A Bit of Weekend Blogging Nostalgia

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Here is Jia Tolentino on the slow death of blogging:

Blogging, that much-maligned pastime, is gradually but surely disappearing from the Internet, and so, consequently, is a lot of online freedom and fun. Before I came to The New Yorker, my only professional writing experience was at blogs, places where a piece like this one, about disappearing blogs, would’ve been either eighty-five words or three thousand, and the lede would have been abrupt and vividly unprofessional, like a friend grabbing you by the collar at a bar.

….Blogs are necessarily idiosyncratic, entirely about sensibility: they can only be run by workhorses who are creative enough to amuse themselves and distinct enough to hook an audience, and they tend to publish like-minded writers, who work more on the principle of personal obsession than pay. The result is editorial latitude to be obscure and silly and particular, but the finances are increasingly hard to sustain; media consumption is controlled these days by centralized tech platforms—Facebook, Twitter—whose algorithms favor what is viral, newsy, reactionary, easily decontextualized, and of general appeal.

Andrew Sullivan is likewise nostalgic:

What was precious about it was its simple integrity: A writer gets to explore her craft and develop her own audience. We weren’t in it for the money or the clicks or the followers. We were in it for the core experience shared between a writer and a reader — and the enormous freedom that removing the editorial gatekeepers unlocked. It was a brief period, but an alive one, and it was largely lost — or abandoned — because of a major failure of nerve on the part of most print media.

….I saw when the goal across the media shifted from simply writing what you believed, however idiosyncratically, to writing more and more and more, so that the sheer volume of traffic might save the economics of web journalism. The fire-hydrant stream of “content” (“writing” was so passé) was so overwhelming that no single editor could manage it, no group of writers could give it character, and no single reader could even begin to read it all. Maybe the web made this inevitable. But it didn’t make the dissipation of so much heritage any less agonizing to watch.

All of this is true, but I’d add something else: for me, the best part of the “golden age” of blogging was interacting with other bloggers. That was a helluva lot of fun. At its worst, sure, it was a dorm room bull session: interesting for the participants, but ultimately pretty shallow. But at its best it was vibrant, real conversation, the exact opposite of the robotic garbage that infests cable news. It was genuine. It changed a few minds here and there. And it persuaded lots of people that ordinary writers could be every bit as good as the high-priced columnists at the Times or the Post—even as half our posts were stimulated by disagreement with one of these guys. (And lest we forget, yes, they were mostly guys back then. Not everything about the golden age was great.)

That’s largely gone. There are plenty of blogs left, but most of them have become as professionalized as the columnists we used to sneer at. That means other bloggers are rarely even linked to these days, let alone argued with. That would be unprofessional!

I am lucky beyond belief. I took to blogging almost instantly. (As my old college roommate once said to me, “I can’t think of a better pairing of man and medium.”) The particular kind of blogging I like is general purpose and singular. That is, I want to be able to write about anything, and I want to do it on my own, not as part of a group. There are very few blogs like that left, but somehow I’ve managed to hang on. It started at the Washington Monthly, where Paul Glastris let me do whatever I wanted for many years, and then continued over the past decade right here, where Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery have rather astoundingly allowed me to keep doing whatever I want.

I suppose it’s pretty obvious that I’m obsessed with blogging. Why else would I spend time writing stuff like this on a beautiful weekend morning? But I do miss the back-and-forth with other bloggers. That’s moved on to Twitter—which I think is better than many people give it credit for—and I don’t want to resurrect it. It would be like building a gothic cathedral in the 21st century: obviously fake, not an organic part of the times. But it was fun while it lasted.

POSTSCRIPT: I should add that reports of blogging’s demise are a little exaggerated. There are still plenty of great blogs around. Obviously what’s great for you and what’s great for me are quite different, and I don’t read as many blogs as I used to. Still, there are several dozen on my more-or-less-daily reading list. Some I read more religiously than others, and some aren’t really blogs at all. I just think of them that way because they’re in my RSS reader. Some post every day, some post about once a month. Some are easy to get to, others are a pain in the ass. Most of them I’ve been following for more than a decade, others I just started last month. In alphabetical order, here they are:

ACA Signups (Charles Gaba)
Alicublog (Roy Edroso)
Andrew Gelman
Balloon Juice (John Cole and gang)
Beat the Press (Dean Baker)
Brad DeLong
Charlie’s Diary (Charles Stross)
The Corner
Crooked Timber
Daily Howler (Bob Somerby)
Dan Drezner
Early Warning (Stuart Staniford)
Economist’s View (Mark Thoma)
Election Law Blog (Rick Hasen)
Empty Wheel (Marcy Wheeler)
Hullabaloo (Digby)
The Intercept
Jared Bernstein
Jim Pethokoukis
Jonathan Bernstein
Josh Marshall
MaddowBlog (Steve Benen)
Marginal Revolution (Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok)
Megan McArdle
Michael Hiltzik
Modeled Behavior (Adam Ozimek)
Monkey Cage
Mother Jones
New Republic
New York Magazine
Paul Krugman
Plum Line (Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman)
Political Wire (Taegan Goddard)
Reality-Based Community (Mark Kleiman & Co.)
Real Time Economics
The Switch
The Upshot
Volokh Conspiracy
Washington Monthly (Nancy LeTourneau and others)
xpostfactoid (Andrew Sprung)


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