Here's an interesting article, though not so much for what it has to say
about blogging as a technology. Instead, it shows how blogging, at least
the public's perception of blogging, has been co-opted by a particular
kind of user for a particular use. Early blogs may have been "day in the
life of" narratives, the next incarnation may have been catalogs or
groups of links to other blogs, but the current generation seems to be
political talk, and vituperative political talk at that--actions and
So, what comes next. Or will people simply associate blogging with that
kind of use and abandon it for some other technology instead of
re-adapting it to some other use?
May 15, 2005
Blogging, as in Slogging
By David Greenberg
"YOU should have a blog."
Apparently I push my opinions on my friends rather aggressively, because
I often hear this remark.
Last week, I had my chance. My wife and I agreed to be "guest bloggers"
- the online equivalent of what David Brenner used to do for Johnny
Carson - for Dan Drezner, a political scientist at the University of
Chicago, who runs a popular libertarian-conservative blog,
How hard could blogging be? You roll out of bed, turn on your computer,
scan the headlines, think up some clever analysis while brushing your
teeth, type it onto your site and you're off.
But as I discovered, blogging is no longer for amateurs or the faint of
heart. Blogging - if it's done well - has evolved into an all-consuming
Last Sunday, after a cup of coffee, I made my first offering, a smart
critique, I thought, of an article about liberal politics in The New
York Review of Books by Thomas Frank, the author of "What's the Matter
I checked back a while later. There were, I think, three responses.
Later, another post generated eight replies. Another, two. A couple got
I checked the responses to Dan's posts. He seemed to average about 50.
Sure, my wife, Suzanne, had been blogging for weeks on her own site,
democracyarsenal.org <http://www.democracyarsenal.org>, but still how
was she getting 12, 19, even 34 replies?
I started to worry. It wasn't just my ego. I didn't want to send Dan's
robust traffic numbers into a downward plunge.
As I thought about what else to opine about, I started to see that
blogging wasn't as easy as it looked. Who were these people, blogging on
other sites, who so confidently tossed about obscure minutiae relating
to North Korea's nuclear program or President Bush's proposed revisions
to Social Security benefits? Where did they find the time? (To say
nothing of the readers.)
Serious bloggers, I realized, aggressively report a pet issue, updating
their sites throughout the day. They scavenge the Internet for every
shard of information on a hot topic, like John R. Bolton's chances of
becoming ambassador to the United Nations or Tom DeLay's ethical troubles.
Since I wasn't going to make myself expert on these subjects anytime
soon, I decided to write about what I knew, history.
On Tuesday, I posted a link to a piece I'd written for the online
magazine Slate, faulting President Bush for his remarks criticizing the
1945 Yalta agreement, in which he said that Europe was unjustly carved
up by Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin.
This time I got a lot of responses - abusive ones. Sample: "Anyone who
thinks its 'ugly' to point out what was done to millions of people at
Yalta is a moral cretin."
I posted again to clarify my point - that the Yalta agreement wasn't
what consigned Eastern Europe to Soviet oppression. But I wasn't looking
forward to the next fusillade of invective.
I did have sympathy for the audience. They expected their usual diet of
conservative commentary. Instead, they got a liberal foreign policy
expert (Suzanne) and a liberal historian linking to Arts & Letters Daily
(aldaily.com <http://aldaily.com>) and the History News Network (hnn.us).
One Dreznerite vilified me for linking to a piece by the liberal
journalist Joe Conason ("Why on earth would you think that
gutter-dwelling hack would have any credibility on this blog?").
At one point, Dan took time out from real surfing in Hawaii to post a
note informing readers that he had two liberals subbing for him. He must
have been watching the train wreck on his beloved blog with horror.
I posted an item thanking readers for their indulgence.
"Could you please stop with these silly remarks about how you 'liberals'
have to deal with Dan's 'conservative' readers?" came the reply. "I'm
liberal, and I regularly read Dan's blog."
As I checked other sites for ideas, I now realized that I didn't need
only new information. I needed a gimmick - a motif or a running joke
that would keep the blog rolling all week. All of a sudden, I was
reading other blogs, not for what they had to say, but for how they said
The best bloggers develop hobbyhorses, shticks and catchphrases that
they put into wider circulation. Creating your own idiosyncratic set of
villains to skewer and theories to promote - while keeping readers
interested - requires as much talent as sculpting a magazine feature or
a taut op-ed piece.
I'd always enjoyed kausfiles.com <http://kausfiles.com>, for example,
but I had taken for granted the way my friend Mickey Kaus paced his
entries and mixed his news topics (Social Security) with personal
obsessions (Jonathan Klein, the CNN honcho).
I knew I wasn't going to master the art in my few remaining days. And
the vicious replies were wearing me down. I've gotten nasty responses to
my articles before, but blogging is somehow more personal.
When Dan Drezner guest-blogged at the Washington Monthly site, one
reader wished bodily harm on his family members. I found the blood lust
jarring - especially when it started arriving in bulk, daily. (Suzanne
cheerfully said, "Oh, just ignore them!" and kept posting thousand-word
items by night.)
It's not that the readers were dim. Some forced me to refine or clarify
my arguments. But the responses certainly got reductive, very quickly.
And for all the individuality that blogs are supposed to offer, there
was an amazing amount of groupthink - since some of them were getting
their talking points from ... other blogs.
By the end of the week, with other deadlines looming and my patience
exhausted, I began to post less and less. There was a piece for Slate
due, a book chapter to finish, my baby boy, Leo, to entertain and a
piece to write for the Week in Review.
I wasn't the only newcomer to blogging last week. On the ballyhooed
"Huffington Post," Gary Hart, Walter Cronkite and David Mamet dipped
their toes in the blogosphere as well.
I don't know how they'll fare, but I doubt that celebrity will attract
readers for long. To succeed in blogging you need to understand it's a
craft, with its own tricks of the trade. You need a thick skin. And you
must put your life on hold to feed an electronic black hole.
What else did I learn by sitting in for Dan Drezner? That I'm not cut
out for blogging.
David Greenberg teaches at Rutgers University and is the author of
"Nixon's Shadow: The History of an Image."