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Edward B. Driscoll Jr. by Edward B. Driscoll Jr.

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The New, New Journalism — Birth of The "Me-Zine" Decade
4/11/02


Marshall McLuhan, the nerdy but influential pop prophet of the 1960s, who coined those hip aphorisms “the global village” and “the medium is the message”, would probably love today’s phenomenon of Web logs. In fact, I checked with him at my last séance, and he had this to say:

In This Article...
The Web Logging Revolution
Ground Zero for the Bloggers
Where HipHop Meets Libertarianism

The Web Logging Revolution

"Web logs make the reader both author and publisher in tendency. The highly centralized activity of publishing naturally breaks down into extreme decentralism when anybody can, by means of Web logging, assemble printed, or written, or photographic materials which can be supplied with sound tracks.

But Web logging is electricity invading the world of typography, and it means a total revolution in this old sphere, or this old technology."

OK, to be honest, I wasn’t rapping with
McLuhan at some 1960s cultural icon séance. But this is a direct quote, although it was actually about Xerography, or photocopying, as we like to call these days. I just changed “Xerography” to “Web log.”

And like Xerography, err photocopying, Web logging is a revolution, albeit, at the moment, a minor one.

In the past, essayists and critics became figures of some importance, largely because the print medium was so expensive to operate. The end product (newspapers, magazines and books) didn’t cost the consumer much, but the production of it, via the printing press, wasn’t cheap. So anybody who was in print, expressing his views (as opposed to simply slogging it out in the trenches as a reporter), had to be, and therefore became a very serious and important figure.

Today, the cost of putting a Web site up ranges from free to a hundred bucks or so a month (that’s simply the monthly fee for a server such as Verio, Hosting.com or Exodus. I’m not talking about graphic design, content, etc.) Compare that to the late 1980s. When Rush Limbaugh began his national radio show in 1988, Ed McLaughlin, his producer, had to go from station to station, to get them to buy his show. In comparison, ten years or so later, when Limbaugh put up a Web site, he was able to reach a national audience (heck, a planetary audience, although I don’t know how well El Rushbo translates in other countries) simultaneously, for the cost of his Web server.

So all of a sudden, a whole lot of folks are running around, kicking up a storm on the ‘Net, expressing views that are not necessarily anywhere near being “all the news that fit to print”.

Ground Zero for the Bloggers

Ground Zero for all of these textual shenanigans is
Blogger.com, the most well known of several providers of free software that allows even the technically and artistically incompetent to present their ideas in a pleasing and easy to follow format. It also provides instructions, encouragement and its own awards. It’s like a film school, a camera store and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science all rolled up in one place…for bloggers.

When the Web log concept first debuted, it was largely used for on-line personal diaries. Lots of “day in the life” stuff; lots of updates of family information; lots of photographs of nature and birthday parties; lots of nice pretty, stopping and smelling the flowers commentary by assorted emotional exhibitionists. And this is still a common use for Web logs.

Then September 11th happened.

One interesting byproduct of that awful day was that the servers on most major news sites (CNN, The New York Times, etc.) were blown out from over capacity. Since a big chunk of America either didn’t go into work, or left early that day, they went home, turned the TV on, fired up the computer, and wanted to know just…what…the…heck…was…going…on.

But with the Web sites of news biggies jammed to capacity, some people started going to alternative sites. Little funky one-man or one-woman sites. And some of those men and women, such as Virginia Postrel on her page, The Scene, and Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit.com, spent the day keeping the nation, hell, the world, just as informed as the traditional news sites people couldn’t get into.

Then, as the dust settled, that hoary old standby — media bias — started rearing its ugly head again, especially in newspapers, where the reporters seemed to pull out style guides left over from the Tet Offensive. Quagmire! Failure! Evil imperialism! The brutal Afghan winter! Remember the Soviets!

Seeking opinions and news that didn’t seem to be outtakes from the Johnson years, many, many people stuck with the bloggers. And sometimes it seems that just as many people saw how much fun the bloggers were having and decided to get into the act themselves.

Sgt. Stryker” (complete with a photo of John Wayne in full leatherneck regalia) is the nom de blog of a U.S. Air Force Mechanic (“to prevent being ‘called onto the carpet’ by anyone in my immediate chain of command.”). He says, “I stumbled across InstaPundit and thought to myself, “Hey, I can do this!" I followed the Blogger link on InstaPundit's site and set up my own weblog, thus killing two birds with one stone. I had a website I could point my friends to, and I could "talk back" to the news in a more quiet manner which helped ensure domestic tranquility”, with his wife, who by then was sick of the Sarge taking back to the news on TV.”

One reason Sgt. Stryker may have been so eager to give his views about September 11th and our efforts at payback, is “the impression the press tends to give of the military is of a monolithic and impersonal force, but if somebody stumbles upon my site, perhaps they can see that there are real, normal human beings who are doing all this stuff. When you read my site, you get a good idea of what some of us think and say when there are no reporters or Public Affairs Officers around.”

In contrast, Joanne Jacobs is an ex-San Jose Mercury columnist who left the paper in late 2000 to write a book about a charter school in San Jose. She started her Web log after being inspired by Mickey Kaus, Andrew Sullivan and Virginia Postrel (all three of whom were part of the first generation of bloggers, dating back to the Jurassic blogging days of the late 1990s.) Most of her blogging was on the state of America’s education system, until September 11th. Then a good bit of her coverage, shifted, not surprisingly, to the terrorists and our response to them. “I never meant to do a warblog”, she says. “I simply had strong feelings that my country had been attacked and should be defended — militarily and in the field of ideas.”


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