near as mobile as financial and even fixed capital), the same economically-conservative lawmakers quickly reverse their logic and rhetoric. Efforts on the part of three economically crucial Wisconsin cities -- Madison, Milwaukee, and LaCrosse -- to locally raise the minimum wage for workers within their jurisdictions has met with such startling resisistance from the economically-conservative state legislature that opponents of any wage floor have actually agreed to a compromise allowing a short-term statewide raising of the minimum wage to stave off the long-term implications of local laws like Madison's which would have institutionalized the notion of a socially-just wage floor which rises with inflation and thus the cost of living:

After a year of haggling, Republican leaders of the state Legislature and Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle are in the heat of agreement over raising the state's minimum wage. The end result will look like this: Beginning June 1, the minimum will increase from $5.15 an hour to $5.70, then rise to $6.50 an hour on June 1, 2006. Madison, which approved a higher increase, will have to abide by the new statewide limits, a condition insisted upon by Republicans.


Although grateful the minimum appears to be heading up, Madison officials said Doyle is trading the one-time increase for local governments' ability to leverage future increases. Under Madison's law, the minimum wage would go up to $7.75 an hour by 2008, with increases for inflation each year thereafter. "It's just not worth it," Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz said.


The compromise illustrates several things, I think. First, local social justice movements such as the Madison minimum wage effort (which I prefer to think of as a "living wage" effort, meaning that a head of household working full-time should not earn a wage that puts the worker's family under the poverty rate) actually can "scale up" to achieve some success at a higher level of government. However, at the same time, that larger-scale success might come with costs that make further local innovation on equity and justice issues harder in the future.

Second, it is clear that regardless of the recent wave of analysts who argue that growing, attracting, and retaining a highly skilled, highly educated, and highly productive (even if highly paid) workforce is crucuial in order to preserve local "competitiveness" in the new global information economy, the current generation of economic conservatives in power across the nation still apparently believe that "building a strong economy" equates to "public subsidies to private firm owners" but not public assistance to (or even public protection for) the laborers employed by those firms.

Finally, the economic conservative rhetoric of valuing "local control and innovation" against "centralized big government" once again rings hollow. If economic conservatives truly believe that Madison will suffer economic ruin by raising its minimum wage to a living wage and thus somehow driving away businesses, then why not let Madisonians make that mistake on their own?

It is hard for me not to suspect that other agendas are at work here, including the fear that cities which not only raise but institutionalize their minimum wages to living wages would actually prosper in the long run, putting pressure on competing local governments and higher-scale governments to do the same. Whether economic conservative lawmakers fear such a scenario because it might counter their own utopian free-market visions, or because it might threaten key firm owners who fund their political campaigns, I can only speculate.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Workplace surveillance and urban equity

In my hometown news today -- my hometown being a medium-sized city of a couple hundred thousand which, since it houses both a state capital and a state university, has a functioning transit system of city buses -- comes an interesting proposal for workplace surveillance pushed by workers themselves. Our local CBS affiliate reports:

In recent weeks Madison bus drivers have come forward with stories of the abuse and crime that regularly takes place on their buses. Tuesday they asked the [Transit and Parking] commission to intervene and make it safer for everyone by installing security cameras on busses.

Drivers asked that the cameras be placed on the busses with regular problematic routes. According to their proposal not every bus would have a camera.


Digital surveillance in the workplace is an aspect of the informationalization of labor that often gets overlooked, but when it is considered, it is most often either from a management point of view (with goals of speedup and discipline or assumptions of worker rulebreaking and lawbreaking) or a privacy point of view (with goals of better defining the blurry line between workplace control and individual control of action, speech, and thought). But here at least is a labor point of view: Drivers fearful of their personal safety and frustrated at their lack of options as they remain pinned in the front of the bus.

Importantly, though, this proposal is not without profound concerns. I'm not so much worried about the management surveillance implications -- I have no doubt that the city is already minutely logging bus miles and schedules in order to keep tabs on drivers. Neither am I worried about the privacy implications from a personal point of view -- I regularly ride the bus and, with proper signs alerting me to the surveillance environment, would willingly agree to video recording in the name of greater safety for all riders and drivers. The problem comes in the disparity introduced by putting cameras only on "problematic" routes. What are these routes in my city?

Drivers say teenagers are the biggest problem. "They yell, shout, scream, say profanities, push, write graffiti on the seats and it makes it real hard to drive a bus while all that stuff is going on behind your head," said driver Georgian Springan. "We've also been having problems with the South Transfer Point with fighting, graffiti, vulgar language. People waiting for the the bus have been pushed down and injured. A lady cut her head. We just have a lot of problems with teenagers."

In my city, "teenagers" at the "South Transfer Point" is often shorthand for people of color. Selective surveillance on public amenities of any sort which, intentionally or not, reduces the privacy and freedoms of one group but not all groups, is exactly the wrong strategy to push, in my opinion. The drivers seeking greater security on their routes should be commended for bringing innovative solutions to the city. After all, safe and efficient public transport is a public good that benefits even those who never use it with cleaner air, less congested roads, fewer parking lots, and efficient movement of both workers and consumers throughout the economic landscape. But if these are benefits we all share, with riders already bearing the costs of individual fares, then the risks of privacy loss in the name of worker and passenger safety should be risks that we all collectively bear as well. Make the proposal universal, and then open it to public debate.

