Thursday, February 05, 2004

The spurious rise of the non-anonymous blogger

Apropos of the current discussion regarding the anonymity of bloggers, Daniel Oppenheimer of the Valley Advocate, an alternative weekly in western Massachusetts, interviewed me recently and published the story today, complete with photo:
One Nation, Under Blog
Democracy, fascism, killer whales and the blogosphere

It's a pretty thorough (and flattering) piece, though there is one minor factual error: I actually left MSNBC in late summer of 2000, and tried freelancing through the summer of 2001, after Fiona was born, at which point I realized it was fruitless and reverted to just writing books. I turned to blogging early last year as an outlet for my remaining energies. I'm also a little sorry I cut loose my tendencies toward, eh, colorful language, but what the hey.

In any event, the interview underscores for me the real silliness of the whole debate over the anonymity of certain bloggers, such as Atrios, raised by one of the most ridiculous pieces Salon has ever run, Christopher Farah's recent "The Fix" piece.

It was bad enough that Farah couldn't even figure out that Atrios' "Maria" post was a hilarious satire; on top of that, he was so self-absorbedly oblivious that he didn't understand that Greg Beato was satirizing his own worldview by calling anonymous bloggers "a bunch of misguided souls who don't understand that the whole point of blogging is self-promotion." (Chortle.)

Chiming in, Andrew Sullivan -- in the wake of his recent NPR appearance with Atrios, in which he attacked Atrios for his anonymity, which according to he and other right-wing clowns is somehow "against the rules of blogging" (wha-?) -- chimes in on his blog: "Of course, Atrios is immune from personal attacks because he's anonymous." Which is absurd, of course; Atrios is attacked personally all the time (indeed, by people like Sullivan), and knowledge of his actual identity (he's just a normal guy who lives in Philly) wouldn't alter their ability to do so. What, is Sullivan going to base his attacks by calling him a "substitute gym teacher" or something? Of course, that would match the usual quality of Sullivan's arguments, but still ...

Meanwhile the hapless Jonah Goldberg also weighs in:
About time someone else complained about anonymous blogging. Instapundit and myslef were alone for a long time (I'm sure others complained too, I just never heard about it).

Well, if Instapundit is complaining about anonymous bloggers, then why does he include so many of them on his blogroll? Especially those who engage in outrageous threats against other bloggers? Or is it just the wrong kind of anonymous bloggers -- like, the ones who don't criticize Insty? (Meanwhile, of course, it's worth recalling that Jonah's mom was famous for anonymously promoting certain scandals behind the scenes, until she became non-anonymous when the value of self-promotion became obvious.)

At Atrios' comments, Melissa O (goodness, she's anonymous too!) nailed the point exactly:
Atrios gets his credibility from the place you're supposed to get his credibility--from the minds of the people who read him, check whether what he says is true or insightful, and decide in the affirmative.

The idea that credibility comes from the passive acceptance of an institutional imprimatur is PROFOUNDLY DYSFUNCTIONAL. It is exemplary of eveything that is wrong with our society today. It may sometimes be the case that, for example, a news organization gained corporate ascendancy as a result of building its credibility, but corporate dominance is not a stand-in for credibility.


It is true that Atrios isn't putting his livelihood on the line every time he publishes. And maybe it's too bad that professional journalists have to do things they don't want or like to do in order to stay in business. But if Atrios were writing garbage, no one would read him. That's all there is to it.

In the same thread, I seconded Melissa's notion:
Ultimately your credibility comes not from your radio appearances or where your work is published (whether you're a journalist or not) but the quality of what you write.

This in reality is as true of published journalism as it is of blogging.

Unfortunately, the field of journalism is crowded with people who think that credibility is something you gain by who you are and who you write for. This means always treading carefully around the people who can help you get ahead.

Blogging -- honest, non-self-promotional blogging -- is risky for a journalist if he's worried about getting ahead, because inevitably you're going to piss someone off. I gave up worrying about that when I started blogging. And ya know what? My work has benefitted from it, IMHO.

I haven't gotten much in the way of publishing gigs (and hey, Mr. Farah, that includes Salon, where I used to write all the time; guess non-anonymous blogging isn't all that hot an idea) -- but I'm writing about the things that I think are important, and I'm publishing them, even if my audience is pretty limited. It's a good deal more satisfying.

But for guys like Sullivan -- and obviously, Chris Farah too -- the idea of any kind of journalism itself is inseparable from self-promotion. Which is why their work is so fundamentally dishonest and corrupt.

Sad to say, that attitude is endemic to the journalism profession these days.

[This] is why blogs are becoming as important as they are -- traditionalist hissy fits notwithstanding.

Remember, the whole significance of blogs is the fact that they have democratized the dissemination of information, going around the increasingly corporatist filters of institutional journalism. This effectively reduces the self-importance of the egos that have come to dominate journalism in the past decade or more. Everybody, even the "somebodies," becomes essentially nobodies in the blogosphere. What counts is what you write -- nothing else.

Sullywatch makes a pointed response to Sullivan on this, while World O'Crap also responds with a couple of typically hilarious posts, the first deconstructing the whole "anonyblogger" argument, and the second rather brilliantly satirizing it.

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