Why blog? First problem: the word, second only to org in its mortifying dorkiness. (Speaking of which, isn’t an “org” one of those seafaring enclaves formerly headed by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, who hightailed it to the high seas “to continue his research into the upper levels of spiritual awareness and ability,” far from the distracting attentions of the IRS)? “Blog” sounds like a portmanteau for some clammy new fetish, best left undescribed–an unhappy hybrid of blob and flog. Yeah, I know it’s short for “weblog,” but who calls journals “logs,” anyway, except the glassy-eyed minions in sea orgs or people who begin their diary entries with stardates?

Second, there’s the gnawing fear that anyone who blogs is fated to become one of those tub-thumping Alpha Wonks who’ve given the medium a bad name–you know, those self-declared Masters of Their Own Domain whose poured-concrete prose, cosmic sense of self-importance, and weird refusal to use contractions makes them sound like the genetically engineered offspring of Roger Rosenblatt and Galactus (“My journey is ended! This planet shall sustain me until it has been drained of all elemental life! So speaks Galactus!”) So what if Instapundit gets more hits than God? Would you want to be trapped in steerage, on Jet Blue, next to one of these self-styled Masters of the Universe with an Opinion About Everything?

Worse yet, you might wake up to find yourself blogging about…blogging! Going to Bloggercon (a name whose similarity to “Starcon” is way too close for comfort) and listening to other blogwonks maunder on about wuffie-hoarding and social networking and then..blogging about it! Live! From the convention floor!

Look, I know I’m not fit to polish Clay Shirky‘s power laws, nor to touch the hem of Siva Vaidhyanathan‘s garment. I abject myself before the terrible grandeur of Josh Marshall, Jason Kottke, Wonkette, and Bruce Sterling(on his good days). And yeah, yeah, blogging is our Last, Best Hope for citizen journalism, Seizing the Mode of Production and Speaking Truth to Power without changing our underwear for days at a span. But Sweet Jesus, why do most of the revolution’s standard bearers have to be so skin-crawlingly geeky? Why do most of the Power Bloviators who’ve become the angry white poster boys for blogging look as if, just a few short years ago, they were off to Klingon Language Camp with a song in their hearts? (Is it mere coincidence that one of the seminal screeds on blogging is John Hiler’s “Borg Journalism: We are the Blogs. Journalism will be Assimilated“?)

So why blog? Certainly not because blogging is fated to swallow journalism whole and burp up A.M. Rosenthal’s bowtie. The best thing about blogging is that it’s not journalism. Or, if it is, it’s a viral strain of journalism, cultured in the agar of the Net, that resembles no journalism we know. Sure, blogging can serve as a corrective to the ideological blind spots and commercial orientation of the corporate media monopoly, Fact Checking Their Asses and Working the Ref and restoring some semblance of balance in the absence of the Fairness Doctrine.

But bloggers who want to remedy what ails the corporate McMedia monopoly should grab a clue from Chris Allbritton and haul their larval, jack-studded flesh up out of their Matrix-like pods and do some goddamn reporting instead of just getting all meta about Instapundit‘s post about The Daily Kos‘s post about Little Green Footballs‘s post about the vast left-wing media conspiracy’s latest act of high treason. It’s the Yertle the Turtle syndrome: Pundits stacked on top of pundits on top of pundits, all the way down, and, at the very bottom of the heap, the lowly hack who kicked off the whole frenzy of intertextuality: the reporter who dared venture out of the media airlock to collect some samples of Actual, Reported Fact.

Who can argue with Dan Gillmor’s call for a grassroots journalism, a peer-to-peer alternative to the radically deregulated, massively consolidated Murdochian horror that currently passes for the newsmedia? But it sure as hell isn’t going to come from political-pundit and media-wonk bloggers, who with some notable exceptions represent More of The Same: the same gel-headed, glittery eyed weasels who make a career out of torching straw men on Scarborough Country and Sean Hannity; the same attacking heads who reduce each other to chum in what passes for debate on Firing Line; the same corporate flacks, thinktank drones, and bowtie-and-braces neocons who represent the full spectrum of political opinion (from zero-forehead centrism to the far, frothing right) on the PBS Newshour; and worst of all, the same Barcalounger-bound Masters of the Universe who feel well qualified to hold forth on any subject, no matter how arcane. Too much blogging–at least, the blogwonkery embraced by the mainstream media–looks too much like the jowly, sclerotic old white guys in tortoiseshell glasses or the lunging, in-your-face young white guys who already rule the mediaverse. Is this the bottom-up, many-to-many revolution we were promised? Another dictatorship of the commentariat? Another grotesque hypertrophy of the chattering class? None for me, thanks. You can stack your Instapundits like cordword and they still won’t have the empirical authority or moral gravitas, not to mention the hard-swinging old-school literary chops, of one blogger reporter like Chris Allbritton. (Okay, he’s white and he’s a guy, but at least he’s a young white guy, and he’s risking his goddamn neck to bring back some truth about our imperial adventure in Iraq. Besides, he’s got one of those cool neo-beat Van Dyke things.)

