Before Kaus, Sullivan and Postrel, the Internet precursors to the Web log were arguably Matt Drudge and Jonah Goldberg, [this was back during Jonah's blog-like G-File Days -- Ed] and long before that, gossip columnists like Walter Winchell and editorialists like Mike Royko. Drudge’s legendary breaking of the Lewinsky scandal when Newsweek was sitting on the story made him a famous/infamous journalist (depending upon which side of the aisle his critics were on). Goldberg came to NRO during the same scandal, initially, he arguably trading on his mother’s name (Lucianne Goldberg), but quickly established a niche for himself as a Star Trek-following, rap music lingo quoting gen-X Conservative hipster.
However, unlike somebody like Winchell, who traded in brief tidbits and snippets of scintillating information, most Web logs take advantage of hyperlinks to allow their readers to “drill down” to an article, or some other more detailed content on a topic.
It’s tough to do an impersonal Web log. A “blog” tells several things about the person writing it: politics (if it has articles about politics), sense of humor, writing skills, interests, background, and of course all of the writer’s personal biases, etc. Of course, columnists writing for a print newspaper do the same thing, but to a much lesser degree. And all political biases are communal, reflecting not only the personal ideas of the writers, but of the editor and publisher as well. No traditional media, print or electronic, gives the day in, day out content producer (the writer) the Hearst-like power to absolutely control editorial policy.
Where HipHop and Libertarianism Meet
And Web logs allow for all sorts of interesting biases: since anybody can do one, then any group has a shot at finding a blogger who’ll represent them. Gay Republican Trekkies? Lesbian Libertarian Keynesian professional wrestling fans? There’s almost certainly a Web log that fits your interests, and if there isn’t, that’s probably reason alone to start one. Like the one titled “Where HipHop and Libertarianism Meet” and subtitled “Ayn Rand meets KRS-ONE.”
Ohhhhhhhhhhkay… Of course, don’t expect to make the beaucoup bucks with a Web log. Unfortunately, at the moment, most are labors of love, not cash cows. Even Glenn Reynolds, the 800-pound gorilla of bloggers, (or as a Pravda article recently called him, “The New York Times of the Bloggers”), says that for him, any money is secondary. “So far I’m showing a profit. It won’t ever pay my bills, but it’s a hobby that generates a positive cash flow. That’s more than you can say for golf, or other time-consuming outside interests. But it doesn’t matter. Most anyone can afford the low cost of server space, etc., and there’s not much more overhead besides time.”
Incidentally, speaking of libertarians, (as we were a moment ago in Ayn Rand ’s fly crib, when hip-hop and libertarians were styling and profiling each other), several of the most prominent bloggers seem to have a strong cant in that direction. This is not entirely surprising given the autonomy that a blogger has.
And with this unprecedented level of autonomy, many bloggers have become effective gadflies. Reynolds once wrote, “What bloggers are more than anything, I think, is anti-idiot. That makes life tough for Noam Chomsky, Cornel West, and the Revs. Falwell, Robertson, Jackson, & Sharpton, for reasons that transcend traditional partisanship and ideology.”
And as with just about any period in recorded history, there’s enough idiocy to go around: Harvard professors cutting rap records, European intellectuals “concerned” about American treatment of POWs held in the backyard of a Communist country infamous for its torture of prisoners, economists and columnists with both hands buried deep in Enron’s cookie jar, a gun control advocate who fabricates entire centuries worth of history to justify his case, and a whole smorgasbord of other silliness.
All of this guarantees that Bloggers will have a field day covering it all. Tom Wolfe once wrote that novelists virtually ignored the 1960s, leaving the decade wide open to reporters and The New Journalism. Bloggers are discovering acres, valleys, whole continents of material being left unexploited by traditional “dead-tree” journalists, and are digging in to explore it with cable modems and keyboards locked and loaded. Or as Joanne Jacob puts it, “By the time my New Republic arrives, it’s either horribly outdated or I’ve read it all online. The monthlies — Harper’s and Atlantic — are even more dated by the time they can be edited, printed and shipped. I want my news and opinion NOW!”
Edward B. Driscoll, Jr. is a writer based in San Jose, California, who has launched his own website at eddriscoll.com.
Update (1:40 PM): The introduction to this post was written late last night, the night before news of Andrew Breitbart’s death broke throughout the Internet this morning. For my thoughts on Andrew’s career and the shock of his passing, click here. He’s not mentioned in the article above, because as of early 2002, he was still very much anonymously behind the scenes of The Drudge Report — which was still thought of as a one-man enterprise. Read the 1996 quote from David Gelernter on what we now call Old Media in the above post. It places into context both Andrew’s career and our snapshot below of where new media stood in early 2002. In retrospect, it’s a reminder of how quickly the Internet can level the playing field, and how quickly the Web can make the reputation of a man who had truly mastered all of its possibilities.