"A Rift Among Bloggers"
June 9, 2002 11:02 PM   Subscribe

"A Rift Among Bloggers" is the name of the article in Monday's New York Times on the state of the blogger these days. A must read if you've ever heard the term "warblogger." Its a mostly unbiased and refreshingly accurate piece written by David Gallagher of LightningField.com fame.
posted by nyukid (43 comments total)
This article was very surreal to me. For one thing, the whole "old-skool vs. new wave" artificial conflict angle is kinda tired. For another, even though I keep a blog, I find blogging to be utterly inconsequential, a hobby that I wouldn't miss if I didn't have it. I completely don't understand how it has become such a subculture, if indeed it has. While I was reading, I kept mentally substituting "blogs" and "blogging" for something else utterly prosaic, such as "cars" and "driving" or "steaks" and "eating steaks":
Then came the war steak-eaters. The war-steak-eating movement took off after Sept. 11 as people used steaks to vent their anger about the terrorist attacks. Though they are still commonly known as war steaks, these entrees now address a wide range of news and political topics, usually from right of center.

Thanks in part to the participation of some prominent journalists and academics, the pundit-style steaks quickly reached a level of public and media recognition that other steaks had never achieved. As a result, some latecomers now think steaks are inherently political. That has perturbed some steak veterans, who say the war steak-eaters are rewriting history and presenting a distorted view of steaks. They say the diversity of steak-eating is being overshadowed by the attention-getting style of war steaks.
posted by RylandDotNet at 11:47 PM on June 9, 2002

Exactly what I was thinking.

Next week in the New York Times:
The Geek-Nerd Divide!
Reference Librarians Miffed at Periodicals Desk!
Subway Drivers Mildly Distrust Bus Drivers!
If the New York Times keeps this up, they're going to put The Onion out of business.
posted by fraying at 12:08 AM on June 10, 2002

What the hell is a weblog? Thats the question I'd be asking even as a general, educated reader of the New York Times. You would have lost me after the first paragraph. Also, why should I care?

In this case, that the author is an insider is the article's weakness not its strength.

In other words, what Ryland and fraying said.
posted by vacapinta at 12:14 AM on June 10, 2002

I don't know whether we should sell "blogging" short by relegating it to "not newsworthy enough". These occasional filler stories in Grade A publications, make me think of Rock and Roll historians documenting when the first instance of "Rock and Roll" in mainstream media print was used. It's like the arrival. Independent voices are being taken seriously. And as long as blogging remains patently independent and personal (think vast networks of maudlin public diaries with the interspersed diamond in the rough) I see no problem with the term or issue being taken serious enough to have mass circulation stories being printed about it.

Let's let it evolve maybe. And not snicker at the, presumed as only hobbyist, concept's success.
posted by crasspastor at 1:33 AM on June 10, 2002

Okay, first off, in regards to already-posted comments: vacapintha, I agree that the article doesn't explain the ABC's of blogs to a general audience. But to those who do have a copy of the glossary of terms ("weblogs", "warblogs", "Pyra", etc.), the article assumes a certain level of intelligence and understanding of the issue. For that, I commend the NY times; most media play to the 'lowest common denominator' and insult the audience's intelligence. And crasspastor, I agree: It's like the arrival. Independent voices are being taken seriously.

Now, my take: The article doesn't pay attention to left-leaning 'warblogs', such as dack.com. I quoth: "Launched in October 2001, this warlog's purpose is to demonstrate the folly of the War On Terror by taking articles only from wire feeds and mainstream news organizations, including FOX. But, the Kottke quotes do pay homage to the diversity of views, which may not be getting as much pub as the right-wing blogs. Good on yer, Jason. (and nice subtle plug for the book & site by Meg, Matt and Paul.)
posted by msacheson at 2:28 AM on June 10, 2002

Meow! This article is just *dying* to see a catfight breakout between, say, Meg and Jane Galt. In the inestimable wisdom of Kramer, the only reason guys like to see a catfight is that there's a chance that one of the participants will kiss the other. Much ado about nothing, in my ever-so-humble opinion -- to try to classify all bloggage into one general group, either in purpose or personality, is simply silly.
posted by davidmsc at 3:06 AM on June 10, 2002

