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Are You / Have You

This is sort of a reiteration of what I said yesterday, but I think it's a good formulation. At tonight's blogger bash I often got asked the question "are you a blogger?" This, I think, is the wrong question. Mickey Kaus is either the only person or else one of an extremely small number of people of whom you could say he is a blogger. Kausfiles is about all he writes, and Kausfiles operates on the same level as a purely amateur blog like Instapundit or Atrios or Daily Kos -- links to material elsewhere with a layperson's commentary on it (Atrios and Instapundit both even occassionally do wonky posts on their respective areas of expertise). But Brad Delong, Max Sawicky, John Quiggin, Tyler Cowen, and Alex Tabarrok are all economists who, among other things, have blogs. I, Josh Marshall, Laura Rozen, Spencer Ackerman, and David Frum are all journalists who, among other things, have blogs. Kieran Healy is a sociologist. Brian Weatherson is a philosopher. Eugene Volokh, Jack Balkin, Lawrence Solum, and Randy Barnett are legal theorests. They all also have blogs.

That, I think is the right way to think about it. Nobody thinks of the miscellaneous class of people who have written books (say, Barnett, Samantha Powers, James Joyce, Robert Putnam, and Michael Crichton) as "book writers." Rather, these are all people from different fields who all happen to have written books. This isn't to say that blogging is somehow trivial (certainly the printing press was not a trivial invention) but simply that it's an additional mode of presentation not an additional kind of thing to be presented.

July 29, 2004 | Permalink


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I see your point, but I must say that you are being dismissive, and that the idea that someone must be something else other than a "blogger" in order to prove you point is downright silly.

Atrios, layman blogger according to your terms (with a gratuitous caveat). Uh, how about Atrios, blogger who does it right and by virtue of doing so makes those of you
"employing the medium" actually show up on the blogosphere radar? Atrios is a blogger without the extra filters...he just posts some really interesting stuff with fun, good commentary that needs no justification because it is just, uh, good. Kaus is a blogger without any skills, and is only a blogger because it is not polite to call him a stupid moron with web space.

Not sure of your intent or attitude, but this post struck me as pompous. And I must confess I see a trend...convention stuff or otherwise. Hope it's a phase. You're good Matt, but you are much better when you don't feel the need to prove your credentials beyond what all of us know them to be.

Posted by: abjectfunk | Jul 29, 2004 3:52:30 AM

Why is it that someone can be identified as an economist, say, despite being involved in many other things, though they cannot be identified as a blogger unless it is all they really do in a public space? I wonder if activists, who are not professionals, can be identified as activists. I know many philosophers who are also activists and organizers. Which are they?

No one thinks of Crichton and Joyce as "book writers"? Do you mean that no one thinks of that group of people who have written books, taken as a whole as opposed to individually, as authors? Because people clearly think of Joyce as an author, not as an English teacher.

Now the distinction is: mode of presentation versus object presented. But I think your previous formulation was better, as economists and sociologists and philosophers and legal theorists are probably more reliably distinguished by their methods of treating various problems than by the problems they treat or the type of "thing" they present.

Again, I bring up the distinction bewtwen composition and publishing: if you write books, you are not a book writer (matthew), if you publish books, are you a publisher? A book is clearly a thing to be presented, unique from other things. If you publish a weblog, are you then not a blogger becasue it is possible that you could post a blog and also not be its publisher? The question is, whether or not such a publication, where the writer is not the publisher, editor, etc., is still a blog. Is Wonkette still a blog when she has a guest blogger to replace her? Are the members of Volokh's blog also bloggers? In both cases it seems they are as long as their work is not edited. But we might consider authors, whose works are edited, but who remain authors. They have a choice, in theory, to accept or reject editing of their work. So it seems that as long as one retains the sovreignty of their judgement with respect to what they write, they CANNOT be regarded as writers (as per your claims about "book writers"). Becasue what distinguishes an ecnonomist, philosopher, legal theorist, journbalist from a blogger is the fact that they are subject to external, both intellectual and institutional, restraints on their judgement. So I think the issue is more one of whether or not free and untramelled excercise of your own judgement can constitute a real identity.

Anyway, perhaps simplest question to ask is: why is it so important to establish whether or not one is or can be a blogger? I mean, for all the crap I have written above, I do not really understand what is at stake in the question for bloggers or people who do blogs.

Posted by: William S | Jul 29, 2004 5:48:05 AM

"Kausfiles is about all he writes..."

Damn. It's really embarrassing when you put it that way. A fun party game, given that (as you note), nearly all other bloggers are essentially doing so as a sideline -- how many people in the universe, given a full-time gig like Mickey's, could do a better job?

"Kaus is a blogger without any skills, and is only a blogger because it is not polite to call him a stupid moron with web space."

Hard to argue with that.

Posted by: Swopa | Jul 29, 2004 8:42:42 AM

"Kausfiles operates on the same level as a purely amateur blog like Instapundit or Atrios or Daily Kos"

What an insult to Kos and Atrios.