The best blogging, then, isn’t yet another hairy-eyed jeremiad from some Angry White Guy or another somber thumbsucker about the Deeper Meaning of Whatever. Hungry for more hallelujah choruses to the obvious, delivered with all the oracular solemnity of Charlton Heston reading the Ten Commandments? Tune in NPR, where “news analysts” like Daniel Shore and Cokie Roberts can be heard, handing out received truths as if they were pearls of great price.

By my lights, the best blogging offers a Bizarro World alternative to the mainstream media. Their content isn’t determined by agenda-setters and opinion leaders who tell you what you need to know–then tell it to you again, every hour, on the hour, all day long, like CNN. They aren’t run by editors who want to sell your attention to advertisers who want a piece of your niche demographic. Example: civil libertarian and Net activist John Perry Barlow’s harrowing account of his brush with rough justice in the new, Ashcroft-ian America. (Barlow was stripped, cavity-searched, and held incommunicado for the high crime of flying with “misdemeanor possession of controlled substances that had allegedly been discovered during a search of my checked baggage.”) Another example: the NBC cameraman Kevin Sites’s riveting, straight-from-the-gut letter to the marine battalion with whom he was (is?) an embedded freelancer, one of whose soldiers he captured on video, executing a severely wounded and apparently unarmed Iraqi with a shot to the head.

Not that blogging has to bring back horror stories from battlezones or breaking news from the culture wars. Some of my favorite blogs reclaim the radical promise inherent in the notion of an online journal, letting casual passersby eavesdrop on a stranger’s innermost thoughts, see the world through another mind’s eye. Call it the Being John Malkovich effect. The cultural critic Julian Dibbell had it just about right when he theorized the weblog as postmodern wunderkammer?an idiosyncratic jumble of found objects (in this case, ideas and images, facts and fictions scavenged from the global mediastream) that “reflects our own attempts to assimilate the glut of immaterial data loosed upon us by the ‘discovery’ of the networked world.” Some of the most consistently enlightening and entertaining blogs are the inscrutable products of borderline obsessive-compulsives. Like the baroque “wonder closets” invoked by Dibbell, blogs such as bOING bOING, The Obscure Store,, and Die, Puny Humans are omnium gatherums, overstuffed with anything that catches the fancy of their eccentric curators. Wish you lived in a world where Entertainment Tonight peeled away the vacuform latex face of mainstream celebrity to bare the scabrous, Hollywood Bablyon reality beneath? Wish no more:’s got the dirt, in a story no obsequious, tukus-licking mainstream outlet would dare run: “HOW I APPEARED ON JEOPARDY, or, ALEX TREBEK IS A SCUMBAG,” by Ethan de Seife. Wonder what the morning headlines would be like if Groucho Marx were alive and well and living and partnered up with Charles Fort in a joint media venture? Wonder no longer: bOING bOING offers a brain-shriveling compendium of weird science items, Barnumesque stretchers, and stranger-than-fiction news stories, delivered in the inimitable bOING bOING deadpan.

Reading blogs like these is like subscribing to someone’s stream of consciousness; it’s the closest thing we have to telepathy. What do a pair of mathematicians using 25,511 crochet stitches to represent the Lorenz manifold; a list of “words that aren’t in the dictionary but should be” (Example: “Sarchasm (n): The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it)”; a step-by-step Taiwanese tutorial on how to make incredibly realistic “teeny tiny” oranges out of clay; photos of “Chinese salad architecture”; and the discovery of Homo floresiensis have to do with each other? Nothing, other than the fact that they caught the attention of Jason Kottke, however briefly.
Do the ongoing insurgency in Iraq, the barometric fluctuations of the Dow-Jones, and the Caligulan grotesqueries of the Bush administration still matter? No question. That’s why God created The New York Times, The Nation, The New Yorker, and The Guardian. But I want to live in a world where the broadcast media that struggle for mass appeal are counterweighted by microchannels whose programming reflects one mind’s caprices, the tastes and interests of a single intelligence that cares not a whit for market share or popular acclaim (or critical applause, for that matter).

