Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Hugh Hewitt's Blog: A Trade Paperback in a Hardcover Jacket

Yesterday a package from Amazon arrived. Its contents were a couple of Penguin James Bonds (I happen to like Ian Fleming's stuff), but more importantly, Blog by Hugh Hewitt. Word of mouth on this book was pretty good, so I thought I'd pick up a copy. I went through it last night and part of this morning.

My opinion? Yes, it's a must-have book on the growth and power of the blogosphere, but I'd be lying if I said there were no flaws.

The title of this post pretty much sums up the problem. Some subjects are pretty much born for the trade paperback format -- Tom Clancy's Guided Tour series, for example. Whether it's submarines, aircraft carriers, the U.S. Marine SOC or Special Forces units, Clancy (and his collaborator John Gresham) write up a brief history, interview key people, and detail some of the major features of the topic at hand, and envisage future scenarios. That doesn't work in hardcover because it's the type of book that becomes out-of-date extremely rapidly, and hardcovers imply permanence.

Blog is pretty much in the same situation. Yes, the price is cheap -- comparable to current trade paperbacks -- but portions of the book are already out of date.

However, that's just a question of format. We'll have to go through the whole thing.

Hugh is, of course, an opinionated guy. And in chapter 1, as he chronicles the impact of blogging on Trent Lott, the New York Times, John Kerry, and Dan Rather, we learn his opinions of CNN, the New York Times' Paul Krugman (he calls him "unbalanced and frothing" even though Krugman quotes a blogger approvingly), the mainstream media and Barbra Streisand. (To his credit, he does try to be fair to the blogsites Atrios and DailyKos.)

Chapters 2 and 3 are not so much about blogs as they are about revolutions in information: the effect of the printing press on the Protestant Reformation and the invention and spread of the alphabet through to the development of the Internet (no, Al Gore isn't mentioned here). Hugh's argument is that the blogosphere will have a similar impact on society. I'm not so sure, but it's his argument, after all.

Chapters 4 and 5 document the decline in readership (and viewership) of the Mainstream Media and the corresponding rise of alternative media (talk radio, cable news, and of course the blogs). Hugh seems a bit apocalyptic in his view of the MSM, which is perhaps why some of them are dismissive of this book. But at the same time he outlines in plain language some of the reasons why mainstream journalism is in a crisis of confidence, and why the blogosphere aggravates it.

Chapter 6 examines the motivations of bloggers and profiles some of the more popular ones. These are drawn mainly from the political and Judeo-Christian blogs, probably because they're the ones Hugh's most familiar with. This probably would have been a good place to profile some of the non-American blogs such as Iraq the Model, as well as blogs from international hot-spots. (Perhaps he'll do that in the paperback edition.)

Chapter 7 describes strategies for dealing with the blogosphere, intended for businesses that could be potential targets. For the most part it's common sense, but this is one chapter that can and should be longer, particularly in outlining policies on employee blogging.

Chapters 8 and 9 deal with starting and maintaining blogs for business, from leaders to managers to subordinates, as well as the use of blogs for gathering corporate intelligence. And Chapter 12 lists typical examples of blogs that types of people could start.

There are nice concrete suggestions here, but the chapters could have benefitted from real-world examples. For instance, Hugh could interview TV producer Rhett Reese, who maintained a showblog while his series Joe Schmo 2 was airing on Spike TV.

And yet these latter chapters are perhaps the most important contributions Hugh makes to the blog literature, because they attempt to show how the blogosphere can be mined and exploited for better corporate behavior.

My recommendation? If you don't know much about blogs but want to use the Net to help your business, you should buy this edition. If you're already a blogger, you might want to wait for the paperback.