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3 Turning Points in the History of Blogging

A blogging pioneer picks out three major events that forever changed online (and "dead tree") media.

by
Kathy Shaidle

Bio

September 12, 2012 - 8:45 am

This year marks my 12th “blogversary.”

That’s right: Before Instapundit, before LittleGreenFootballs, even before PJ Media  — I AM.

Inspired by proto-blogs RobotWisdom and PopCultureJunkMail, and powered by the free, easy-to-use Blogger platform, I originally set up something called RelapsedCatholic (now FiveFeetOfFury) as a swipe file/staging area for my Toronto Star religion column.

(Amusingly, Blogger itself started out as just a quick and dirty way for PyraLabs staffers to discuss the company’s “real” projects.)

My Toronto Star column is long gone,  but my blog is still up. So are thousands of others.

But in those early days, I could complete my morning blog-reading rounds before finishing my first coffee.

One of those must-reads was the Drudge Report, of course. One Tuesday morning, at the top of its third column, Matt posted a tiny photo and a one-line “breaking” story: reports of a small plane hitting the World Trade Center.

“Not another Kennedy,” I tsked, remembering John Jr.’s death not long before.

Sadly, no.

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9/11

Most received wisdom is wrong, but I can attest to the accuracy of the cliche that “the blogosphere” was birthed in the ashes of the WTC.

Instantaneously alienated from my last remaining leftist friends (and living in one of the farthest-left cities on the continent), I took to the web searching for others as pissed off as I was — people who weren’t fretting about “root causes” or that “backlash against Muslims” that never materialized.

Ironically, my search got a boost in the (what we’d later call “dead tree”) pages of Canada’s newest paper, the National Post.

The Post’s Robert Fulford, an eminence grise of Canadian newspapers, regularly steered his readers to Arts and Letters Daily, another proto-blog.

Fulford acknowledged that A&LD – a simple, elegant daily aggregator — violated everything he’d learned over five decades in the business: that is, the site attracted readers with the express purposed of sending them to other websites.

It was the Miracle on 34th Street business plan (assuming A&LD even had something as grandiose as a “business plan” at all).

And that paradoxical strategy was working. Sort of. Somehow. (A&LD wasn’t exactly raking in millions of dollars in revenue, and isn’t doing so today, either.)

At the time, blogs were widely dismissed by old-media types as laughably quotidian personal diaries. Fulford was one of the first of his ilk to sense that these online journals could easily be (virtually) rolled up and used as megaphones, too. This hyperlinking stuff just might be, mused Fulford, the future of news.

Slowly, I cobbled together a gang of new “friends” composed of Canadian, British, Australian, and American bloggers – later dubbed “the Anglosphere.” This gang served as a sort of online support system.

Soon I found myself part of another one.

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The American Catholic Church sex abuse scandal

In 2002, the Boston Globe published a series about five Catholic priests being prosecuted for sexual assaults on minors. Practically overnight, similar stories were being printed and broadcast across America. Countless Catholics felt betrayed, alienated, and very angry.

Up in Canada, we’d gone through an almost identical crisis in the 1990s. I’d been working at a Catholic newspaper at the time, so I’d had my fill of these disgusting tales.

Nevertheless, as the proprietor of a blog called RelapsedCatholic, I couldn’t avoid posting about these new stories coming out of the States, and adding my own reflections tempered by the Canadian experience.

Soon I was getting emails from American Catholics. They wanted to thank me (or take me to task) for posting on the topic.

I encouraged the former to start their own blogs, to express their thoughts on the scandal and debate what had gone wrong and what could be done to fix things.

Quite a few of them did, and Mark Shea and Amy Welborn are among those still blogging today.

(Meanwhile, their insightful blogging and patient personal correspondence — in the face of considerable petulance on my part — moved me from being de facto pro-choice to pro-life, so I got the better part of the deal.)

Eventually, I coined the phrase “St. Blogs” to describe the organic, pixel-roots Catholic blogosphere that grew up out of that 2002 bombshell.

At it height, “St. Blogs’ parish” boasted dozens of sites run by priests, nuns, parish music directors, theologians, canon lawyers, professors, and laypeople from all walks of (Catholic) life.

No doubt other affinity groups could tell similar stories about how their online communities grew and evolved.

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Rathergate

I hate to bring this up, but it looks like some of the “evidence” relied upon to take down Dan Rather in 2004 – and win – was… a bit off…

That’s a crappy ending to a thrilling David vs Goliath saga: obscure websites with crazy names challenge the veracity of a Big Three news story.

The segment in question – about then-President George W. Bush’s service in the Air National Guard during the Vietnam War — aired on CBS’s flagship 60 Minutes, which has weathered only a handful of lawsuits – that is, challenges to its accuracy and integrity — during its over four decades on the air.

LittleGreenFootballs didn’t do anything as 20th century as sue 60 Minutes. Instead, it posted a reader’s assertion that the documents CBS relied on couldn’t possibly be authentic; that typewriters in the 1970s supposedly weren’t equipped with the fonts visible on the televised memos.

Rathergate forced what we were starting to call “the mainstream media” monopoly to acknowledge it finally had competition: a populist platform with no barrier to entry and which wasn’t handicapped by deadlines; costly unionized printers and their strict schedules; the uncertain price of newsprint; and a byzantine office hierarchy preserving “traditions” of questionable relevance, like “subjectivity.”

As 2005 rolled around, it became clear that while these upstart bloggers may or may not be wearing pajamas, they were now a force to be reckoned with.

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More on New Media at PJ Lifestyle:

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10 Reasons You Should Skip Traditional Publishers and Self-Publish Ebooks Instead

(KATHY SHAIDLE is a blogging pioneer who runs FiveFeetOfFury, now in its 14th year. She's been called "one of the great virtuoso polemicists of our time," by MARK STEYN. Her NEW book is Confessions of A Failed Slut (Thought Catalog, 2014).
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