Monday, May 02, 2005

The labors of blogging

This past weekend I had the odd experience of participating as an "expert" in a public panel discussion on the "mainstreaming" of weblogs. The occasion was the 100th anniversary of the school of journalism and mass communication which employs me, and my fellow panel discussants included a reporter from the Washington Post, an operative from the Republican National Committee, and a local Internet entrepreneur (and former student of mine). The audience was small but clearly hungry for information and analysis concerning this whole "blog" thing.

What surprised me, among both the panelists' comments and the audience's questions, was the pervasive misperception that "those bloggers" were not only bent on replacing traditional journalism and perhaps even traditional strategic communications (political persuasion, commodity/service advertising, and corporate/non-profit public relations), but were so far succeeding. Over the course of the hour I tried to influence the direction of the discussion by arguing that bloggers today occupied a new and perhaps unique niche in between both the consumption of media and the production of media. In other words, I tried to bring forth the labor aspects of blogging in terms of reading, writing, and citing --the difficult labor necessary for any critical engagement with the media that we as mass communication educators so desperately try to promote.

If my biweekly writing in my own blog has taught me one thing, it is that blogging — in any but the most trivial senses — requires significant human labor. The genius of the blogging revolution over the past five years or so, however, is that the nature and temporality of this labor has changed due to the emergence of a wide range of free commodities and services for "newbie" bloggers. Back in the 1990s, access to the "blogosphere" usually demanded some facility with server software, database design, and web display languages. Even with these skills, setting up a weblog took time. It often necessitated a particular occupationally-related reason for spending the front-end time in setting up a weblog, like membership in an open-source software production community, or entrepreneurial efforts to build credibility in the community of online technology vendors. And maintaining the archives and backups and security of one's postings, especially in the face of regular software and hardware upgrades that "power users" of the web inevitably subject themselves to, presented ongoing administrative labor as well. All of this labor had to occur before a single word of text was written, before a single link to another blog was forged.

The situation changed around 2000, though, with new turnkey blogging services like Blogger and LiveJournal. Now both the up-front labor of setting up a blog and the intermittent administrative labor of adjusting a blog were taken care of automatically (or at least by a centralized group of human experts behind the scenes). Suddenly the labor requirements for blogging were "simply" the daily reading, writing, and linking time required for regular posting. This technological shift provided the potential for the blogosphere to grow from a technological community into a political community; the increasing polarization of a politically-active portion of the citizenry after the 2000 election and the assumption-shattering events of 9/11 provided two big motivations for people to take advantage of this new technological potential.

Since the start of the "warblogs" and "watchblogs" of the post-9/11, post Bush/Cheney era, respectively, the big-name bloggers on the polarized ends of the political spectrum have earned a reputation for being ruthless, outspoken, and mob-like with respect to their relationship with "traditional" media (even as that traditional media continues to grow and refine and profit from its own online presence). But the blogosphere is filled with more than DailyKos and Wonkette. For every flashy, nearly-professional blog out there that receives hundreds of thousands of "hits" per day, there are a slew of more modest, less-trafficked blogs receiving in the tens of hits each day from maybe a dozen or so unique visitors (if they are lucky). Yet to me, these are the sites in the blogosphere which we must analyze in order to gauge the impact of both the new enabling technology and new social expectations of blogging. If neither media noteriety, nor advertising revenue, nor the thought of a large readership motivates these hidden blog authors, then what? What makes them devote such considerable labor to scrutinizing their media consumption, analyzing and cross-referencing the similar labors of their blogging peers, and wrestling with the difficult political-economic-social issues of the day in full view of an already media-saturated public?

I don't have an answer to this question, of course, but I think it is exactly the question we ought to be asking about bloggers today, at this precipitous moment when the already-diverse practice of "blogging" is itself poised to make another technological shift -- with new tools spinning out the audio blogs ("podcasts") from the video blogs and the text blogs, the diary blogs and the punditry blogs from the artistic and literary blogs, the individually-authored blogs from the collectively-authored blogs, the non-profit blogs from the advertising-supported blogs. The vast majority of bloggers who have joined this new hybrid, fragmented process of media consumption and media production in the last five years, don't want to bring down Dan Rather (and couldn't if they tried). But the fruits of their long and consistent labors -- visible trails of the kind of critical media analysis and conversation that all media educators wish they could inculcate in their supposedly-so-media-saavy students -- hold a significance that neither the mainstream media industry nor the celebrity bloggerati have yet acknowledged. The labors of bloggers indicate that, at least for a privileged few who hold the skills and tools to engage in this new media practice, having a diverse, professional, and forthright media available to use as the raw materials of social debate and political action actually matters. The bloggers provide empirical evidence that the investments in "new media journalism," using cyberspace to exceed the boundaries of the space and time of the printed page by posting more detailed analysis, more historical background, and more primary documentation, do not go unappreciated. I think that the best labors of bloggers can be seen as validating, not contradicting, the best labors of journalists. We educators should be so lucky to have a similar community of critical followers.