Ten years ago at Ed Driscoll.com, A blog was born — after first stumbling across something called Instapundit.blogspot.com in early September of 2001, a story I’ve told before, and can be found here. But since my first post consisted of this, allow me instead to reprint an article I wrote in February of 2002, which went online in March of 2002 at the libertarian Spintech Website, which is now sadly offline. It was titled “The New, New Journalism,” and began by channeling the ghost of a 1960s-era critic of new technology, last seen being plucked out of a Manhattan movie line in 1977 by Alvy Singer…
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. Here’s what he had to say:
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’s 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…hell…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.