After all, isn’t that what an online diary should be–an internal monologue that the rest of the world can listen in on; a Cornell box of fleeting impressions and true confessions assembled by an obsessive collector of images and ideas? At worst, such blogs can be like KLAS-TV, the Las Vegas TV station that Howard Hughes bought in the late ’60s so he could alter the late-night movie schedule at whim, TV Guide listings be damned. This is the downside of one-to-many personalized media: An insomniac billionaire wearing Kleenex boxes for bedroom slippers, inflicting his monomaniacal fascination with Ice Station Zebra on disgruntled viewers for the trillionth time. The upside is a blog like Kottke’s, which might feature a single daily post. Or 10. Or none. It can be about anything. Or the proverbial, Seinfeld-ian nothing. People read it not because they’re interested in the subjects Kottke covers, but because they want a front-row seat to the movies projected on the inside of his head. Reading blogs like his is the intellectual equivalent of Beaumont’s experiments in gastric physiology, observing digestion through a hole in the stomach of a wounded soldier.

It’s a beautiful thing.

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    1. Great blog Mark!
      I thought I’d alert you to a new festival of culture-jamming, the infringement festival:
      I’m adding this to my favourites – looks like a great resource! Cheers!

    2. Why not create a contest for a new word to replace “blog?” After all, to the non-digerati, blog could just as well be the sound a bulimic makes after a hearty meal.

    3. Ah, the meta-blog. I’m reading drunk, and I only caught one grammatical error, but in that fleeting fit of consciousness, I forgot to “succumb to the medium.” And that’s what has to happen on/in a blog, right? You forget what you know, and just let it all fall? Play in the new discursive interstices between journal and journalism? Shit, I don’t know. But I do know I like reading what Mark writes, so props due, as we/they say.

    4. Well, I kind of *like* the idea of a broadcast TV channel under the control of a monomaniacal billionaire who replays *Ice Station Zebra* over and over through the long night. Here’s hoping your non-blog helps us all break through the icecap and see what’s on the other side.

    5. They only thing that is lacking from this pop culture phenomenon is its own dance. Imagine the possibilities of..glassy eyed, carpal-tunnelized, gyrating teens…

      • chris burke

      • 19 years ago

      Well said. When justice finally prevails, Galactus will turn his fury on Roger Rosenblatt. Thanks for the Galactus jpg link, btw, it’s now my new desktop- proving that some of your readers are geekier than you might prefer. Jack Kirby rules.

    6. Not sure where your discussion puts *my* blog, but I’m proud to be just one small speck in the universe you describe so well. Why do I do it? Part ego, part pride, part wanting-to-belong… and part just-becasue-I-can, I guess.
      I look forward to more.

      • Ashley Crawford

      • 19 years ago

      Fantastic. As always Dery arrives at the right time. Intriguing that the term ‘curators’ is utilised rather than ‘editors’. Blog sounds all too much like Spam – what there needs to be is a term that divides the crap from the quality al la ‘tabloid’ vs ‘broadsheet’. Thanks Mark.

      • Avi Solomon

      • 19 years ago

      Well it’s come to Armor Geddon!

    7. Your blog is doomed for one reason: it looks elegant.
      Look at BoingBoing, Drudge, Gawker…those places are pasty white and often a mess.

    8. “Some of the most consistently enlightening and entertaining blogs are the inscrutable products of borderline obsessive-compulsives.” OK, yes, I AM O-C, but I admit it right up front. I don’t call my blog Chronic Listaholic for nothing! It may not be enlightening in a socially redeeming way, but I do hope it’s at least moderately entertaining …

      • M. Dery

      • 19 years ago

      Thanks for the shout-outs, all. I’d gambol around in the “discursive interstices,” but I’m still smarting from that grammatical error Roy claims he spotted. (Where is it, Roy? My Inner Safire is in agony at the mere thought of it.) And yeah, Kirby does
      rule, Perry. I’ve had an insatiable late-night craving for his ’70s-era “New Gods” titles (Mister Miracle, The Demon, Kamandi, The Forever People) lately, and am toying with the idea of exploring that cosmology in a seriously geeky essay of some sort. Erik Davis would do justice to the subject, of course, but I might get there first, unless he’s listening. The Comics Journal recently did an entire issue devoted to Kirby; sadly, it was the usual hagiographic shoot-off. Maybe the blindingly brilliant Dan Raeburn will tackle the King in his superb ‘zine, The Imp .
      As for The Gilded Hack’s impending “doom,” I admit that the neo-Victorian look would probably give Jakob Nielsen a massive cardiac event, but what the hell? I’m in my Lemony Snicket phase, and make no apologies for it. If I wanted to win usability awards, I’d put on my Clay Shirky mask and have done with it.
      On a different note, here’s the in-my-dreams gameplan for Gilded Hack content: As I wrote Jon Lebkowsky,
      >>The opening salvo was an indication of where I’d like to go, but I can’t possibly sustain that length, obviously. I’d like to master the art of the drive-by critique—short, sharp, 250-500 word microcritiques, somewhere between Barthes and “bullet time.” What do you think of this strategy? What would you like to hear me maunder on about?
      (I’ll cite you as my beta-tester, when and where appropriate. )<<
      I’ll happily extend that offer to anyone listening, here.

