Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Sasha Frere-Jones on blogging; Daniel Schorr on why it's scary

Sasha Frere-Jones, blogger and pop music critic for the New Yorker (and brother to the great type designer Tobias Frere-Jones) was interviewed two years ago on the New York media and gossip blog Gawker. The interviewer gets Sasha confused with Tobias, which the former handles with amusing aplomb, but what I'd like to draw attention to is the blogger brother's comments about blogging -- they're expecially interesting because he's a skilled and published writer:
The point of blogs is precisely that you can write "stream-of-conscious" and no one will stop you.

I am mocking your loose grip on the idiom, but I am also totally serious. Gawker has an editor and a paymaster, but most blogs don't. No one will stop you from being extra smart or super stupid. This is good. I am happy any time there is no ax over the writer's head, save the prospect of getting tossed by your ISP administrator (a small but tangible threat if your transgression is copyright-related).

I like high intensity, bouillon-style forms: pop songs, essays, poems, photos. Blogs can link to songs and poems and photos. Right? So if the bits all line up correctly, blogs create an extra high-density poetics. Blogs are flexible and fast; with no editor, you don't have to wait for yes or brace for no. The blogger can do parodies without consulting the Legal Department; drum up instant audience participation; or shift into mayhem.

Newspaper and magazine writers work in a logical key: Start here, take a little promenade and then circle back to the beginning, careful to not knock over anything on the way. This smooth revolution feels good. I need it more than I'd like to admit. But someone's got to supply the mad love and raw justice, the garbage and the free food. I hope this is what blogs do. Lusty overstatement leads to good things, and full-on commitments are a requirement of the fully engaged life, even if the commitment is to Christina Milian.

I don't just like blogs for the pub fights. I like sentences and I think blogs are a good place to find them. I like blogs with very short sentences. I like blogs with very long sentences. I like the music of the prose on a lot of LiveJournal pages, because many of the writers haven't necessarily figured out what writing means, and won't necessarily be better off when they do.

The blog is a nice model for storage, too. The words and photos are on one private server, but millions of personal computer nodes. It's a public file cabinet. My recurrent apocalypse dreams often resolve with a G-rated coda, kind of like Threads meets Babe: Some kind stranger has my words and photos backed up on their 1985 Macintosh SE and I can get my work back without going through some institution that's blacked out all the naughty words. And it's free. Free. Free free free.
That may be an innappropriately (and possibly illegally) long quote, but I cut and paste the whole thing (another great advantage of blogging) because it's an eloquent defense of a medium that's been hard for some of us to embrace -- NPR's Daniel Schorr, for example:
"But what we have here is a medium in which there is no publisher, no editor, no anything. It's just you and a little machine and you can make history. I find that scary. Nobody should get into print or on the air without some kind of editor. I have an institutional belief that nobody can be above having a good editor."
So Schorr said to USA Today (which I found via Mediabistro's Fishbowl D.C. blog). I don't want to imply that blogs are news, or that they should ever be, but what does Mr. Schorr reckon our forefathers made of the occassional proliferation of broadsheets published by young men with small presses? Yes, computers give us a lower barrier to entry, but we all know that the printed word is no more sacred than the spoken one.


Blogger k said...

First off, barriers to entry in the old media world are way to high, but that is the topic of another day.

I think that the mainstream media folk are totally freaked out by blogs because they see them as a strong substitute to their profession which is really just a persona of themselves. Newspapers and magazine do not subsume writing. The intent of the content and the dissemination of the content don't have to change because the format for publication changes. Fear drives the critique that the mainstream levies, that lack of editors means untrustworthy content and format.
Blogs are a format and formats don't determine the content explicitly, it is only our minds that add and substract value based on streotypes of format. Schorr's attach is ad hominem.
Blogs, like all writings, need editors. Not as gate keepers in the traditional sense, but to challenge the writer to improve and to remind the writer of his audience. As long as there are writers, editors will come in handy.
The linear editing style will adjust to a more dynamic one. Professionals will get used to this.
Someday, we will speak of print newspapers and the 20th century newspaper style as we speak of letters as Machiaveli wrote them. We still value the content, but no one would write in that style or use that format today. I don't know if he used an editor, but is wasn't the system of today either. Yet, we still value his content.
(I am sure that this could have been written better. An editor would have helped.)

1:41 AM  
Anonymous Sarah said...

Typo: First line after the quote, "innappropriately"

10:42 AM  
Blogger The Masticator said...

Sarah wins a prize! She spotted a typo in this post. Not to be nitpicky, but I'd like to point out that it wasn't technically a typo, rather it was a creative use of the New Zealand spelling of the word "innappropriately," which the rest of the English speaking world may know as "inappropriately." Sarah still wins the prize, of course.

8:06 PM  

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