Tuesday, February 01, 2005

This Blog and That

Today one of the better-known bloggers out there, Andrew Sullivan, announced he was scaling back The Dish to an occasional post so that he could devote time to writing a book, traveling in Europe, and generally, I guess, having a life. Interestingly, Kevin Drum of Political Animal interpreted this announcement as as an abandonment of the blogosphere. Since Kevin also did a post this week suggesting that any true blog should include comment hosting, I guess it's time to wade into the perilous topic of blogospheric standards.

First, there is the question of posting frequency. Most of the estimated two million bloggers out there obviously have day jobs, mostly with employers who don't think they have any obligation to subsidize commentary on Social Security or Iraq. Presumably most of these bloggers also have some sort of personal life away from their laptops; indeed, the number of political bloggers who comment regularly on sporting events indicates that they are stealing a few hours away from their civic duties to watch SportsCenter.

Personally, my goal is to do a post a day, sometimes more, but my day-job work load is pretty brutal, and my domestic life is about as low-maintenance and predictable as The Thirty Years War. Some of you who follow the DLC (with interest or with trepidation, as the case may be) may have noticed that we recently changed our New Dem Daily into a slightly less regular commentary product called the New Dem Dispatch. The Daily was my responsibility for more than four years; I wrote well over a thousand op-ed length pieces on a daily deadline. But we recently made a decision that (a) it isn't really necessary for the DLC to comment on every sparrow that falls to the ground, and (b) with two unofficial blogs, this one and The Moose, there would be some commentary from a NewDem perspective available all the time to friends, enemies and insomniacs. This gives me a bit more time to blog, but the question remains: how often is enough?

Now, blogging only when you only have something compelling to say and the time to say it coherently is not good for traffic. But it is good for the overall quality of choices available in the blogosphere. One of my personal favorites, Mark Schmitt's The Decembrist, is not terribly regular, but it adds value to political debate every time he hits the post button.

Don't get me wrong: There are a number of high-profile blogs, some done by individuals, some by groups, that make a point of high frequency. Those are the ones I visit when political news is breaking, because I know Political Animal and Tapped, just to cite two, will have something to say that goes much deeper than CNN.

And still others are useful to follow one ongoing subject in great detail.
Despite the blog's general unfriendliness to my particular point of view, DailyKos was essential in keeping up with Congressional races last year. And Lord knows anybody who's following the Social Security debate needs to regularly read Josh Marshall, who has been equally dedicated to in-depth coverage of a lot of other issues (especially the run-up to the Iraq war) over the last few years.

The rather obvious point is that different blogs serve different needs, and the idea that they need to follow any particular model or format strikes me as missing the whole point of the medium.

That brings me to the issue of comment hosting. A lot of readers have let me know they are offended this blog does not accomodate comments. And Kevin Drum, in the post linked to above, appears to think it's essential to the "self-correcting" nature of the blogosphere, and that failure to include comments indicates a desire to suppress dissenting views.

My prejudice--and that's what it is--against comment threads goes back to the pre-blogospheric era, when internet political chat was dominated by what we now call "freepers." I used to do a regular column for an e-zine called IntellectualCapital that posted comments after every article. It didn't matter what I wrote about; within two comments the threads invariably degenerated into an intra-libertarian food fight over slavery-as-a-contract or privatizing the sidewalks or Ayn Rand's Epistle to the Californians, or whatever. Within a few months, I just stopped reading them altogether.

Obviously today's blogs, especially those of the left and center-left, are very different, but I try to read other blogs' comments, and in many cases, they, too, quickly morph beyond the topic at hand into intramural fights and insults and arcana. Does all this stuff (much of it, I suspect, written by people with their own blogs) serve a public service? Sure, no question about it. Does every blog have to function as a public utility? I dunno. Maybe David Brooks was right when he proposed a "Gresham's Law of Punditry," whereby the more people who are talking, the more there is to say. But there are hardly that many limits on talk in the blogosphere.

And then, of course, there is the "troll" problem with comment hosting--the tendency of people--sometimes a lot of people--to come into the conversation merely to throw bricks. I gather from reading blogs like Kos that this is a constant headache, and that there are very complicated steps they take to cut down on it (as a self-administered blog, NewDonkey is ignorant and incapable of such counter-measures).

But I do know this: there are a lot of extremely opinionated, angry people out there, on both the political Left and Right, who really hate the DLC and probably hate me; the former think we are orchestrating a Corporate Conspiracy to Create A One-Party State, while the latter think we are crypto-Marxists who are repackaging State Socialism and Baby-Killing for the middle-class (all these critics share a powerful disinclination to read what we actually say, and a hilarious belief that we exercise huge, occult power behind the scenes as a sort of Centrist Opus Dei). Do I want to publicize these ignorant and insulting views? Hell, no. Does this mean I am trying to "stifle dissent" or hide the fact that a lot of people don't like what I say, or more often, who they think I am? No, I'm telling you about it right now.

As for the "self-correcting" function of comment hosting: when it comes to factual errors, I hope anybody who catches me in one will email me, and if their argument has merit, I will correct the post by editing if it's a typo or minor error or an update if it's more serious. If you inform me of an error and I don't react, then by all means, blast my ass on your own blog or on the comment thread of somebody else's, and it's as likely to get noticed as a comment buried at the bottom of some thread on NewDonkey.

Believe me, I know I could get more traffic and props if I turned this thing into a wide-open forum, or posted like a rat in heat. But I ain't got the time, and don't have the stamina to do much more than trying to say something every day or so that some of you might find interesting and different from the billions of words out there each hour. And the blogosphere, despite the well-meaning efforts of some to impose order on it, is nothing if it can't accomodate that.
-- Posted at 8:03 PM | Link to this post | Email this post

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