Oh my god. Are webloggers consciously trying to steer themselves straight into irrelevancy? Culture War bullshit started in a little town called Tediumville — maybe you guys are looking into a timeshare?
posted by raaka at 3:41 AM on June 10, 2002

The article seemed to position weblogs into one of only two categories: tech or war. But obviously a *lot* of people have been blogging about current events (and yes, politics) long before 9/11. Did a political weblog that existed prior to September 2001 automatically turn into a war blog on the 11th?
posted by jennak at 3:50 AM on June 10, 2002

Let's ask Glenn Reynolds.
posted by rory at 4:21 AM on June 10, 2002

A lot of weblogs are just personal commentary about what is around them. From politics to their personal life, each of these things is reflected into the persons blog.

The assumption that you can categorize weblogs into 2 categories of tech or politics is both frightening and annoying. It just isn't the case.
posted by benjh at 5:01 AM on June 10, 2002

This author seems to be characterizing weblogs in a way that makes them sound like a reincarnation of AM radio. At least the "warblogs" comments sound like hate radio on the web. Those of us who have been around awhile already know that some Libertarian types (often deemed "right wing") have long claimed to "own" the web but that has never stopped the rest of us from shooting down their silly notions. I have to believe that public participation and the free exchange of ideas on the web will remain. Unless Asscroft decides we're all terra threats.
posted by nofundy at 5:10 AM on June 10, 2002

The assumption that you can categorize weblogs into 2 categories of tech or politics is both frightening and annoying.

Well, annoying; frightening might be overstating it just a tad. But then the pre-9/11 categorization of 'teen blogs' and 'proper, grown-up, real blogs' was just as annoying in its own way.

The amusing thing is that Reynolds calls the old guard 'inward-looking' and the new bloggers 'outward-looking' and then wonders why some of the old guard have a problem with war blogs. Come on, Reynolds, you're an academic: how would you like it if your grad students wrote their dissertations on the back of your research and then dismissed you as 'inward-looking'? Nobody likes to feel dissed.

Mind you, there is a nice irony in all this for those who can remember when the pre-9/11 bloggers were the young upstarts.
posted by rory at 5:46 AM on June 10, 2002

"Beyond the Curtain, brought out in April, is a collection of 41 essays by a who's who of the most irritating post-Sept. 11 commentators, including Independent war correspondent Robert Fisk, feminist novelist Barbara Kingsolver, Indian novelist Arundhati Roy, and cartoonist Ted Rall (who drew the infamous cartoon making fun of Daniel Pearl's grieving pregnant wife).

These names are particularly familiar to the readers and writers of the thousands of politically themed Web sites known as "blogs" (short for "Web logs") that have flourished since Sept. 11."

- from Matt Welch's Manufacturing dissent in The National Post.

Basically, this is a rant from Welch attacking Chomsky and his "logicial gimmick." If Chomsky can be diluted to having a "logicial gimmick," it makes me wonder what Welch's world view can be summed up as...any suggestions?
posted by boost ventilator at 5:59 AM on June 10, 2002

Meow! This article is just *dying* to see a catfight breakout between, say, Meg and Jane Galt. In the inestimable wisdom of Kramer, the only reason guys like to see a catfight is that there's a chance that one of the participants will kiss the other. posted by davidmsc at 3:06 AM PST on June 10

sounds like the post-fight news conference with Lewis and Tyson...
posted by mecran01 at 6:16 AM on June 10, 2002

So, do I have this right? It took a war to bring some right-wing ultra-conservative tight-asses to prominence as bloggers (or, cutely, "warbloggers")? And to lift a similarly-aligned president from complete irrelevance? Is there some inherent philosophical link between conservatives and hawks? Do conservatives always thrive in times of war, and if so, does this explain Bush & Co.'s seeming desire to manufacture endless war, to counter U.S. society's stubborn moderacy in recent decades? Or is it all just opportunism?
posted by rushmc at 6:28 AM on June 10, 2002

OK piece, aside from Ken Layne's quote at the end dismissing weblog software developers. However, that seems like a misleading quote.

Layne in the story:

"There's nothing novel about the tech bloggers, beyond the fact that a few of them made simple tools for updating Web sites."

