I sat down with The New Republic’s Marc Tracy to talk about his article arguing that blogging is dying, and my response that blogging actually won, and it’s now serving interests other than those of people who wanted an easy way to publish independently. One of the most interesting parts of the discussion for me was the idea that blogging is changing in part because, to make it emotionally and logistically sustainable long-term, people have to embed themselves in larger organizations and to franchise, making blogs mini-publications with a united vision rather than a singular voice:
We also talked about Jason Collins’ public coming out, and how sports, which were a leader in civil rights when it came to race, have fallen behind the rest of society when it comes to sexual orientation.
The announcement today that, at the end of its contract with The Daily Beast, Andrew Sullivan is taking his Daily Dish blog independent, and plans to support it with a metered subscription costing $19.99, has been treated, with some justification, like a major development. It’s rare to see a blogger who’s been fortunate enough to make it into the mainstream publishing apparatus decide to leave it and return to the independence and risk of the early days of the blogosphere. And Sullivan’s decision will be an important test case for what price readers assign to his site, and how many of them place a specific monetary value on the Dish at all. But it’s important to recognize that, while it’s a big deal for this particular blog, the choice to take the Dish independent and what happens afterwards shouldn’t be overinterpreted.
“People form an emotional relationship with the site and have a sense of belonging and take pride in being able to support something they enjoy,” Brain Pickings editor Maria Popova told the Guardian last week of the reason she relies on subscriptions rather than advertising to support her site. “It’s the same reason people have been donating to public libraries for centuries.” But that emotional connection that allows some sites to survive, that allows Louis C.K. to make an enormous amount of money from independently distributing a special and selling tickets for his tour, or that allows certain projects to be funded almost immediately on Kickstarter is also a reason that many publications won’t be able to get by solely on the passion of their audience. Or, as Time’s James Poniewozik put it on Twitter, “Less interested in whether ppl willing to pay for @sullydish blog than how many total blogs they’d be willing to pay $20/year each.”
It’s great for Sullivan and company, whose support this blog has benefitted a great deal from over the years, to go independent, and I heartily hope they succeed. But I hope their business model becomes sustainable not because I think we need it as a sole light forward in a dark publishing landscape. Rather, I think we need a lot of models, so new entrants into the market have lots of paths to sustainability. Some products that have been prestige for the entire run of their existence, like The New Yorker, will be able to flourish in their walled gardens without ever venturing out into a more open marketplace. Others, that have both passionate and casual readers, and perform the services both of delivering basic news information and offering up longer, more proprietary analysis, like the New York Times and the Dish will do well with metered models. Projects like ThinkProgress and Pro Publica, which want a certain amount of independence from corporate interests and protections from the vicissitudes of the advertising marketplace, will successfully justify their necessity to a variety of non-profit funders. Rather than aiming to be among the most privileged and valued of products and individuals from the start—a position that guarantees financial support, but that doesn’t clarify the nature of the product they’re distributing—publications and content distributors would do better to know the fundamental nature of their business, and to choose a revenue support model based on that.
The success or failure of the Daily Dish’s meter model will tell us something about what kind of support a site with that sort of brand, longevity, and audience can expect to muster, just as the Times’ paywall has given us similar data for large, long-established newspapers, and Talking Points Memo did for the reported news site that grew out of Josh Marshall’s blog and discussion community. But it shouldn’t have to be a litmus test for the future of online journalism. Instead, this should be a reminder that we’re at the beginning of a long period of developing new business models out of the decline of one old one.
Last week, science fiction novelist John Scalzi, who’s written a series of posts about feminism, misogyny, and privilege that have gone into justly wide circulation, published his latest, a thank-you note from a fictional rapist to conservative politicians who have worked to create an environment that gives women less control and rapists more potential access to and power over their victims. It’s not my favorite of this series of posts, but the piece provoked an interesting reaction from Kristin McFarland, a former newspaperwoman working on her first novel. McFarland has a couple of interlinked points here. First, there’s the idea that prominent male genre writers who get credit for their feminism also often subject their female characters to a lot of violence, some of it sexual, a la Joss Whedon. But she spends more time on the idea that male writers should do more to promote the writing and testimony of women on the subject of sexual assault, and that it’s disappointing that posts like Scalzi’s take off while posts by women on similar topics are treated as a dime a dozen. She explains:
Scalzi, Rothfuss, and Whedon are—right now—wealthy(ish) white men writing about problems only women face. They are exhibiting the male control they castigate by fighting our fight. I’m not ungrateful, but I’m frustrated that the strongest plays in the feminist fight are coming from men… and even these men don’t seem interested in what women have to say.
