There's a good deal of discussion at present (I gather; I haven't read 90% of it) as to whether bloggers are crap book reviewers, and are they driving hard-working, scholarly, underpaid newspaper chappies out of business; et cetera, et cetera. Here's an example of such discussion; and here's another; and another. And an overview of it all.
As a result of this discussion, or such parts of it as I've read, one thought strikes me rather forcibly; well, actually several thoughts.
The first thought is that bloggers have numerous practical advantages over the newspaper guys. In the first place, they can review whatever they like, or don't like: a book which is a hundred years old, one from a self-publisher, whatever. The newspaper-based book reviewer, by and large, has to jump to his editor's commands.
Second, a blogger can write at any length he wishes. Ten thousand words, no problem. One word? Equally acceptable. And nobody will go through the review, change this, alter that, improve the other. In print newspapers and magazines, not only is length constrained, but the evidence suggests that what goes underneath the reviewer's name is not necessarily what he wrote.
Evidence: see the Wikipedia article on Publishers Weekly; section on book reviews. Guy there says: 'On a few occasions, I’ve had opinions utterly reversed from what I wrote. I’ve questioned this, but I’ve never received satisfactory answers.' So much for principle. Gotta keep the advertisers happy.
Also, bear in mind what happened when Michael Dibdin wrote a scathing review, for the Guardian, of a book by the Guardian's political correspondent: they refused to print it. So Dibdin took his review, plus the story, to the Times.
Finally, however, let us remember one simple fact. However erudite the print reviewer may be, and however exquisite his taste and critical judgement, he is handicapped by comparison with the most humble blogger. Our print man cannot link directly to other sources.
This is, I would suggest, a major problem. Twenty years ago, of course, no one could even imagine it. But now it has to be faced.
For my part I have been running this blog for over three years, and as the weeks go by I increasingly find myself linking to earlier posts of my own. But even a blog which is three weeks old can lead readers to other online sources which yield immensely valuable information.
So let's give three silent cheers for the humble hyperlink. And for the fellows who first dreamed it up (Ted Nelson, Douglas Engelbart, and friends).