Eight years ago I started blogging, becoming just the second full-time daily newspaper staffer (after Dan Gillmor) to write a blog. What motivated me, besides the prescience of Web agitator and uberblogger Dave Winer’s warning that print media were headed for the technological scrap heap, was the incipient presidency of George W. Bush. From the time he was elected, if that’s the right term given the Supreme Court’s circumvention of due process and its de facto anointment of King George, I had a terrible sinking feeling about the future. George Bush, as I wrote in my very first blog, would come to be known as the greatest president since Herbert Hoover.
My reference point was simply Hoover’s incompetence, his inability to process reality, his boneheaded allegiance to Republican dogma when creative alternatives were obviously in order. I was not even sure Bush would actually be worse than Hoover. But today I think of Bush as not just America’s worst president ever, but the biggest loser of all time. Think of it. As Molly Ivins and Michael Moore documented so well, everything George W. Bush has touched in his life has turned to clay. He’s just that kind of guy, and documenting how he managed to run a great and powerful country from wealth and stature so far into the ditch will provide historians a vast and endless quest of explication.
When I started blogging, the most frequently used term was “Web log,” and only Internet cognoscenti even knew what it meant. Blogging’s evolution roughly tracked that of email: First people asked what it was. Then they asked why they needed it. Then it became the primary way they communicated. You cannot really have a presence on the Web without a blog, although what that really means for most people is a kind of calling card rather than, say, a personal Huffington Post. Many of the early bloggers, in fact, including the coiner of the term and Winer and Gillmor, hardly blog at all compared with what they once did. There are too many other mechanisms for communicating on the Web — everything from social networks to YouTube to Twitter.
I blogged almost daily for nearly two years before cutting back, starting again, then stopping. Blogging well is harder than it looks (for one thing, you have to know how to edit your own copy). And time-consuming. Plus it was not going to pay any bills.
But I’m starting up again because I feel we’re getting close to some sort of economic viability (if not quite a business model). Perhaps it would be more accurate to say we have to come up with some sort of economic viability. Because newspapers are indeed going down in flames, and something has to replace them if we’re to maintain a healthy democracy. I should not say “replace” because newspaper journalism does not translate to the Web, that is, the (purportedly) objective voice and truth delivered from Mount Olympus. We need the truth more than ever, but it has to be conveyed in a way that is compelling, meaningful, relevant and most of all unfiltered. Life in America is so entrenched with dishonesty that the primary function of news today is simply dismantling the dissemblance.
Newspapers may indeed be going down in flames. But the process will have to play out, it seems, like the fable of the Phoenix, where the pyre must be lit and the bird consumed before it can rise from the ashes.