More people read The New York Times online these days than on paper, so you’d think all was jake between the Net and the newspaper of record. Yet media pundits everywhere agree: The Web is trouble, a looming threat to the cultural common ground the Times is meant to hold. Among the thoughtful classes, the hyper-individualized online world provokes entropic visions: “Tens of millions of people . . . mainly listening to louder echoes of their own voices” writes constitutional scholar Cass Sunstein, his glum words echoing, themselves, in countless op-eds on the fractious blogosphere. No doubt there’s a valid point in there somewhere, but before you go off looking for it, let me suggest a detour through the amazing Annotated New York Times (annotatedtimes.blogrunner.com), where you’ll find every story in the paper side by side with every blog post ever linked to it, and where you’ll find yourself, I think, reassured that after all, the center just might hold.
Or not. At first, the Annotated Times looks more like a graffitied storefront than a front page. The chaos of links is just the sort of overload that makes you want to filter everything out of your media feed except, like, weather and The Simpsons. Dig deeper and Sunstein’s nightmare seems to come into focus: The right-wing blogs generally link to stories flattering their politics, the lefties likewise. Frank Rich on Bill Frist? Come on down, embittered Howard Dean holdouts! “Gun Sellers Say an Assault Ban Has No Effect”? Hello, gay libertarian NRA diehards! But then it dawns on you: They’re all here together, more or less, gathered around the great national campfire the Gray Lady’s been tending for as long as you can remember. Only now they’re close enough to the blaze that, for the first time, you can make out faces. Weird. But then democracy kind of tends to be.