Posted by: MattB | Jul 29, 2004 8:51:38 AM

Bloggers who have blogs related that are a part of their portfolio of presentations are different than those who blog just to hear themselves talk. There are plenty of TV journalists that write articles for magazines and newspapers and a blog is just one more outlet. That is vastly different than the amateur who posts just what he wants to think of.
Which makes some of the amateur blogs as subtle as a screen door on a submarine. I find those refreshing.

Posted by: Blaine | Jul 29, 2004 8:53:55 AM

Blogging is like terrorism. A method. A means to an end.

But that's not to say Are you a blogger is meaningless. Knowing you use the method (blogging, cars bombs) says a lot about you.

Only blogging, and using no other method, says even more about you. That the means is more important than the end. Like a Tamil Tiger who bombs for the fun of it, not for the Eelam. Kaus is like a death-loving terrorist. If you see him, let him know.

Posted by: Ikram | Jul 29, 2004 9:10:40 AM

"Kausfiles operates on the same level as a purely amateur blog"


moving on.

Was Billy Shakespeare a playwright or an author?

Posted by: praktike | Jul 29, 2004 9:50:53 AM

Um, Matt, you just called yourself a "blogger" on the Tapped Convention blog.

Gotcha ;-)

Posted by: Bob | Jul 29, 2004 10:41:04 AM

"but simply that it's an additional mode of presentation not an additional kind of thing to be presented."

I search behind the movie poster but MacLuhan is nowhere to be found.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Jul 29, 2004 11:03:37 AM


Why don't you just say that there are different types of people who write blogs and be done with it. The term "blogger" has no more special significance than "book writer." "Blog" has no more special significance than "book."

By the way, what field did James Joyce come from?

Posted by: blah | Jul 29, 2004 11:17:03 AM

It's interesting that even the bloggers just don't get it. I'll have to forgive my local papers for their density on this matter.

Is there such a thing as a blogger? Well, people who do it a lot, and do it well, have a skill or product other people want. If you haven't learned anything from Kevin Drum's rise to prominence, wake up and smell the coffee.

Can people introduce a new technology and not understand what it might mean? Well, look at Henry Ford, who put America on wheels, but never understood that that the increasing numbers of used cars would make his model of the cheap car obsolete.

Or look at the introduction of the rifle to warfare. That took a lot of work, but the people doing it never understood that the rifle would change tactics. In our Civil War troops massed and moved as though they were still using smoothbore muskets, and the result was the bloodiest war in our history.

The core of blogging is the distributed nature of the internet. The genie is out of the bottle and, if history is any guide, will not be stuffed back in.

Posted by: serial catowner | Jul 29, 2004 11:27:52 AM

Fafblog's Wolf Blitzer Interview:

"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."

(via Drezner).

Posted by: SoCalJustice | Jul 29, 2004 12:26:29 PM

Matt, you're a smart kid who can have intersting things to say, but I think you're falling victim to that oh-so-seductive cult of insiderness. It's an easy thing to do when you're not yet 25 and you're achieving a certain level of career success. But don't fall victim to it.

Just because you have a certain amount of name recognition and get paid to write about politics, doesn't make you any more special or your insights more valid. And it's unseemly to be be dismissive of bloggers like Kos simply because they don't have journalism jobs.

All that ultimately matters with regard to blogs is whether or not they are worth reading. That comes from the quality of your ideas, not who signs your paycheck or who you've had lunch with yesterday.

Posted by: fiat lux | Jul 29, 2004 12:32:16 PM

Matt, by mode of presentation it sounds like you're trying to defend yourself as a reference while avoiding, say, Frege's sense. But you should realize the problems with that.

Lucia Joyce would have called James "father" and had that sense clearly in mind when referring to him; the local grocer might have known him as "M Joyce"; I stick with "writer" (which is indeed close to your "book writer" label). It has no bearing on physical reference, so I don't think an individual sense, especially when true, should be a cause of concern.

And so I think this post was a little nonsensical. You go after the problems of naming, though I'm not sure this is the best forum. You also try to defend your right to set everyone's sense of you, though that's impossible.

Posted by: Xavier | Jul 29, 2004 12:46:59 PM

I wonder if we'll look back and find that the moment Matt decided to label himself a "journalist" instead of a "blogger" was the moment he jumped the shark? Or maybe he thinks blogging has jumped the shark, and he's just trying to leverage his blog value into something real-world tangible and get out while he still can.

I'm not sure whether that matters much. I think journalism as a field has a lot to fear from blogging, as it severely cuts down on the demand for people who can write but don't have an area of expertise to write about. For example, who would want to read what a journalism major has to say about economics when you can easily find something by an economics Ph.D. who can write just as well?

Actually, I bet explains his shift in attitude towards blogging.

Posted by: fling93 | Jul 29, 2004 2:32:21 PM

"... the moment Matt decided to label himself a 'journalist' instead of a 'blogger'..."

I believe that would be about the time Matt was hired full-time by a professional political journal.

Suspicious timing, to be sure.