Layne on his weblog:

"In a long telephone interview with David Gallagher last week, I praised the tech blogs I read (Searls, Gilmor, Winer) and described Pyra's development of Blogger as no less than a Gutenberg-level advance, but the interview wasn't used."

Reporters can't resist the juicy quote, even if it doesn't accurately convey the sentiments of the person being quoted. That's one of the reasons I enjoyed this weblog/warblog pissing contest more when it was covered by the weblogs.
posted by rcade at 6:34 AM on June 10, 2002

Ah, The Times manages, yet again, to reduce a complicated spectrum into a flat dichotomy. The writer makes it sound as if, a priori, "tech" webloggers are bunches of onanistic, sandal-wearing, wheat grass chewing pacifists who only write about something nebulously defined as "tech" and care about politics only enough to oppose that which is "right-leaning". And, of course, "warbloggers" are, a priori, raw-meat-eating, right-wing NRA members who care about nothing but the stench of blood. To the author of this middling piece, there is no crossover, there are no "partisan, personal and political" Baudillairian webloggers, there are no weblogs about Russel Wright pottery, or Christian music weblogs, or left-leaning yet "pro-west" blogs (to borrow a phrase from one Jason Kottke, who seems to imply that 'non-right wing' and non 'pro-west' go hand in hand). The whole spectrum of writers on the web are boiled down to two sorry camps 'warring' with each other like rival cliques at Sweet Valley High. How utterly bogus and boring. And so like the Times.
posted by evanizer at 6:49 AM on June 10, 2002

Glenn Reynolds has replied to my comment above, in the affirmative of course; I linked to him because he's the most obvious example, given the article being discussed, of a politics blogger turned warblogger by 9/11. And how about little green footballs, which actually was a tech blog until 9/11? There's nothing wrong with that; nobody swears a Blogger Oath to post about one subject and only one subject. But given that many leading warbloggers started well before 9/11, it's a bit odd to keep hearing that 9/11 is Blogging Year Zero.
posted by rory at 6:49 AM on June 10, 2002

"It strikes me that a lot of the backbiting is really a complaint from longtime bloggers that the center of the Weblog universe isn't where it used to be,"

Does media attention suddenly create a center? The warbloggers are the only ones circling their wagons and claiming it a center. The 'Weblog Universe' doesn't center around warblogs.

"The Weblog world before Sept. 11 was mostly inward-looking — mostly tech people talking about tech things,"

That's just a stupid statement. I'm sure he meant to say, "The 2 or 3 blogs I read..." Otherwise that's like standing in Iowa and saying the world was a mostly quiet — mostly peaceful place before Sept. 11.

For outward looking bloggers they certainly don't look much furthere than their own backyard when it comes to the 'Weblog Universe'.
posted by mikhail at 6:52 AM on June 10, 2002

The simple fact is that there's really no story here. As stated above, the idea that blogs can be split into the dichotomy of warblog and techblog is not only a myopic categorization, but imply that blogs are only about these two topics. What about Asian Bastard? Mr. Pants? Or Speedy Snail? What of book blogs like Moby Lives? Or any of those blogs out there that couldn't give a rat's ass about devoting the whole of their sites to tech news or pro-war jingoism? Despite the years that these various blogs have been up, are they suddenly irrelevant because they're not part of this little bitchslapfest?
posted by ed at 6:54 AM on June 10, 2002

I like pancakes.
posted by Jeremy at 7:22 AM on June 10, 2002

evanizer: Jason Kottke, in his original Internet writings on the book issues, was quoting someone else re the "pro-west" thing. Specifically, he was quoting a war-blogger who hyped the proposed book in stark, us v. them terms. (P.S.: The spell checker wanted to substitute "warbling" for "war-blogger.")
posted by raysmj at 8:10 AM on June 10, 2002

Two things that aren't surprising here:

1. Another clueless mainstream article about weblogging.

2. Desperate to be loved webloggers lapping the shit up like it was caviar.
posted by mark13 at 8:28 AM on June 10, 2002

I still don't know exactly what a "war-blog" is. Either I've yet to stumble across one in my wandering around the web, or - my suspicion - they're really not all that different to anything else and I've seen plenty without realising they were something special.

