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It's not exactly news that circulation and staff are down at Massachusetts newspapers. The Boston Globe has made its fourth buyout offer to employees since 2001. Circulation is down again at the Boston Herald. Will there be breaking news that nobody knows about? Where do you go to get your news and information?

The BlogFather

by Meghna Chakrabarti

They think they've retired. But he keeps pulling them back in. Back in to ferret out stories. To attend council meetings. To poke and prod local politicians. To post, always posting, on his website, Cape Cod Today.

He is known as the Blogfather of Cape Cod, Walter Brooks. Since 2003, Brooks has recruited 150 Cape bloggers to cover Cape news from tip to toe. All but five of the bloggers write for free. Most of them turn out opinion pieces. But most of them are also retirees, or are still working in their current professions. Their backgrounds are varied: ex-politicians, ex-policemen, ex-teachers, current teachers, current harbormasters, current artists. Not a pimple-faced pajama wearing basement blogger among them.

Brooks admits many of the blogs on Cape Cod Today are hit or miss. Many of them are nothing more than a daily rant. Nevertheless, he believes they are changing the way news is covered on the Cape, and that they're breaking news.

Sometimes they do. Witness the cascade of events that led to the 2007 resignation of Mashpee-Wampanaug chairman Glenn Marshall. Cape Cod Today blogger Peter Kenney first broke the story about inconsistencies in Marshall's war record on August 20, 2007. The Cape Cod Times followed on August 24th, the Herald on August 25th. The Globe on August 26th (according to their online archives). [There's more about Kenney here and here and here.]

The result? Marshall resigned as chairman. All because a blogger raised an inconvenient question.

All this made me think that maybe bloggers are the new pamphleteers. Cheap, quick, dirty and daring. They're producing a lot of stuff that's best to wrap fish in, but maybe there's a Thomas Paine or two among them as well.

For those of you who hate blogs, there's this:

"Society owes protection only to peaceable citizens; the only citizens in the Republic are the republicans. For it, the royalists, the conspirators are only strangers or, rather, enemies. This terrible war waged by liberty against tyranny- is it not indivisible? Are the enemies within not the allies of the enemies without? The assassins who tear our country apart, the intriguers who buy the consciences that hold the people's mandate; the traitors who sell them; the mercenary pamphleteers hired to dishonor the people's cause, to kill public virtue, to stir up the fire of civil discord, and to prepare political counterrevolution by moral counterrevolution-are all those men less guilty or less dangerous than the tyrants whom they serve?"

M. Robespierre, "On the Moral and Political Principles of Domestic Policy" (1794)

And for those of you who love them:

“The pamphlet is a one-man show. One has complete freedom of expression, including, if one chooses, the freedom to be scurrilous, abusive, and seditious; or, on the other hand, to be more detailed, serious and ‘high-brow’ than is ever possible in a newspaper or I most kinds of periodicals. At the same time, since the pamphlet is always short and unbound, it can be produced much more quickly than a book, and in principle, at any rate, can reach a bigger public. Above all, the pamphlet does not have to follow any prescribed pattern. It can be in prose or in verse, it can consist largely of maps or statistics or quotations, it can take the form of a story, a fable, a letter, an essay, a dialogue, or a piece of ‘reportage.’ All that is required of it is that it shall be topical, polemical, and short.”

George Orwell, The British Pamphleteer
Pamphlets or blogs, the polemical is here to stay.

This program aired on March 14, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

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