Posted by: Swopa | Jul 29, 2004 2:55:08 PM

I flicked adequate shit at Matt yesterday, so today I'll agree with him.

Many academics and respectable people have a fear and contempr for the internet. And internet source is regarded as dubious per se, without regard for content.

An extreme but real example: I was talking to a historian about a certain question of mutual interest ("Did Marco Polo Ever Go to China?). One of the experts in the field (Igor de Rachewiltz) had publisehd what I think is the definitive case that, yes, he did, and that skeptics are full of it, and posted his publication on the internet. I offered my friend the URL and she said she'd rather look it up in the library. I happened to know that she'd have to go to ILL and wait a week, since it wasn't in our library, but I didn't say anything.

This is like refusing to read paperback books, or books printed on flimsy paper. It really says a lot about the timidity and conventionality of the academic world, IMHO. (Oddly enough, medievalists took to the internet with great enthusiasm; there are tremendous resources out there).

As for myself, I am a writer who in point of fact publishes almost entirely on the internet (except for 5-7 academic publication and a lot of letters to the editor). To me, I'm just as much a writer as anyone else, but in reality, no one else thinks that way. The real issue is self-publication.

Few ever mention the advantages of internet research over dead-tree research. On the internet you can find stuff quickly that would take awhile at even a good library, and there's stuff on the net that is hard to find anywhere else. Furthermore, on the net you can publish your links and readers can immediately check for themselves, which is not true of the dead tree publications.

Posted by: Zizka | Jul 29, 2004 2:57:52 PM

Blogging is like terrorism, as Ikram points out, but in my opinion it is less effective than blowing shit up and killing innocent civilians.

Posted by: Zizka | Jul 29, 2004 3:00:02 PM

I believe that would be about the time Matt was hired full-time by a professional political journal.

Oh, I know. I was going to go off and talk about labels as well, but I figured it was getting too long for a comment.

But there's no reason to pick one label over the other, and you don't need to define yourself by your job. After all, I can label myself a blogger even though my job is embedded software engineer. So his change in choice of labels is pretty telling about journalism's attitude towards blogging.

I also find it interesting that he quickly switched from calling himself a commentator to a journalist.

Posted by: fling93 | Jul 29, 2004 3:35:06 PM

McManus: nice Woody ref

Posted by: next big thing | Jul 29, 2004 4:23:35 PM

Kaus is no different than all the other political writers at Slate who are paid by Microsoft to publish online commentary. He just writes his stuff in quick, breathless nibbles.

Hell, the whole idea of "Slate" was kind of bloggy before blogs got big.

MY, your litany of intellectual categories (legal theorist, economist, philosopher -- even, implicitly, Joyce and Crichton as story-tellers) really fails when you try to add "journalist" or "commentator" to the list.

The whole point of blogs is the way it removes the magical hoo-hah from "journalism" and "commentary."

Posted by: next big thing | Jul 29, 2004 4:34:49 PM

Zizka wrote:

"This is like refusing to read paperback books, or books printed on flimsy paper. It really says a lot about the timidity and conventionality of the academic world, IMHO."

That doesn't follow at all. The reason to be suspicious of internet sources is that any shlub can publish something on the internet. It takes considerably more effort, and interdependence with other people to publish something with dead trees.

This doesn't make the internet worthless, it just means that it has its strenghts and weaknesses and one is wise to keep these in mind.

And for that matter, depending on the field, some people don't even put to much stock in books, since compared to journal articles, anybody can write and publish a book.

The internet is simply one step further down the ladder of easily abused presentation outlets.
Convention and timidity don't enter into it, it's simply easier, and thus easier to abuse.
That's all.

Posted by: skippy | Jul 29, 2004 6:58:12 PM

That doesn't follow at all.

You weren't paying atttention. The friend would rather get the exact same source from the library, rather than read it on the Internet, even though it would be much more trouble.

Posted by: blah | Jul 29, 2004 7:10:58 PM

"You weren't paying attention".

Yes I was. He used the example to make a larger point about how academics approach the internet.

I would agree that this particular friend was being silly if, as Zizka claims, the source is in fact independently well known and well respected, but that's separate from the larger point of whether something published on the internet is, per se, as reliable as a dead tree publication.

Posted by: skippy | Jul 29, 2004 7:19:24 PM

skippy: The internet is simply one step further down the ladder of easily abused presentation outlets.

I dunno about that. While it's easier to publish online, it's just as hard to get noticed. So the Internet actually does a better job of filtering wheat from the chaff than other forms of media, mostly due to comments and links, and since it's a lot easier to check sources for an online publication than for a book. And if that's not enough, there's always online publications and the websites of print publications. And the potential is there for this capability to get better.

Whereas most other forms of media hold their audiences captive to the content-producers point of view. It's much harder for the audience to gauge what others think of the material without doing a good deal of legwork. So it's a lot easier for a book publisher or television producer to just completely ignore their critics, and most of their audience will be none the wiser. That's a pretty big reason to be suspicious of such material (or of weblogs without comments or trackbacks).

Posted by: fling93 | Jul 29, 2004 8:27:07 PM

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