They’re taking away our right to fight the good fight.
When women write these posts, they’re quietly applauded, loudly criticized, or just ignored as regurgitating feminist vitriol. So when men like Scalzi step up to the plate, we praise them high and low, and the merits of their argument ring across the internet.
All because they have the lucky position of being a privileged white man writing on behalf of women.
I agree that it’s frustrating that writing by women on the subject of sexual assault, and the way the impact of being attacked can continue long after a rape is over, can disappear into a chorus of woe and frustration. And I do think that these posts by Scalzi and others go wide both as a result of the audiences they’ve already established, and because it’s still rare to hear prominent men prioritize misogyny and sexual assault on the menu of issues they care about. In some cases, men may need to hear about these issues from other men. I would be delighted to live in a world where men trusted women and didn’t treat our concerns like second-order needs, and we didn’t need prominent male allies to validate that sexual assault, abortion access, and privacy are important issues. But as long as we do, I’d rather have Scalzi and company in the conversation than not. And I’d note that while pregnancy as a result of rape may be a terrible event particular to cis women, I don’t think that rape is an issue that only women face. Men are sexual assault victims, too, and the taboo around discussing those assaults is in some ways even more profound for men than it is for women.
But one thing that I’d be interested to hear more of from Scalzi and others who are speaking up about the impact of sexual assault on women, misogyny, policies that make it more difficult to recover your life after the former, and politicians who exhibit the latter, is how sexual assault has impacted their lives as men who haven’t been direct victims. The primary impact of any sexual assault is, of course, on the person who is the subject of an attack. But assaults on and harassment of women create an environment that affects men of good will, too, whether they’re trying to help survivors in their lives, or simply living and loving in a world where their actions are interpreted by dreadful experiences women have had with other men. Rape culture is precisely that: a prevailing environment that all of us have to navigate. That kind of conversation (separate, of course, from the cringe-inducing idea that rape is bad because it inconveniences men by making women oversensitive and sexually unavailable) is one we’re lacking.
It’s why I’ve always liked Third Eye Blind’s “Wounded,” a strikingly articulate attempt by a narrator to reckon with the shape of his relationship with a good friend and sometime partner after she is assaulted. “The guy who put his hands on you / has got nothing to do with me,” the song starts, but the point is, of course he does. The attitudes and ideas in the song aren’t perfect, but it’s so rare to hear a song written by a man grapple with a sense of responsibility and powerlessness after a woman is assaulted, to hear him want her back, telling her “you never come around and you know we miss you,” but know that the decision to return to his life has to be hers:
After writing yesterday’s post about Gay Girl In Damascus and vague boundary between creating fiction that’s consumed as such and carrying out a hoax, I emailed Andrea Phillips, the pervasive media artist whose SXSW talk I mentioned, and asked her where we can draw the line and say what practices of fiction are unethical. She wrote back:
I guess if I absolutely had to draw a line between fiction and reality, it would deal with the point in a fiction where your character forms a relationship with your audience. It’s one thing to use a blog as a format for serial fiction. It’s even OK, I think, to use a blog for serial fiction and not specifically mark it out as such. But it becomes something much more questionable when the fiction becomes personalized—when the fictional character is responding to Tweets and emails, for example. That’s the danger zone.
At that point, you have to ask yourself how the people you’re relating to would feel if the truth came out. Would they feel betrayed? If the answer is yes, then you should seriously reconsider what you’re doing and how you’re going about it.
But at the same time… people often experiment with wildly different personas on the internet, and make friendships in those varying
personas, and this can be a valuable way to learn about yourself. Identity is a very fluid thing to begin with. I’m not the same person with my colleagues as I am with the other moms at school, you know? So I hate to draw any absolute lines, because every circumstance is unique.
Think about if the Gay Girl in Damascus situation was reversed: Amina was the real one but Tom was fictional, and he was her way of speaking
with the advantage of privilege, of being heard and listened to. Would we be reacting differently if the power dynamics shifted like that? I
seriously think we would.