      • nick

      • 19 years ago

      Welcome back, Wayne Gale.

      • Tim Windsor

      • 19 years ago

      Nice. Only problem is, there’s no feed. If it doesn’t show up in my aggregator, it doesn’t exist.

      • M. Dery

      • 19 years ago

      “Wayne Gale”: A Suck fan! The world is the poorer for Suck’s demise. What the world needs now is Suck’s brand of acid-drip cynicism, kicked up another notch with a splash of caustic irony. Whatever happened to Tim Cavanaugh? We’ll have to settle for Wonkette, I guess, although sharpening one’s fangs on the peccadilloes of DC jet trash seems like a waste. And: “RSS”: Yeah, we blew it. I’ll have a word with my beleaguered designer, after the eggnog hangover has worn off.

    9. Time for a new post, Dery. Write about one of these?
      Can the New York Daily News can survive without covering Paris Hilton?
      Major blogs like Gawker, Kottke, and BoingBoing lack comment forms. Do trackbacks and posts on other blogs adequately replace the egalitarianism of commenting?
      Should atheists form a third party or advocacy group to combat the new powerhouses in the Christian Right?
      Who is cooler: The Magnetic Fields, who sold songs to Lincoln Mercury for the slick promotion “Meet the Lucky Ones,” or the Beastie Boys, who “ain’t selling out to advertisers”?

    10. Just make sure you take your own advice and insure that your maunderings take place up and away from your armchair or desktop, eh?
      Many truths in your posting, but of course if the likes of the Times and the Post were doing their jobs well, there’d be no need for either the wood-stack of commentators or the Albrittons. Lord knows that when you wander out into the sticks, the Fourth Estate looks like so many trailer parks after so many tornados.
      What? Blog commentary isn’t worth at least, say, a nickel a word? Dang! But actual reporting is so hard and time-consuming. And it tends to piss off the advertisers, depending on which pig gets speared.
      Which is why newspapers out in the heartlands don’t bother paying for investigative reporters or database projects anymore, right? They’re all owned by the same four corporations anyhow. And their market penetration rates all could use a little Viagra.
      Really, as far as the direction of further slings & arrows, how about showing the way toward the new potential paradigms you hint at in your posting? Is it whatever Gillmor’s contemplating? Can a deputized citizenry form a journalism posse with instant news source feedback of sufficient punch to attract a readership and a revenue stream? Is the blogosphere qualified to produce investigative reports? Or is that the equivalent of building a space shuttle with call-center employees?
      It seems from here (Tom DeLay’s home district) that the current media model isn’t getting it done and hasn’t for at least a dozen years now. What are some new model possibilities and how could they work?
      Stuff like that.

      • M. Dery

      • 19 years ago

      Apologies, all: Laid low on December 25 by a dental emergency—braincurdlingly intense toothache, emergency visit on the 26th to the dentist for three hours’ worth of gothic horrors, followed by several days of codeine-laced stupor and a swollen jaw that looks like something out of the Mutter Museum calendar. Tomorrow, the dentist welcomes me back into his chair, hammer and tongs at the ready. If I survive, I’ll post as soon as I’m able.

    11. Can’t wait, Mr. Dery.

    12. Well, best of luck with it. Remember, toothache or no toothache, consistency is king.
      And for that RSS feed, I think will sort you out proper.
      Blogging for Britain

      • "-"

      • 19 years ago

      Yeah. Stop the “blog” thing. Stop the word. It doesn’t work, it isn’t pretty, it’s not particularly interesting, meaningful, or clever.
      URL email: “-”

      • Carol Wald

      • 19 years ago

      Yoiks–that was one loooong chunk of text to read. Got some good stuff in there, but I encourage you to stick to your 250-500 word mini-essay limit. Looking forward to peering inside your head.

