Thursday, July 10, 2008

Blog Away, Brothers and Sisters

I hadn't realized it, but I have been blogging for decades. I used to write a column called "Pepper on the Side" for the Queens Post, a weekly newspaper in New York. I was 22 years old, and because I was the editor, there was no one but myself to screen or edit my columns. My own youthful judgment was final. That circumstance, aside from the technical way my so-called pearls of youthful wisdom were delivered was, by any definition in today's parlance, a blog. Frankly, I prefer the old fashioned definition of such compositions. Essay sounds a lot classier.

In these blogs of mine, like the blogs of today, I was able to rant, bluster, declaim, fulminate, rave, scold, and vociferate. I reveled in the illusion of my own importance. I was speaking my mind, telling it as it is, getting my point across, justifying my arguments against all the perceived injustices of the world, rattling my sword against other people's supposed obtuseness and perceived ignorance.

Writing these blogs made me feel all-powerful, righteous, important, and seeing my name in bold-face, my by-line, the me of me, assured me that I was somebody special, a legend in my own mind. I particularly remember one column in which I reviewed Ernest Hemingway's Across the River and Into the Trees. I killed it, demolished it. Me, a recent NYU graduate English major so full of myself, the balloon of my ego bloated to near bursting, daring to criticize as a failing old hack one of the great American writers of the twentieth century. Alright it wasn't his best book by far, but who the hell was this little schmuck with a typewriter to call to account one of my great all time champion fiction writers?

To be honest, and all bloggers believe in their honesty, integrity, and superior wisdom, I am still at it, blogging away, making copious use of the first person pronoun with embarrassing frequency while the air inside of my ego balloon could be getting stale with overuse and repetition. (Please discount the false modesty and self-deprecation since I still believe absolutely in the wisdom I am retailing.)

And what I am retailing today is the obvious truth that anyone with a by-line, whether in print, on television or on the Internet fits this new definition of a blogger. Many bloggers are free agents. They answer to no one but themselves... like yours truly. But many bloggers are part of a blogger collective, an umbrella blogging medium, like a newspaper, for example, or a magazine, or a website. These collectives have an overall bias and point of view, some clearly stated and others more subtle, and are even willing to showcase blogs that seem contrary to the bias of the enterprise. They are designed to stimulate negative comments from the base, their like minded community.

A case in point might be The New York Times, which I have read daily, except when it could not be obtained, since I was eight years old. Years ago the Times, except for their columnists, had a mere smattering of by-lines which served as a reward for a story well done meaning one that provided all the facts, the what, when, where and who, of classic journalism in a non-personal, non-opinionated, neutral way, like a dispassionate human camera eye.

Today the Times is a blogging collective with most writers by-lined and offering their personal spin on every story, all of them operating within the parameters of their collective zeitgeist. To illustrate their idea of alleged impartiality designed to burnish their reputation, the editors have offered counter bloggers like David Brooks and William Kristol to blog their own opinions. These offerings, as I pointed out earlier, provide a foil to their base, which, for the most part, expresses itself in the carefully chosen "Letters to the Editor" segment.

As a committed centrist, I use the Times as an example of the way blogging has changed the dynamics of information dispersal. The Times, after all, must operate under the terms of their long standing reputation of dispensing "All the News That's Fit to Print," which is their hallowed logo. Unfortunately, their left bias is so pronounced that, to a seasoned observer, they are having a tough time trying to fit their reportage into their mission statement. It makes me wonder whether their blinkered leftward march is exacerbating its decline, although the evidence of the newspaper industry's sinking economic fortunes seems to have more to do with our changing world than the political spin of content.

Of course, all attempts at perceived neutrality are equally evident where right bias is the theme of the umbrella collective. At times the bias is so self-evident and obvious that one can spot it instantly. It doesn't take a genius to see the difference between Fox News and CNN, for example. News junkies, like myself, can see the marketing ploy involved in the way the visual blogs are positioned. Bill O'Reilly goes for the fed up conservative gang. Lou Dobbs goes for the fed-ups on all sides of the political continuum. Larry King fishes for whatever is running in the stream. What they're doing is trolling for your eyeballs, monetizing their demographics.

Blogging in general gets its momentum from the fed-ups looking for like minded fed-ups. The Bush fed-ups are a rich target audience, good for another few months at least. Just think of what's coming when the Obama and McCain fed-ups start blogging their hearts out.

Note that I have morphed from the point of view of the blogger and his or her motives and satisfactions to the consumer of all this cornucopia of blogging spawned by the information revolution and the pervasive culture of the Internet. On balance, all this blogging is a good thing. People who blog feel good about themselves, living with the idea that some people might be actually tuning in. Blogging may also encourage literacy and improve the way ideas are expressed. Indeed, blogging may be good for your physical and mental health as well, unplugging emotions, releasing frustrations.

Bloggers believe they are being heard or read, that they have a chance to get things off their chest, to hawk their beliefs and opinions and emphasize their uniqueness and individuality. They might even be changing deep and heartfelt opinions, although that is probably a long shot.

Blogging is fast becoming a spectator sport as well as bloggers clash with bloggers. It used to be that blogging was exclusive to the print and television medium, a kind of one way street. With the Internet, bloggers can talk back. Media exclusivity is disappearing. Big Brother can no longer blog on a one way screen.

On the negative side, blogging may become so ubiquitous that cyberspace may be likened to a crowded restaurant where nobody hears anybody.

Many still earn their living blogging in newspapers, magazines, television, and, to some extent, on the Internet. The dilution process may change that equation, as the army of unemployed former journalists grow exponentially and turn to blogging to exhibit their wares. Of course, there will always be bloggers who, for whatever reason, collect a wide audience and, hopefully, find a way for their popularity to be monetized.

Bottom line. Blog away, brother or sister. Somebody out there may be reading, watching and listening and, after all, it's nice to be noticed.

Warren Adler is the author of 30 novels including The War of the Roses and his latest, Funny Boys.


Anonymous said...

It was fascinating to hear the thoughts of an experienced published author who certainly has no need to blog. As someone on way way the other side of the fence, can I add that blogging is beginning to be seen as an entirely seperate artform, a genre that needs to be taken seriously, in that it is has the potential for complete independance and a huge audience.

Warren Adler said...

Good point. Thanks for the comment.


It's always great to get a well thought out opinion mixed with a little humor, something I think is overlooked many times when constructing or informing about blogs. For the "blog spectators", a good laugh is sometimes a much needed remedy for a bad day...and sometimes THAT'S the point.

Warren Adler said...

Thanks for the comment. Glad you liked the piece.