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Blogging As a Vocation

For all the coverage of the so-called "Web logging" phenomenon at the convention, I think people have been missing the real story here which is the breakdown of the barriers between blogs and "traditional" media. Last night, for example, I was hanging out with a group of bloggers at a bar in Cambridge. But were we really a group of bloggers? Jeralyn Merrit, unambiguously, is a blogger -- i.e. a person with a real job that has nothing to do with media but who also writes a blog. Duncan "Atrios" Black has been a blogger in that sense until the extremely recent past, but lately he seems to be doing some "real" journalism with Media Matters and now that he has a proper byline I expect we'll see more and more of that. Along with his Internet fame and strong writing skills, after all, he turns out to have some legitimate policy expertise. I was an amateur blogger for a long time but I'm now a professional journalist (here at the convention on "real" journalist credentials) who does a professional blog and an amateur one along with my magazine articles, columns, etc.

Also around the table were Ezra Klein and Zoe Wanderwolk, two college students who do blogs both of whom are currently interning for The Washington Monthly and The Gadflyer, respectively. Rounding the group out (I think) were Tom Lang and Brian Montopoli who write Campaign Desk for The Columbia Journalism Review which certain is a blog, but is also a professional enterprise and edited to boot. Brian had worked quite a bit in print and traditional web (things like Slate and TNR Online) before getting this gig, and Tom was an intern at the Prospect when I started there. Tom Schaller has a slightly jaundiced take on this whole phenomenon, but the point either way is that blogging per se has probably jumped the shark and rightly so.

At the end of the day, blogging is just a mode of presenting text (and, to some extent, images) and a set of computer programs that make it easy to present text in that way. It's not a method of doing things. The result, I think, is that the phenomenon of the "blogger" has no real future, though the phenomenon of the blog does. At the end of the day, Brad DeLong is an economist, Lawrence Solum is a legal theorist, I'm a commentator, Jeralyn is a criminal justice expert, Laura Rozen is a national security reporter, etc. These are trades -- areas of competence, whatever -- that we can all ply in a variety of media, print, web articles, blogs, academic papers (where appropriate), live or taped radio or television interviews, etc. None of us are "bloggers" except in the sense that we all write weblogs. But we also talk about this stuff to people and that doesn't make us "talkers," it's a thing you do not a thing you are and, increasingly, it will be done by more-or-less the exact same group of people who are producing text in other formats.

July 28, 2004 | Permalink

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» Get That Shark Away From Me! from pennywit.com

Has blogging jumped the shark?

Jumped the what? The shark. You know, as Wikipedia says:

Jumping the shark is a slang term use [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 28, 2004 12:46:25 PM

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Exactly. Exactly exactly exactly. Exactly exactly exactly exactly:At the end of the day, blogging is just a mode of presenting text (and, to some extent, images) and a set of computer programs that make it easy to present text in... [Read More]

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We were interviewed by German T.V. a little while ago and some blogger down the row from me made a big deal about how we get pre-released transcripts of the scripts. Obviously this guy has never covered a political event... [Read More]

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Comments

Okay, okay, enough! No Mas!

I love your blog dude, and I like blogs in general, but come on!
How self-referencial can one medium be.
I swear y'all are just gonna fall into your navel and never come back out.

Yes, blogs are cool.
Yes, they offer a welcome change.
Yes, they are the new hotness.
How many freakin' posts on a gazillion different blogs on this issue do we need.

Blogs are like Dieon Sanders talking about himself in the third person. Only without the unintentional comedy factor.

Sorry I picked your post to make this rant, but yours is the blog I read the most.

Posted by: WillieStyle | Jul 28, 2004 9:30:37 AM

I see what you're saying, WillieStyle, but I kind of like it when the hosts of these sites, especially the popular ones, talk about why they do what they do, and what type of effect they think they're having.

And this is a new phenonmenon, especially WRT political convention coverage. And it's a fact that's been alternatively hyped and trashed in the mainstream press, so it's particulalry topical.

I did like this line: "None of us are "bloggers" except in the sense that we all write weblogs."

Yes, I know, taken out of context.

But that's just me, someone allegedly guilty of "very silly efforts to stir up controversy."

Posted by: SoCalJustice | Jul 28, 2004 9:49:22 AM

"At the end of the day, blogging is just a mode of presenting text"

With the (not-so) minor exception of the instant feedback. A large part of the appeal of blogs is that it allows one to avoid one of the worst frustrations of print media: the instances of inane commentary followed some days later by totally off-the-mark criticisms in the form of a letter to the editor. At which point the third-party reader is not really free to address either the weaknesses of the original article or the cluelessness of the published reply: nothing is more lame than "Last Saturday you published article 'A' and Tuesday you published letter 'B'" Nobody remembers B and few have any detailed recollection of A.

And the work product of the traditional media reflects this: "Hey I am on deadline, and in a week no one will know or care, so lets just bang out some crap based on the RNC blast fax and get the hell to the bar".

Comment enabled personal blogs don't allow this luxury. I pick up the paper for all kinds of reasons, and a single consistently weak columnist won't drive me away. But a blogger who is both lazy and irresponsive to criticism will see traffic peg to zero.