I suggested that maybe we cross the line when a character asks readers to do something they wouldn’t do if they knew the character was a creation rather than a real person, whether it’s sending pictures or asking for help springing them from a Syrian prison. I’ve had pretty hilarious Twitter conversations with accounts set up in the voices of Game of Thrones characters, and it sure didn’t hurt me. But then, I was enjoying engaging with the fiction, rather than being deceived by it. There’s a level of safety in detachment.
When readers ask me how they can get better at communicating, I always urge them to 1) study rhetoric and 2) follow popular culture. For the latter, a good place to start is with Alyssa Rosenberg’s blog.
I know that many progressives — including some readers here – don’t own a TV. I can fully understand that but firmly believe that if you want to understand and communicate to the populace, there’s no better place to start than with the culture.
For those who don’t think TV is high culture, I would make two points. First, I’ve studied Shakespeare for decades — and even published a scholarly article on Hamlet — and the Bard combined highbrow and lowbrow seamlessly. I seriously doubt the greatest rhetorician of all time drew a distinction.
Second, I’ve been a TV junkie for nearly 5 decades, and I think it’s safe to say that there is as much high-quality television on now as there ever was. There just happens to be a lot more crap. You need a way of separating the two — or someone to tell you what you need to know about what you don’t have time for.
And that’s my segue into Alyssa. She has written this introduction for Climate Progress readers:
I’m Alyssa Rosenberg, your friendly ThinkProgress culture blogger. One of my long-term interests is the role that science fiction plays in helping us come to terms with what we’re doing to ourselves and to the planet, and in playing with ideas we might have to consider as we face a future defined by environmental devastation. I’ve written about the role of scientific arrogance in this summer’s upcoming blockbuster Planet of the Apes, my worries about how Fox’s Terra Nova will handle the creation of a utopian society without overexploiting a new planet’s resources, and how female scientists are depicted in movies ranging from Contact to Thor. Today on my blog, we’re kicking off a book club on Kim Stanley Robinson’s epic exploration of deliberately engineered climate change, Red Mars, on the eve of that novel’s 20th birthday next year. I hope you’ll consider stopping by.
As you can see, she doesn’t just write about TV.
For the record, I thought the Mars trilogy was a masterpiece, unlike, say, Robinson’s novels on climate change. Anyway, friends, Romm-ans, Countrymen, lend her your ears (and eyes).
This year, DeSmogBlog deservedly made the list. Here is what times Brian Walsh says about this must-read climate blog:
A corporate smoke screen surrounds much of the coverage of climate-change and energy issues. Fossil-fuel companies have spent millions funding anti-global-warming think tanks, purposely creating a climate of doubt around the science. DeSmogBlog is the antidote to that obfuscation. Started in 2006 by James Hoogan, a Canadian p.r. guru, DeSmogBlog dissects the half truths and outright lies around climate change, acting as an aggregator for smart research and opinion on green issues. If it sometimes goes too far — as with its jihad against gas fracking — DeSmogBlog is nevertheless a necessary corrective.
Kudos to DeSmogBlog.
Here is the full list – though I warn you if you start clicking on these catchy blogs, you won’t get a lot of work done today:
Conservatives have responded with outrage, complaining about double standards and hypothesizing that the racial slurs reported on Saturday were fabricated by the African-American lawmakers. In an interview with Laura Ingraham today, Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly claimed that connecting the threats and bigoted language to the tea party as a whole was a “grossly unfair” effort to “brand the entire movement” as “a bunch of racists”:
O’REILLY: But the press showed no restraint at all in covering that story and immediately took that and branded the tea parties a bunch of racists. Now, that’s the strategy. This is why it’s a big story. Why I’m leading with it tonight on the Factor. And I got Al Sharpton in the seat. Because I can’t get the others and that tells me something too. I can’t John Lewis and I can’t get Emanuel Cleaver. These are the guys who made the accusations. They won’t come on. That shows, that tells me something. But anyway, the strategy is on the left because the Tea Party movement is a danger to them to brand everybody in it as a racist.
INGRAHAM: Isn’t that a sure sign of a scoundrel’s refuge, though? I mean, you always go to the racist charge.
