Wednesday, April 28, 2010

This Post Was Originally Written on Daily Kos (And What's Wrong with That?)

It is at least interesting to see the latest mainstream media insult circulate liberally across the country, one designed to reduce bloggers to little more than reactive agitprop sensationalists. This week it's "(insert example of ridiculously overblown commentary here) could have been found on Daily Kos". I might take more offense, except when I know the major players frequently fall far short of their own lofty journalistic standards. We've consistently recognized, called out, and sometimes outright mocked op-ed columnists, television commentators, pundits, and members of the fourth estate. We shouldn't expect a mea culpa any time soon. But when we can produce all sorts of facts to prove our point, we can certainly make a strong case on our own behalf. And we can certainly keep sharing our own voices for the benefit of all, unimpeded by what anyone might say.

I find the timing of these fresh assaults a bit suspicious. Recent reports continue to show an undeniable downturn in newspaper circulation, a trend which has been underway for years and one unlikely to cease.

Cape Cod Times posted yesterday a list of the twenty-five leading city newspapers ranked by circulation, under the ominous title "Newspaper circulation in free fall."

1. Wall Street Journal 2,092,523 +0.5%
2. USA Today 1,826,622 -13.58%
3. The New York Times 951,063 -8.47%
4. Los Angeles Times 616,606 -14.74%
5. Washington Post 578,482 -13.06%
6. NY Daily News 535,059 -11.25%
7. New York Post 525,004 -5.94%
8. San Jose Mercury News* 516,701
9. Chicago Tribune 452,145 -9.79%
10. Houston Chronicle 366,578 -13.77%
11. The Philadelphia Inquirer** 356,189
12. The Arizona Republic 351,207 -9.88%
13. Newsday 334,809 -9.07%
14. The Denver Post*** 333,675 N/A
15. Star Tribune, 295,438 -7.71%
16. St. Petersburg Times 278,888 -1.49%
17. Chicago Sun-Times 268,803 -13.88%
18. The Plain Dealer, 267,888 -8.14%
19. The Oregonian 263,600 -1.83%
20. The Seattle Times*** 263.468 N/A
21. Dallas Morning News 260,659 -21.47%
22. Detroit Free Press 252,017 -13.31%
23. San Diego Union-Trib 249,630 -4.45%
24. SF Chronicle 241,330 -22.68%
25. The Star-Ledger, 236,017 -17.79%

Spin, spin to your heart's content, but here is the truth in black and white and red all over. As the saying goes, money doesn't lie, but the people who count it do! The same could go for circulation numbers.

Make no mistake. There will always be a role and a need for citizen journalists, informal insight, and independent media. I myself hold no impressive credentials and my own formal education in the field beyond the Mass Communication classes I took in undergrad is nonexistent. I am primarily and proudly self-taught. My entire publication history is not especially impressive at its face, but that which does bear my byline is of uniformly good quality and I am deeply proud of it. In five solid, steady, persistent years of blogging, I have begun to develop something of a name for myself among a very particular group of people. While I certainly appreciate the attention, I never fool myself into believing that I am anything other a minor voice speaking to a niche audience. Humility serves me well and others who wish to partake have an open invitation to do so at any time.

To return to my classes in journalism, I recall very how many of them required me to adhere to a whole slue of standardized rules and niggling protocols. These guidelines to me were always restrictive rather than empowering or inspiring. When it came time to write a basic lead, I always followed my creative muse first and only grudgingly took style into account. One professor noted that one such sample lead I wrote for his class was so unorthodox and different from the norm that he could never teach it to anyone else. This is no different from the sort of creative expression I see as I peruse the blogosphere, where being true to self and individual leaning is much more important than regimentation.

The diaries on Kos and individual blog posts I have read over the years are rarely beholden to anyone's rules. That is what I find so compelling and liberating about them. As I mentioned above, I developed my own writing style both with the passage of time and also with trial and error. This was far more helpful than anything I ever had to do when seeking to pass a class. Those in the mainstream media might find that remark resembles their professional careers, but they have one notable advantage over you and me. They have the pedigree. They are the blue-bloods. They ascribe to a system like so many others where building connections, rubbing shoulders with the right people, attending the right school, and knowing the password to get into the clubhouse is essential. Nobodies like you and me aren't exactly privy to their world or at least find it a challenge to enter. And it isn't just nobodies who are left out in the cold. This list also includes people of color, women, people raised in working class settings, LGBTs, other minorities, and the list goes on and on.

It's not especially fair, nor especially unbiased, nor particularly objective to make an assumption that every blogger on Kos or otherwise is some strident ideologue with an axe to grind. But, it does fit well into a narrative, particularly with an industry that is secretly and not-so-secretly paranoid about its long-term health. The more flack I get for being a blogger these days, the less likely I am to pay it much mind. The criticism speaks not to us but rather to them.

I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us--don't tell!
They'd banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

-Emily Dickinson

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