So there was a roundtable on HBO last night hosted by Bob Costas and dealing with sports media. One topic covered was The Blog (duh duh duhhhhh). On the right: Buzz Bissinger, vocal critic of blogs. On the left: Will Leitch, founder and editor of Deadspin, arguably the most influential blog in history. If you didn’t watch it here’s what you missed: Bissinger boiling to the point of hysteria over the flilth that is The Blog and how it’s a disgrace to the written language, and so on and so forth. There was nothing original about his position or his argument. It’s the same one you’ve heard countless other times in countless other forums. In fact, this anti-blog position is growing so tired I thought it would be worth breaking my blogging silence to help guide this misguided discussion.
First, you can be no more against blogs than you can be against paper or the printed press. A blog is a publishing platform. There is nothing inherently evil about the platform. Likewise, there is nothing inherently positive about the platform. The platform has no agency — it’s a platform. Whatever qualities critics like Bissinger apply to blogs apply to the content of blogs, not blogs themselves.
Furthermore, what distinguishes a blog from other forms of online media is a set of extremely loose guidelines that might be so loose as to be irrevocably vague. Has anyone tried to define what a blog is recently? Sure, we know one when we see one, thanks in large part to entities like Blogger and WordPress, both of whom are marketed as blogging tools. But what distinguishes a blog from, say, a person who publishes her poetry on her website? At one point it seemed like comments were a distinguishing feature of blogs. But there are highly successful blogs without comments (Andrew Sullivan, for example) and there are websites like the New York Times, the Gray Lady herself, that allow comments on editorials. Certainly “Blogger” isn’t on Frank Rich’s business card, but that’s only because his column is also published in the print edition of the NYT. Were that not the case he’d be a blogger.
Another feature of blogs seems to be timely updating. But The Disappointment Zone is proof enough that that’s no distinguishing criterion! Some blogs are updated 50 times a day. Others 50 times a year. How about the length of the post? Well, on one end you have Joe Poz, who will not hesitate to write 3000 words on 1987 nonroster invites to the Royals spring training, and on the other end you have something like Twitter, which at least looks blog-like, right?
If you push on the definition of ‘blog’ it quickly unravels into a category too broad to be useful. It’s certainly too broad to be the object of furor for someone like Bissinger.
So what’s really bothering Buzz?
Why, that’s simple: bad writing!
Buzz hates blog because so many of them are poorly written junk. Gee whiz, how novel. Let’s have nineteen more forums and spill fifty more gallons of ink bickering over something we all agree upon — bad writing is, um, bad.
The whole blog debate is a non-issue. But that doesn’t mean this ‘debate’ is benign. Far from it. This debate is distracting us from more pressing issues. Here’s one:
Loud mouths who won’t stop being annoying in public places like bars or stadium restrooms. Seriously. These people pose such a far greater threat to our civic virtue than blogs. You can’t navigate away from the person-equivalent of bad blogger. You can’t unsubscribe from his RSS feed. You can’t, you know, not look at his webpage. He’s just there, annoying the crap out of you, being a blowhard. Why can’t we have public forums on these doofuses?