O’REILLY: Sure. Of course it’s scoundrels. Of course, the left-wing media, you don’t get more scoundrel than those people. And but that’s what they’re doing. You can see it. You can see it that any nut — and there are some nuts, Laura, in the Tea Party movement — any nut and anything will be used to brand the entire movement.
“What is true is that the extreme far left is not often used to brand” the Democratic Party,” observed O’Reilly. “But the extreme right has been used to brand the Republican Party. And that, that’s what’s going on.” Listen here:
Of course, O’Reilly is correct that incidents of bigotry at Tea Party events do not mean that everybody in the Tea Party movement is racist. O’Reilly’s effort to make a nuanced distinction is surprising, however, considering his past efforts to use cherry-picked user comments to label the netroots as “hatemongerers” like “the Ku Klux Klan” and “the Nazi Party.” In 2007, when JetBlue sponsored the YearlyKos convention, O’Reilly attacked the company, saying that “if the company was sponsoring a David Duke convention, we’d do the same story. Hate is hate, no matter where it comes from.” The two or three comments picked out from a forum in which hundreds of thousands of people participate were not representative of the site as a whole.
When Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) appeared on O’Reilly’s show to defend YearlyKos, which he was attending, he argued that “the fact that there are objectionable people who show up here on this site doesn’t discredit everyone else who participates in this in a wonderful way to share their views on a variety of subjects.” “Your description of that site is so opposite from what it is,” responded O’Reilly. “You are so dead wrong on this.” A year later, when former Vice President Al Gore spoke at the convention (which had been re-named Netroots Nation), O’Reilly declared that “the fact that he went to this thing is the same as if he stepped into the Klan gathering. It’s the same. No difference.”
Today on MSNBC’s Hardball, Chris Matthews brought on John Heilemann from New York Magazine to talk about President Obama’s popularity with Democrats. When Heilemann noted that the “Democratic left” has been “trashing the health care bill” this week, Matthews said that those people were part of the “netroots” and not “regular grown-up Democrats”:
MATTHEWS: I don’t consider them Democrats, I consider them netroots, and they’re different. And if I see that they vote in every election or most elections, I’ll be worried. But I’m not sure that they’re regular grown-up Democrats. I think that a lot of those people are troublemakers who love to sit in the backseat and complain. They’re not interested in governing this country. They never ran for office, they’re not interested in working for somebody in public office. They get their giggles from sitting in the backseat and bitching.
Yesterday, CNBC’s Chief Washington Correspondent John Harwood said that the Obama White House doesn’t view dissatisfaction amongst LGBT advocates — tens of thousands of whom marched in Washington, DC yesterday — as a “serious problem” because officials feel “that if they take care of the big issues — health care, energy, the economy — he’s [Obama] going to be just fine with this group.” As evidence, Harwood cited an anonymous “adviser” who bashed bloggers and dismissed critics as part of the “Internet left fringe”:
HOLT: But in general when you look at the left as a whole, have there been conversations about some things they thought would have been done but haven’t?
HARWOOD: Sure, but if you look at the polling, Barack Obama is doing well with 90 percent or more of Democrats so the White House views this opposition as really part of the “Internet left fringe,” Lester. And for a sign of how seriously the White House does or doesn’t take this opposition, one adviser told me today those bloggers need to take off the pajamas, get dressed and realize that governing a closely divided country is complicated and difficult.
On Saturday at the Human Rights Campaign’s annual dinner, Obama sent a far different message. “I’m here with a simple message: I’m here with you in that fight,” said the President, candidly adding, “I also appreciate that many of you don’t believe that progress has come fast enough. I want to be honest about that. Because it’s important to be honest amongst friends.”
The White House is disavowing the comment made by the anonymous adviser. Greg Sargent reports, asked for comment, White House deputy communications director Dan Pfeiffer emailed:
That sentiment does not reflect White House thinking at all, we’ve held easily a dozen calls with the progressive online community because we believe the online communities can often keep the focus on how policy will affect the American people rather than just the political back-and-forth.
During a discussion on the future of newspapers and journalism on the Chris Matthews Show today, Time’s Joe Klein said that “on complicated stories, you can do this stuff on the internet.” Matthews responded by asking “who’s going to fact check?” As CNN’s Gloria Bolger began to answer that online editors would, Matthews interjected, “the bloggers don’t fact check.” “Nobody fact checks” online, added Klein. Watch it: