Ah, metablogging! Is there anything so sweet?
No, not metablogging, this metablogging.
Andrew Sullivan, ornery individualist journablogger extraordinaire, is holding court on weblogs over in Slate’s Webhead dialogue this week, with Kurt Andersen of the late, lamented set up to play straightman. It’s an interesting discussion thus far, and one that is sure to provoke much gnashing of teeth throughout the Blogosphere.
Meryl has beaten me to the punch by drawing first blood against the Slate Two, so much of my commentary is, in fact, going to be meta-meta-blogging (which of course means its twice as fun!).
Sullivan wastes no time, bashing blogosphere patron saint Rebecca Blood in his very first paragraph. Well, technically he bashes her book in the first paragraph, and only bashes her personally in the second paragraph, but close enough.
Sullivan: “Rebecca Blood, who wrote one book and introduces the other, oozes alternative-weekly, grass-roots-loving piety. Her ground-breaking definition of a blog is: “a coffeehouse conversation in text, with references as required.” Why does the word “coffeehouse” send me running for the exits? Worse, she can write earnestly about a Weblog “community.” Aaagghh”
Yourish: “Rebecca can write earnestly about weblogging communities because so many of them exist. A quick look around the Internet will show that. Sullivan is a perfect example of the kind of blogger that permeates the blogosphere these days: Ignorant, unknowledgeable about anything save his narrow little slice of blogdom (and that not much), yet thinking that he has been informed from on high as to exactly what constitutes blogging. It is exactly the thing that drives me crazy whenever I read something like it on any blogger’s site. Here’s a clue, people: There are thousands of blogs out there, and just as there is no one way to write a book, no single person has the claim to the “right” way to write a blog.”
Bear: Advantage, Yourish! Sullivan is at his worst (and, occasionally, best) when throwing out snarky, from the hip insults just-because-he-can, and here they overwhelm any semblance of a point he might have had. The right point to emphasize was Meryl’s: that there’s no one right way to blog, there’s a million right ways. If Rebecca claimed to have the One Truth Path, then she deserves what she gets (I sincerely doubt this, but having not read her book, I can’t say). But regardless, Sullivan blows it; instead of taking the rational route of simply pointing out the advantages of his own favorite mode of blogging (the ornery individualist), he overshoots and assumes that because he doesn’t value community-style blogging, it must be worthless. In his own words: “Aaagghh!”
Next round: Does Sullivan still not get the linky thing?
Sullivan: “The critical language of blogging—the hypertext links to other Web pages, for example—cannot even be translated into book form”
Yourish: “Speaking of linking: You don’t get blogs, gentlemen. You refer only to the professional journalists or celebrity bloggers; you link only to the professional journalists or celebrity bloggers (hands up, anyone out there who can find a link to Rebecca’s website or either book in that Slate piece); you talk with respect only of professional journalists, celebrity bloggers, and Glenn Reynolds; and you denigrate the rest of the bloggers who do get blogging, and who’ve been getting it for longer than you.”
Bear: Advantage, Yourish! Not linking to Rebecca— one of the main focuses of their discussion thus far — was pretty inexcusable. And Sullivan’s focus on celebrity bloggers (“Moby has one, and so does Michael Barone”) is, on the whole, tiresome. And that’s from somebody who likes Moby. Update: gets results! Slate’s Chris Suellentrop emailed Meryl to let her know they were adding links for Rebecca’s site to the original article — and they have now appeared! Actual Bloggers: 1 Guys Talking About Bloggers: 0 !
Not to be outdone, Andersen tries to match Sullivan, but I don’t think he’s quite as cut out for this line of work:
Andersen:”Year-rounders in a seaside resort who both need and mock the tourists and ooze alternative-weekly, grass-roots-loving piety. Well, yes; exactly. And that is a function of geography: The three capitals of Coffeehouse America are San Francisco and Seattle, not coincidentally the epicenters of the digital revolution, and Cambridge, where The Weblog Handbook and We’ve Got Blog were published. So, agreed: We don’t need to say much more about either of these books, which seem pretty deeply unnecessary, as you suggest. And so much less interesting than the phenomenon they aim to explain and exploit. “
Yourish: “Let’s see. San Francisco and Seattle, those damned lefty cities, two “deeply unnecessary” books…And you’re calling bloggers smug?”
Bear: Advantage, Yourish — but with points off for missing the opportunity to bash Andersen for his bizarre focus on the cities of publication of the two books in question. “that is a function of geography”? Ha-what? It’s unclear to me what might reflect a deeper lack of understanding about such a fundamental aspect of the Blogosphere (its planetary, distance-removing nature) than to find meaning in where the publishers of books about it happen to have their offices.
All that said, the Slate discussion is not without entertainment value, and Sullivan does raise some good points. He continues to be the Blogosphere’s best defender, admirably, of the position which I hold dear: that every blog is an island unto its owner, to do with as they please, and that efforts to establish ‘community standards’ should be pilloried and mocked wherever they may be found. And the pair get many of blogging’s other salient benefits right: the enjoyable and useful practice of fact-checking Big Journalism; the unmediated, direct feel of even professional journalists’ blogging; and the immediacy of blogs that, as Sullivan rightly points out, is both their strength and weakness when it comes to reporting (and punditizing) on the day’s news.
Meryl closed her post by wishing that “the next time Slate wants to have a discussion on blogs, they’ll use two people who have an understanding of the medium.” I think that’s a tad harsh — Sullivan, at least, understands one form of the medium better than practically anybody else. But Slate should have provided a counterweight to his journablogging heavyweight status. Picking a non-journalist, lesser known blogger to complete a trifecta with Andersen and Sullivan would have made the discussion deeply more interesting.
Oh, and memo to Jacob Weisberg: there’s plenty of good choices, but if you’d like me to do it, feel free to call my office. I work cheap.