The idea that there's a weblog movement seems kind of silly. What I see are millions of personal web sites spread out all over the Internet. They range from "Hello, this is me and this is my cat" pages to entire message boards with databases full of information. What weblog movement there has been has simply been a response to improved site-maintenance tools. If you make it easier to maintain a continuously-changing web site, more people will do it.

The hype feels like someone has just thought up the idea of selling individual apartments, and so now there are people who are neither renting apartments nor living in houses in the suburbs, but have somehow managed to do both. Oh, my! Look at the social trend! It's this great big Condo-Dweller's Movement! And look, these condo-dwellers disagree with those condo-dwellers, so let's split them up and describe all the different factions and explain why they hate each other! Whee, what fun!

Yeah, whatever. It's just another place to live.
posted by Mars Saxman at 8:36 AM on June 10, 2002

:: blank look :: Maybe I haven't had enough coffee, but...um... Where's the frickin' story here?!

As I read the piece, I kept muttering, "and...?" "so?" and basically waiting for a useful piece of information to emerge. None did. So people are doing warblogs since September 11th. Seems like a natural progression to me.

Wake me up when there's a story, please...
posted by metrocake at 8:53 AM on June 10, 2002

Criminey -- nobody's noticed that this is a double-post, from the weblogs category in Metatalk.

And once again Metafiltrians are stereotyping all warbloggers as foaming-at-the-mouth right-wingers (nofundy; rushmc). It appears to be impossible in their minds to believe that someone can support the war and yet be a centrist or even Democrat. As I noted in the MeTa thread, the two people involved with the Blogbook project are by no means hard-core Republicans. (Now who's being myopic?)

And people are surprised that there are people who are flattered that the NYT writes about them. And other people think it's all a bunch of hoo-hah, possibly because they weren't themselves mentioned. We've been down this particular road before. More than once.

rory, your very examples prove the assertion that 9/11 changed blogging -- and Glenn may have started before that date, but in fact there are examples beginning with Matt Welch who started immediately after or followed Glenn and others into blogging. There may not be a Chinese wall between techie and political bloggers, but there's also clearly a difference in the two subcultures. Over on Welch's site I characterized it roughly this way: That earlier bloggers were too self-effacing to write many political rants; while warbloggers see it as their stock in trade. Ironically, of course, Reynolds is considered a prototypical warblogger but he is not much of a ranter, and follows instead the role of the editor that marks the so-called techie crowd. (Linkers vs. thinkers is another way this has been described.)

We don't need to pretend those differences don't exist. My goal is simply that both groups acknowledge the value in each other. Yes, many warbloggers don't seem to even know anybody was blogging before 9/11, even 2001 (*snort*), but some of the older blog crowd seem to think the political bloggers are all full of themselves and do nothing but link each other. Well, so what? The medium can support both styles.
posted by dhartung at 9:05 AM on June 10, 2002

I still don't know exactly what a "war-blog" is.

A warblog is a member of a tightly-knit incestuous gang of current-events webloggers whose sites either sprang up after 9/11 or heavily tilted their focus to the war on terrorism after that date. They link to each other obsessively and have an exaggerated sense of their own importance (like the members of any web fad that becomes a media darling). Because they're such a mutual admiration society, you can find all of them by visiting a link to only one of them. Such as Andrew "Have I told you about my hit counts yet this morning?" Sullivan.
posted by rcade at 9:12 AM on June 10, 2002

My goal is simply that both groups acknowledge the value in each other.

I didn't see your post. I think there's value in what the warbloggers do; I just get tired of hearing this particular sentiment from them.
posted by rcade at 9:15 AM on June 10, 2002

One must, I suppose, hand it to the media-savvy of weblog authors who have managed to raise their infantile, pissy infighting to newsworthy status. Bravo, people, for now the entire world knows what boring, navel-gazing prats you really are! Huzzah! Well done!

You must be so very, very proud.
posted by gsh at 9:19 AM on June 10, 2002

Yes, cause God knows the "old-school" bloggers don't have an incestous circle jerk going on either...
posted by owillis at 9:20 AM on June 10, 2002

As a former blogger who had a more personal-type weblog, I have found myself resenting the so-called "warblogger" phenomenon, and I've wondered why it's pissed me off so much. I'll take a stab at it.

