- Matt goes first, and he talks about what “ego-driven reporting” might or might not be. He also reminds us that there are, in fact, as many species of blogger as there are species of journalist, or species of spider.
- Tim goes next, bringing the powerful notion of “authorship” into the mix. My favorite bit is the part where he challenges you to name a single byline other than Josh Marshall’s at Talking Points Memo. That’s actually a really powerful observation about blogging and the way it’s matured.
- Then—true to Snarkmarket form—the comments come in, almost better than the posts. Saheli unearths a strain of deep feeling in Ambinder’s post (which I’m going to come back to); Lois reminds us that blogging, for all its freedom, imposes deep constraints of its own. It demands, for instance, that you be the same person day-to-day—that you use the same voice.
Now it’s my turn, and I’m going to keep it short.
I’m with Saheli; it was this graf of Ambinder’s that seemed to carry the meat of his message (emphasis mine):
All I will say here is that the mere fact that online reporters feel they must participate in endless discussions about these subjects is something new, a consequence of the medium, and is one reason why it can be so exhausting to do primarily web journalism. The feedback loop is relentless, punishing and is predicated on the assumption that the reporter’s motivation is wrong. Unfortunately, the standard for defining oneself as a web journalist depends upon establishing a certain credibility with a particular audience of critics. Responding to complaints about content and structure and bias is part of the way one establishes that credibility.
At first I thought it was maybe a stock and flow thing. You know:
Flow is a treadmill, and you can’t spend all of your time running on the treadmill. Well, you can. But then one day you’ll get off and look around and go: Oh man. I’ve got nothing here.
There’s exhaustion in Ambinder’s description, right? There’s relentlessness. So maybe Ambinder is just toggling back to stock.
But no—I think it’s something very different. Actually, Ambinder is describing the exhaustion endemic to a very particular species of blogging (and this is something Matt talked about, too): political blogging. He’s describing the constant background radiation of criticism that characterizes that universe. He’s describing a feedback loop that doesn’t energize, as it ought to—instead, it saps away.
So here’s where I’m going to plant my little flag:
I think Marc Ambinder totally made the right choice, and not a moment too soon, because I think blogging in a Thunderdome of criticism is a really bad idea. I think it erodes the soul, and I think it’s probably not something that a person should do.
There’s a line of thinking that says the whole point of blogging is to, you know, engage with The People Out There. (Especially Perhaps If They Are Vehement Critics.) I think that line of thinking is wrong. I think a blog at its best is a dinner party, and if you are the guy who shouts me down whenever I rise to speak, who questions my very motives for throwing this party in the first place: you are not invited.
Now, happily, it’s a special kind of dinner party. Anyone can listen in, and the front door is ajar. Come to think of it, there’s probably always an extra place set, Elijah-style. But even so: it’s a space that belongs to its authors, and they set its rules. Maybe that’s easier said than done when you’re blogging about the Tea Party… but I don’t know. There’s this little red delete button next to every comment here on the WordPress admin screen, and it’s pretty easy to click.
There’s this great chat between Oprah (yes) and Maya Angelou (yes!) that I read many years ago, and it’s always stuck with me:
Oprah: And you also don’t allow anybody to say anything negative about anybody while in your home.
Maya: That’s right.
Oprah: I’ve seen you put people out of your house for telling a racist joke! And you are not the least bit embarrassed about disrupting the whole room.
Maya: I believe that a negative statement is poison. The air between you and me is filled with sounds and images. If that were not so, how is it that I can turn on a television right now and see what’s happening in New York? That means sounds and images are in the air, crowded, jammed up like bats. And Oprah, I’m convinced that the negative has power. It lives. And if you allow it to perch in your house, in your mind, in your life, it can take you over. So when the rude or cruel thing is said—the lambasting, the gay bashing, the hate—I say, “Take it all out of my house!” Those negative words climb into the woodwork and into the furniture, and the next thing you know they’ll be on my skin.
So, this is all to say that I’d love to see Ambinder return to blogging sometime—maybe in an environment that’s more Maya (or more scenius) than Thunderdome. (Surely such a thing could come to pass at The Atlantic…)
And it is also all to say, wow. We’re lucky ones over here.