Edward Cone: A Personal Look at Blogging
Tuesday, May 28, 2002 by Dave Winer.
Good morning. This DaveNet piece was written by Edward Cone, a senior writer for Ziff Davis Mediaís Baseline magazine and a columnist for the Greensboro News and Record. He has been a contributing editor to Wired magazine, a staff writer at Forbes, and has freelanced from Paris, New York, and North Carolina for a wide variety of publications.
I got to know Ed when he did a profile of me that ran in Wired in 2001. As Ed knows, I felt the profile missed the "wired" angle. He wrote about the contents of my refrigerator, and the pollen that accumulates on my pool, but missed the revolution in perspective of the tools I was working on. I was openly critical of his piece, on my weblog of course, but the conversation continued.
Talking with Ed over the weekend, I said that it's all about perspective. When a reader becomes a writer and a publisher, that's a major perspective shift. And the other way is too, when a professional writer goes solo, there can be a feeling of exhilaration and freedom, and of course the fear that comes with that.
Edward Cone is a professional journalist and a person with a weblog. His perspective is still rare, and therefore interesting. He wrote what I consider a milestone piece for the News and Record, it was the first weblog article (I had seen) by a professional that was respectful and had depth. So many stories are written by people who don't actually experience the medium, as if one could write a review of word processing software without choosing the New command from the File menu and typing "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country."
So when Ed's piece ran, I wanted him to write for DaveNet, for two reasons. First, I want new voices. And second, he's a pro with a blog. So here's Ed Cone's perspective on weblogs.
The easiest answer to the question of why I blog is this: because I can.
Write a sentence, click the mouse, and the words are published onto the Web. The cost and technical skill required to get started are low to nil. Any audience, universal or particular, is now within the potential reach of any writer.
As a professional journalist, it may seem odd for me to write for free. In fact, it makes sense on several levels. When I profiled Dave Winer more than a year ago for Wired, he told me that the Web is a writerís medium. I appreciated his take then. Now that I blog, I understand it.
Blogging is on the verge of becoming a mainstream fad, and that fad will be exploited and commercialized. But blogging will not fade away when its faddishness passes, because it is built on the powerful code of written language.
Blogs have been getting a lot of attention in the press, in large part because of the blogging adventures of big-name journalists like Andrew Sullivan and Eric Alterman. Much of the coverage has been typical media navel-gazing about the impact of blogs on the practice and stature of professional journalism.
These articles miss the point. Blogs are not going to replace magazines, newspapers, or online publications; I think Dave will lose his famous bet, made in the pages of Wired, that the top story of 2007 will attract more Google hits to a blog than to the New York Times site. There is tremendous value created by the resources available to a for-profit publication, including editing talent, access to sources, brand awareness, and time available for a reporter to spend on a single story.
But when a journalist like Jonah Goldberg of the National Review Online points out in the Washington Times that major publications have bureaus in foreign capitals that canít be matched by a lone blogger, he is merely stating the obvious. The key is that there will be bloggers in those cities, too, who will report first-hand both fact and opinion. This is part of bloggingís true power, the democratization of the distribution of information. Goldberg says that bloggers can only feed off the work of the mainstream press, but bloggers will lead, drive, and shape the news coverage of the major media, too.
Another important element is bloggingís network effect-the tendency of bloggers to link to each other, providing a running conversation between interested parties that is available for anyone to read. One good example of this was the back-and-forth between Adam Curry and Lance Knobel on Daveís own site about the assassination of Dutch politician Pym Fortuyn, which provided considerable insight into the man and his followers while the media was still settling for a more simplistic view.
Bloggers who link extensively to each other and to other sites also create useful filters for the overwhelming volume of Web content, creating what are essentially portal pages, virtual industry journals, and eclectic general-interest magazines. Not every blogger links, which is fine by me. Andrew Sullivan has gotten a lot of heat in the blogging community for his lack of links to other bloggers, but hey, heís Andrew Sullivan, weíll read him anyway. And there are many personal diaries, sexcapade recaps, and me-too reviews of ìAttack of the Clones,î which exist to satisfy their authors and perhaps a few friends.
At some level, though, not linking to other bloggers negates a certain part of the essence of blogging. Maybe those pages are less ìblogsî than just frequently-updated personal Web pages, if such a distinction exists. Sullivan writes that he disdains the concept of ìcommunity,î but the blogging community and its subcultures are real. And on a practical level, links between bloggers are a critical way of getting readership for blogs. Blogging is more than the sum of its parts.
Linking is part of bloggingís appeal to me as a writer. I think of it writing in 3-D, an addition to the toolkit for written expression. The ability to link to other sites means you can define or expand upon almost any topic you cover, with linking itself an art, since the particular link you provide for, say, intifada, will color your own work accordingly.
As a professional, I see other benefits to blogging. I found when I added a weekly opinion column in a regional daily to my full-time job as a magazine journalist that writing more makes me a better writer. The newspaper column itself is a loss leader for me-I could make more money selling the time I spend on it to higher bidders-but it hones my thinking and develops my style. Plus, it makes for good clips when I am pitching the kind of work that pays my bills, and itís a way of taking an active role in the community in which I live.
A weblog offers all that, minus the beer-money checks but with the possibility of a global audience. It is also a potential brand-builder for my journalistic career. I choose not to live in New York or San Francisco, but now my work is instantly available in the hotbeds of my profession. My chances of getting noticed by someone who might actually pay me for my work may be greatly increased.
And blogging provides a forum for stuff I donít have room for elsewhere-ephemera, short items, personal notes, my pet theory that the Dwarves are Tolkienís Jews-as well as a testing ground for work in progress. For me, this last category includes reflections on the impact of 9/11 on a small group of my closest college friends, including two who died-something I simply need to write about.
I am still feeling my way with my blog, but I know that I want it to be a kind of op-ed column, updated frequently, with original material and links to other parts of the Web, with a consistent tone that is intelligent, humane, and funny. Unlike much of the stuff I get paid to write, itís my voice, singing my own song. I hope people read it, bookmark it, and create blogs of their own.