I'm not really annoyed with warbloggers. I'm annoyed with a culture in which nothing is "important" unless it relates to the news. It's a culture of information overload.

It's saying that the things that happen to us in our personal lives aren't as important as the things that happen in the news. It's saying that nothing is important unless some media outlet tells us it is. It's reaction -- thinking that the most important things are contained in the steady stream of information we passively receive from the world -- rather than action -- thinking that the most important things are the things that we ourselves contribute -- the things that happen in our lives, the people we meet, the things we feel. It's saying that only the big things are important, that the small, personal things aren't.

Basically, it's saying that watching TV is more important than hanging out with your friends. And that pisses me off.
posted by Tin Man at 9:26 AM on June 10, 2002

Next up: warblogging journalists who "get it" vs. tech-blog journalists who "get it" vs. war-mongering journalists who somewhat "get it" vs. tech journalists who never heard of the stuff vs. the A-list vs. the plain old warbloggers vs. the plain old journalists vs. those dirty book pulishers trying to make a buck of the whole thing vs. anyone else who ever thought that weblogs were about self-expression and pointing out kewl links.
Just take me back to the days when people would furtively snap pictures of megnut and j.ko in the park.
posted by rodz at 9:47 AM on June 10, 2002

rory, your very examples prove the assertion that 9/11 changed blogging

Yes. I know. I agree with most of your points, Dan. I don't doubt that 9/11 opened the floodgates; look at the Blogger entry numbers on Reynolds' posts of 9/11, 5,600,000 or so, and the latest entry numbers on Blogger's recently-updated list - around 85 million. Those extra eighty million posts won't all be political verbiage, but something has certainly changed.

It's not saying that Elvis isn't important - just that he didn't invent rock and roll. And it's not about trying to paint ourselves as Colonel Tom Parker, because 99% of pre-9/11 bloggers played no role in the creation of the tools and the form and so on. It's just about getting the story straight.

Although girlhacker has a point.
posted by rory at 10:18 AM on June 10, 2002

And once again Metafiltrians are stereotyping all warbloggers as foaming-at-the-mouth right-wingers (nofundy; rushmc). It appears to be impossible in their minds to believe that someone can support the war and yet be a centrist or even Democrat.

Not at all. I was referring to that most visible (and largest) subset of "warbloggers" who are self-stereotyped as very conservative, as these are the ones who, as you point out, receive the most attention within the category. This in no way denies the existence of a full spectrum of political warblogging.
posted by rushmc at 10:19 AM on June 10, 2002

There's a lot of lint in someone's navel out there.
posted by adampsyche at 10:23 AM on June 10, 2002

rcade, you left out 1) the use of WAR BLOG as an easy marketing tool and 2) the increasing self-referentiality that lets folks like Welch toss out insults like "Arundhati Roy is irritating" in a mainstream newspaper and expect readers to accept it. After all, we've read the blogs that shredded her to pieces, haven't we? The woman is quite obviously a mosquito; there's no need to debate it any further.

Yeesh. Where are the fucking editors in this scenario? Oh, right, they're all working on their blogs.

This stuff's only gonna get crazier the longer it goes on, people, helped along by the WAR BLOGGERS' willingness to shout down any disagreement and immediately dismiss anyone who pushes rhetorical buttons they've already made up their minds about. Can't you feel it? The narrowness is getting narrower by the week. It's like your worst Usenet nightmare come true on the Web, but with even less thoughtful interaction than there was after AOL first dumped its users on the rest of us.

Some improvement.

Anyway, the term WAR BLOG is still just as useless for sorting out smart, challenging online content as it was last September. The WAR BLOGGERS have simply formed a circle of boats in the middle of the Pacific, jumped into it and started calling their little piece of water the Boat Ocean while congratulating themselves on what a fine bit of H20 they've discovered.

Listen. Hear that sound?