And while not all blogs are 'community based' the better ones on the political side certainly are, and that aspect seems to have slipped right out of your piece.

Posted by: Bruce Webb | Jul 28, 2004 10:08:24 AM

Well said. The convention has certainly separated the wheat from the chaff as far as "bloggers who can do reporting" goes. TNR and TAP have been good, as have a few bloggers, among them Jesse Taylor and Matt Stoller. I think this will promote some healthy reflection and go a long way toward taking the piss out of silly blog triumphalism.

But one thing I think you're missing here, Matt, is the importance of the protagonist. Blogging has promoted that in a major way. In traditional reporting, use of "I" is usually reserved for magazine stories like Nir Rosen being in Fallujah, etc.

Posted by: praktike | Jul 28, 2004 10:20:09 AM

With the (not-so) minor exception of the instant feedback. A large part of the appeal of blogs is that it allows one to avoid one of the worst frustrations of print media: the instances of inane commentary followed some days later by totally off-the-mark criticisms in the form of a letter to the editor.

Well, yes, but...

I've noticed that the local tabloid here in town, The Boston Herald, has started some time of bulletin-board feedback system that allows readers to chime in right away (in real time) about content they see in the online version. It's a pretty neat idea. Now that I think about it the NY Times has offered electronic reader feedback options for quite some time.

And blogs in general are not necessarily more up to date than the online versions of newspapers. I think a lot of newspapers are here to stay, but I really wonder about the long-term viability of their print versions. I mean, I'm as much a news junkie as most people who read blogs like this, but for the life of me I won't pony up the extra $7 or $8 a week for the "privilege" of reading the less up to date versions of the papers I read -- especially when the more up to date versions are free, and don't make my hands dirty.

Posted by: P.B. Almeida | Jul 28, 2004 10:37:56 AM

There is a lot of talk about the "blogosphere" (terrible word!) and its effect on traditional media. Matthew is right. Many of the big bloggers ARE traditional media. There's a pretense out there that bloggers are a window to the wider blogosphere and that ideas from readers trickle up and so affect policy, even at international levels! The comments give the readers a sense of being involved, but they are involved with each other, not the blogger. It's a top-down phenomenon no different from print media.

Posted by: Yamamoto | Jul 28, 2004 11:04:07 AM

I think a lot of bloggers read their comments. Why, just yesterday Matt had to defend himself from voracious attacks on his gracious crediting of a fellow journalist who has some odd views. And Kevin Drum was browbeaten into accepting that Barack Obama is the second coming of Christ.

Posted by: praktike | Jul 28, 2004 11:10:10 AM

If blogging is something you do (not something you are) because it is a mode of presetnation rather than a method, how can any type of writer be distinguished based on the forms in which they write? How is writing a well-researched novel different from writing a well-researched article? Is there really any fundamental difference of method in the composition of either? And yet there are professional novelists and journalists. Surely, other types of media can assume the methods of publication used by blogs, and perhaps this is what is meant by describing blogs as software. So I think the question is whether or not independent editing and fact checking is a method of composition or publication? For the novelist, ideally, the last decisions and final responsibility are theirs, while for the journalist this is not as clearly the case. If the point is simply that bloggers probably won't be able to support themselves with their blogs, then it is a simple and fairly obvious point. But it is wrong, Ithink, to link the future of bloggers with their professional status, and the phenomenon of blogging as being something indepednent, essentially, from the sort of interaction it engenders both with its creator and those who participate in it.

Perhaps it is essential to the future of blogging that no one ever become a professional blogger, and it is mistaken to associate the future of blogging with its identification as a vocation. Maybe the future of blogging lies in an increase of the type of bloggers that now operate. The problem is probably partly that many bloggers seem to be using them to make up for some lack of visibility or influence which they seek to gain eventually through a job or position or post somewhere, which they think would be a fuller expression of their convictions and judgements. You have to admit, there is a definite sense of hierarchy in the blogosphere that doesn't have much to do with the objective quality of content.

Posted by: William S | Jul 28, 2004 11:28:14 AM

Drum may also have noticed the way the wind was blowing among other bloggers and policy wonks.
Even the right was profoundly impressed by the speech.
He still maintains the speech was weak on policy. (And he's right--but it doesn't matter--policy is determined after the ascent to power.)

Posted by: Yamamoto | Jul 28, 2004 11:38:15 AM

Here's what the always-eloquent Fafnir had to say on this issue:

"Here at the convention there isn't that much to do right now other than eat tiny quiches an finger sammiches an hang out at panels drinkin wine but we're still havin an ok time with that. Me an Giblets have been hangin out at such panels as "Blogging: Transforming the Medium of Media" an "Blogging: A Radical New Media of Blogging" an "Blogging: Blog Media Bloggity Blog Media Bla-blog" where we have lent our expert advice to confused broadcast journalists whose minds are dazzled by the oh so confusin world of computer wizardry."

Read the whole thing.

Posted by: praktike | Jul 28, 2004 12:36:58 PM

Matt, you miss a big piece of the puzzle here.

Atrios is a blogger, Duncan Black gets a byline...