      • Jodi Dean

      • 19 years ago

      interesting–too long
      agree that some of the citizen journalist stuff has gotten out of hand; best sorts of solutions create alternative perspectives through interesting combinations of links that lead to different angles, commentary
      the overall look of the page, though, isn’t terribly inviting

      • M. Dery

      • 19 years ago

      Re: loooong chunk of text: Yes, well, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. I’m a Gutenbergian kinda guy, a victim of my print-culture biases. But I will strive for brevity in future posts, unless I go off on an intertextual tear, in which case…all bets are off. As for >>the overall look of the page, though, isn’t terribly inviting<<: Do you mean *this* page? Well, no accounting for taste. I *like* the DEADWOOD look, obviously, but maybe that’s because I’m channeling my eccentric Victorian autodidact, these days. You’ll have to read Kottke if you want a sleek, neo-minimalist interface. I’m all daguerreotype-y, here.

    13. I am listening Mark, very hard. The last time I visited my wife’s folks in Buffalo, I spent the whole time putting my father-in-laws comics collection, which stretched back to the early 70s, into order, precisely in order to ferret out the Kirby. And the Alan Moore Swampies. And the Miller Daredevil.

      • M. Dery

      • 19 years ago

      Erik: Good to hear from you. As I mentioned above, _Comics Journal_ has a passable Kirby issue. If Dan Raeburn (do you know his ‘zine, _The Imp_? Simply superb) has done anything on Kirby, it’s sure to blow the doors off any comic-geek exegeses out there. Question: What is it that makes Kirby so compelling? I’m particularly drawn, these days, to his ’70s stuff, the so-called Fourth World cosmology. Sure, the pseudo-Shakespearian filibustering can be unintentionally funny, and the heavy-breathing voiceovers are, almost without exception, *way* over the top (I love the arbitrary boldface, and the way every narratorial aside ends in “—!”) And Kirby’s self-taught anatomy has some weird quirks that become stylistic signatures, over time (square fingers; wasp-waisted, Schwarzenegger-thighed women whose feet narrow to chisels; the loping, loose-limbed, simian gait, walking on the sides of the shoes). So what is it about his pulp universe that mesmerizes the boomer mind? (Okay, *this* late boomer…) Knowing the discursive territory you’ve charted, you must have extracted some comp-lit, religious/spiritual subtexts from his work. But what are they, I wonder?

      • freq flag

      • 19 years ago

      Cavorting with jeremiadists! Cavorting, I say!
      Thou cannot serve both bOING and Wuffie.
      Lastly, beware the Trolls, in their many manifestations, lest they overflow your Comments server with much Master-of-the-Universe blogwonkery and low-power, high-volume Bloviation. They require watchfulness of eye and a skillfulness of hand.

      • Aeolus

      • 19 years ago

      Jeebus, this sounds like you actually got dressed to write this. In the future I suggest that you do your blogging in your bathrobe, bleary-eyed, sleep=deprived, spilling coffee into your keyboard.

    14. Interesting

    15. Whatever you do, don’t write short. If there’s an audience for a readers’ digest of your work, I’m sure the blogosphere will produce one in no time, together with a bit of obligatory snark.
      We need people experimenting with the longer-form essay in this world of insta-everything. It’s hard to sustain conversations when everybody’s afflicted with ADHD, but that doesn’t means we should stop trying.
      And thanks for the RSS!

    16. A beautiful sentiment, as Michelene Flynn of The Quiet Man might say.
      One problem, though. I see no offers for Viagra or Texas HoldEm in your comments. No blog has truely lost it’s internets cherry until it’s been soundly spammed by the true coke bottle glasses contingent of comment spam.

      • tomm

      • 19 years ago

      Those teeny-tiny oranges turn out to be a porn site with a free sample of oral sex on video. Don’t know what happened to the link, but the oranges would have been a lot more interesting. Sex sites are everywhere. And have you checked your Comments Rejection page? Pitch black….

      • praktike

      • 19 years ago

      Oh Captain, My Captain.

      • M. Dery

      • 19 years ago

      >>Whatever you do, don’t write short.
      Er, does that mean you’ll grease my grabby little palm if I slap a PayPal button on this thing? Everyone loves lazing in Plato’s Republic, living the Life of the Mind. Nobody’s willing to underwrite it. [g]

      • Thumb

      • 19 years ago

      Cool beans, bud. My resolution for 2005 is to get off the Kos/Eschaton reservation and explore for more hidden gems. Consider yourself bookmarked.
      Oh, and about the single typo:
      “Tune in NPR, where ‘news analysts’ like Daniel Shore and Cokie Roberts can heard, handing out received truths as if they were pearls of great price.”
      Make that, “. . . can BE heard . . .”
      The speed reader’s mind’s eye fills it in so you’re excused for missing it.

    17. Blog avoidance

      …And finally, just because I can’t think where else to fit this in, the apparently inaugural post of Mark Dery’s Shovelware is a refreshing tirade in answer to the question “why blog?” that rips through all the received wisdom and media hype to concl…