It's Wintermute, out there laughing.

posted by mediareport at 11:05 AM on June 10, 2002

my biggest problem with this article is the assertion that pre-9.11 weblogs were either "techie" or "diaristic" and that the attacks created a class of weblogs that discuss current events. that's just inaccurate (and david gallagher knows better).

while it's true that blogger introduced a huge influx of short form diaries into the community, in fact the pre-blogger weblogs were almost all link-driven, and discussed whatever they found of interest; for many, that included tech/web news, but except for a minority of topic-focused sites, most linked to a very wide range of subjects that often included current events.

in that first wave were weblogs that were focused primarily on politics, culture, and current events, to the near-exclusion of tech- and web-related news (and their maintainers have never been shy about expressing the views). those weblogs never went away, and many more were created with the introduction of tools that made it possible for anyone to create a site.

what warblogging did was to bring an influx of right-wing voices into the mix; most of the pre-existing political weblogs were decidedly left-leaning.

Did a political weblog that existed prior to September 2001 automatically turn into a war blog on the 11th?


I think the warblogs are best described as topical weblogs: just as there have been weblogs focused on a strictly delineated topic (web development or indie music, or whatnot) the warblogs rarely deviated from their topic. (I use the past tense, because it seems that some of them are now including links to more general-interest stories in their mix).

most of the pre-9.11 current events weblogs included links and commentary about a wide range of things, politics being just one of them.
posted by rebeccablood at 11:22 AM on June 10, 2002

Why not just ignore it? The anger over this silly pedantry can be expressed as follows:

One month of blog-related articles = Pleasure that the weblog medium has at long last been recognized by the mainstream press.

Three months of blog-related articles = Resentment that these journalists don't get it. Annoyance that some blogs are simply not being covered or that assertions about blogging are being made by people who aren't hard-core bloggers or blog readers.

Six months of blog-related articles = Absolute furor. Charges of historical revisionism are sallied forth, despite the fact that any person even remotely interested about blogs can fact check the ass of the journalist or pick up a Perseus book. Several Metafilter threads in which the hostility is enunciated and given a protean facade for something inherently simple in emotional scope.

Nine months of blog-related articles = Blogger Group A and Blogger Group B are not on speaking terms. A few representatives from Group A and Group B call each other out for a rumble behind Fry's. The mainstream media sources feed this particular frenzy. At least two esteemed bloggers will fold their blogs over this. Most sensible people, however, simply don't give a damn, realizing the trend will eventually go away.

One year = A new blog-related article cycle begins.

Can't we all just get along?
posted by ed at 11:40 AM on June 10, 2002

And once again Metafiltrians are stereotyping all warbloggers as foaming-at-the-mouth right-wingers (nofundy; rushmc).

No, I was commenting on what the link said, not making a blanket statement about webloggers, right or left. Thanks anyway. The foaming in the mouth thing was very colorful and descriptive and does somewhat accurately describe the demeanor of the right wingnuts.
posted by nofundy at 11:50 AM on June 10, 2002

"Treating big players like they matter so much more than the mass of smaller players is like looking at traffic on various roadways and deciding that only Interstate highways matter because there are few local roads that get anywhere near that amount of traffic."
posted by sheauga at 12:30 PM on June 10, 2002

So this is what happens when you try and lump together a single group based solely on the type of software they use to publish their personal websites....

(To be fair, if weblogging (per se) has a history, it should be the history of the people who pioneered the form and the software. The histories of "warblogging" and weblogging just aren't the same, and it's unfortunate that the terms are so close. The warbloggers (as politically-oriented writers publishing their own stuff on the web) do have their own history; they should just identify it as such.)
posted by mattpfeff at 1:04 PM on June 10, 2002

Any article about weblogs is just asking for trouble if it tries to define weblogging or its participants in anything but the most general of terms. Why write that inoffensive article when you can mess with the various weblogging sensitivities. I would not be surprised if there is a contest among journalists to get their weblog article to generate the most comments in Metafilter and the highest place in Blogdex.
posted by john at 2:53 PM on June 10, 2002

Just a random thought off the top of my head: perhaps this is all just going the way of the E/N scene? That is, a subset of blogging which considers itself a class on its own apart from the "old school," while really that subset is just a porn/death genre of the blogosphere.

E/N webmasters will probably hate me for saying that, though.
posted by brownpau at 2:57 PM on June 10, 2002

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