Are you a channel surfing hack?

That's what Howie Kurtz seems to imply:

Everybody's got advice for John Kerry these days. Running for president must be easy, since every channel-surfing hack is now an expert.

Now, he does tar a number of media with the same brush, but bloggers Josh Marshall and Mickey Kaus are prominent on his list of guilty parties.

But what's wrong with channel surfing? Many people are content to narrow their inputs and only process information that reinforces or reaffirms their worldview - but I'm certainly not one of them.

Journalists and bloggers can come to rely on a reputation for ferreting out picayune details as indicators of growing themes. Make their main beat politics, add a lull until the next main event - like the party conferences - and every detail can become a point of contention.

Howard, Jay Rosen and many others have blogged before about the weaknesses of this type of horse race journalism. In a deft January essay, Jay wove together themes from politics and baseball to examine our fascination with first past the post reporting:

In a horse race world; polls are a baseline reality. They can tell you who's ahead but not why. And they are mute on a favorite horse race question: how things are going to "play out from here," as reporters and pundits say. For that we need savvy analysis, and this especially means the view of insiders, the savviest of all.

In the blogosphere, this sort of savvy analysis can also come from informed observers (like Kaus, Marshall and others) or from motivated independents digging up new pieces of information or casting new light into overlooked crevices of controversy.

But are these people hacks? In the traditional media world, a hack is generally considered to mean a paid journalist. Some use the term to characterize a poor or inconsistent journalist. In the IT world, hack is a much more flexible term:

Hacking might be characterized as `an appropriate application of ingenuity'. Whether the result is a quick-and-dirty patchwork job or a carefully crafted work of art, you have to admire the cleverness that went into it.

Now, let's all admire our own cleverness.

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