Atrios can raise $276,000 over the internet from small donors over the internet in a matter of something like four months. (And good for him.)

Duncan Black, if you will, could not.

The phenomenon of bloggers as a subspecies of "journalist" or writer is maybe going the way you say it is.

The phenomenon of bloggers as partisan activists and fundraisers has a bright future.

Posted by: The Eradicator! | Jul 28, 2004 12:42:16 PM

I have always expected the bloggers to be coopted by the media or political elites. Blogging started, so very long ago(6 months) as a conversation between a small group of people with blogs, with no particular expectation of an audience. As the audience grew, the bloggers were confronted with the question of who they should be talking to, talking for. The groundlings are a hassle.

There are different types of reasurrances available. The approval of your peers and employers will reinforce some prejudices, the criticism will seem friendly, there will be sympathy and understanding, there will be clear and comforting rules.

If Andrea Mitchell is ever asked why she kisses Rove's butt, why she tolerates lawbreakers, why she gets paid big bucks for disserving the American people, her answer will be safely behind closed doors.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Jul 28, 2004 1:56:17 PM

I have always expected the bloggers to be coopted by the media or political elites. Blogging started, so very long ago(6 months) as a conversation between a small group of people with blogs, with no particular expectation of an audience. As the audience grew, the bloggers were confronted with the question of who they should be talking to, talking for. The groundlings are a hassle.

There are different types of reasurrances available. The approval of your peers and employers will reinforce some prejudices, the criticism will seem friendly, there will be sympathy and understanding, there will be clear and comforting rules.

If Andrea Mitchell is ever asked why she kisses Rove's butt, why she tolerates lawbreakers, why she gets paid big bucks for disserving the American people, her answer will be safely behind closed doors.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Jul 28, 2004 1:57:08 PM

Sure Matt:

Now that you have a REAL job, you start putting down bloggers in the typical post-modernist way: define them away.

Posted by: epistemology | Jul 28, 2004 2:34:59 PM

Blogs, blogging, blah blah blah . . . zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!

Posted by: blah | Jul 28, 2004 3:02:51 PM

Bob McManus writes, "Blogging started so very long ago (6 months)...".

Six months? That must be a typo. All the political blogs I read are older than that. Even Dean's campaign started blogging before that. Hell, my own site dates back to 1996, and by 1999 it was recognizably a blog.

If you want to argue that eight years isn't that long, then that's another story.

Posted by: Dave Menendez | Jul 28, 2004 3:32:27 PM

"That must be a typo" More like a stupid joke

Hmmm. I don't see the trackback. Digby at Hullaballoo dissed this post, and the comments thereare hilariously vicious. "Pulling the ladder back up after him..."

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Jul 28, 2004 4:03:22 PM

Matt Y,
What is the "area of competence" of a "commentator" ?

Posted by: next big thing | Jul 28, 2004 4:07:48 PM

What exactly is Duncan "Atrios" Black's area of policy expertise?

Posted by: Anonymous Blogger | Jul 28, 2004 4:21:06 PM


Duncan B. is an economist who has published on urban economics. I think he has a PhD.

We're all glad Matt got hisself a job, but he did get all hifalutin pretty quick. I am reminded of Kurt Cobain losing his alternative cred when he became a multi-millionaire -- and look what happened to him! Matt ain't gonna be hangin with the boys in the hood no more, but we gonna be puttin the evil eye on his sorry ass.

The primary significance of blogging is that it offers an outlet for people like me and Den Beste whom no one would ever hire in a million years. And that's a good thing.

Posted by: Zizka | Jul 28, 2004 5:09:38 PM

Hey, what do I know? I'm just a girl.

But if someone asked me, I'd say "real" blogs are to journalism as outtakes are to movies.

Posted by: Susie from Philly | Jul 28, 2004 6:23:12 PM

Word to the wise: "Saturday Night Live" used to be cutting-edge and cool - until the newer hires realized it meant they'd get to be in movies and live in L.A.

Posted by: Susie from Philly | Jul 28, 2004 6:30:03 PM

The more you become institutionalized the less "bloggy" you will be and, quite possibly, less interesting for the loss of personalism.

Posted by: pwax | Jul 28, 2004 8:07:40 PM

Blogs are blogs. Simple enough.

Unlike traditional media, even a peon is only a click away.

Peons don't get published or airtime.

Folks might think that the blog-medium is gelling, but there will always be somebody new with a fresh and exciting perspective who is accessable to every internet connected computer in the world.

Sure there will be clutter. And getting your URL known is tough, but almost everybody has their own favorite "up and coming" or "unknown" blog. Talent will find its way out and it won't require a PhD or an Ivy degree.

Posted by: def | Jul 28, 2004 8:42:09 PM

At the end of the day, Brad DeLong is an economist, Lawrence Solum is a legal theorist, I'm a commentator, Jeralyn is a criminal justice expert, Laura Rozen is a national security reporter, etc.

Dude, because of blogs, anybody can be a commentator, and whether you get heard depends moreso on what you say than who you are or whom you know. At least, a lot moreso than in any other media.

Posted by: fling93 | Jul 28, 2004 10:21:21 PM

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