Last week, Ta-Nehisi Coates posted a video of R&B singer Jerry Butler, who was also called “The Iceman.” “He is, bar none, my favorite singer ever,” TNC wrote. And: “My Moms loved Jerry Butler. Hearing him softly murder this classic [“Your Precious Love”] reminds me of sitting in the passenger seat of her silver Volkswagen Rabbit.”
I don’t have any comparable childhood associations with TNC’s writing. But gosh — there are few people writing today who can just absolutely gut you the way he can. I think “Iceman” should be Ta-Nehisi’s new nickname.
Incredible journalism is like incredible baby-making–it starts with passion. The guy combing through the city budgets because it’s his job, isn’t the same as the guy combing through them because it keeps him up at night, because he thinks about it when he shouldn’t be. Institutions support that passion–but they don’t create it. When my old Howard buddy was killed by the cops, it was all I could think about, and it was all I wanted to write about. And I did it almost for free, because it helped me sleep at night. I was burning to get it down. I deeply suspect that the bloggers you love, and the reporters you love, are similarly on fire inside.
I don’t have a strict allegiance to “journalism,” as much as I have one to the written word. Perhaps there’s no difference. But my point is that to the extent blogging makes it possible for more people who are “on fire” to employ the written word, than it’s good for the written word. It’s true that it creates a situation in which anyone, for $15 a month, can say their piece. But I have more faith in the market of ideas, than in a brain-trust of editors, to separate the wheat from the chafe.
Moreover, while there are an incredible number of bloggers out there, with no institutional support, who suck. There are a truly shocking number of writers, who have all the institutional support in the world, and not only suck, but bring nothing save cynicism, incuriousity, and cold poisoned hearts. And the institutions enable them. To the extent that blogging exposes these frauds, I am all in.