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Writing For The Blogosphere

Posted by acdtest on August 28, 2003

Writing For The Blogosphere

t’s now been almost a year-and-a-half since I first started writing for the blogosphere, and my experience during that time has confirmed my first thoughts on writing for this new medium. Weblogs are, of course, different things to different people, and range from those given over to the chronicling of the merely quotidian personal to weblogs devoted to writings on matters of universal concern and importance. As with all creative efforts, most weblogs are poorly done and not worth a second look, and only a very few will reward daily visits.

Some time ago, I wrote a short piece largely agreeing with weblogger and journalism professor Brendan O’Neill who wrote in part:

The other grating thing about the Blogosphere is the lack of quality writing. […] …most of the Blogosphere consists of bad, bad writing – not just clumsy sentences and never-ending paragraphs, but also spelling mistakes.

The passage of time since then has not changed my agreement with that assessment.

And what, by far, have I found to be the most egregious fault of serious-minded writing in the blogosphere generally?

Lack of discipline. Or, as Mr. O’Neill put it:

Then there are the over-long posts — 2000 words, when 400 words would have been fine. As Voltaire once wrote: “The best way to be boring is to leave nothing out.” Blogging everything that comes into your head is a recipe for revealing nothing of substance about yourself or your views.

Quite right. There’s simply no excuse or justification for a lack of discipline of that sort; unless, of course, one’s an academic where the rule — nay, the imperative — is never let 1000 words do when you can manage 10,000.

There’s precious little appropriate to the weblog format (the print equivalent of which would be the daily or weekly newspaper column) that requires more than 1000 words or so to express more than adequately if one really knows what one is talking about; 1500 words at the outside, but typically that many only when one’s post includes a necessary quoting of others’ text(s), or the inclusion of cast lists and credits, or other such pertinent technical data. A post longer than that and one’s either an inept writer, doesn’t know what one wants to say, doesn’t know how to say what one wants to say, simply loves the sound of one’s own voice, or any combination of two or more of the foregoing. I can’t begin to list the weblogs I no longer read due this single fault alone (well, actually I can, but will here refrain from doing so).

It’s a sobering thought, or should be, that one of the most justifiably lauded and influential writers among American journalists, H. L. Mencken, first made his mark on American letters largely by column-length pieces that averaged some 800 words or so (no, I haven’t word-counted his pieces; I’m taking that word-count figure from other sources). If Mencken required only some 800 words per piece to get his points across and make his mark as a writer, less gifted writers (which I can say without fear of serious contradiction would include all who write for the blogosphere) can be permitted 1000-1500, rarely more. Any more is little more than gross self-indulgence which one ought to feel nothing but shame for inflicting on an innocent public.

And with that, I’ll step down from my soapbox — but not before leaving my fellow webloggers with two final sobering thoughts: The 1953 seminal article by James Watson and Francis Crick in the science journal Nature describing in detail the just-discovered structure of DNA and how that structure was derived was 900 words in length, and Lincoln’s dedicatory address at Gettysburg, all of 267.

If that doesn’t sober y’all up, nothing will.

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Contrapundit

Posted by acdtest on August 17, 2003

Contrapundit

esponding to a remark of mine in the comments section of another weblog wherein I jestingly (well, only half-jestingly) expressed the sentiment that I was beginning to become fond of the weblog’s author even though that author was a news junkie and political wonk, a reader eMailed me that he simply couldn’t understand how I could say such a thing. Aren’t news junkies and political pundits the very cream of the blogosphere, and doesn’t serious-minded political punditry represent the blogosphere’s highest calling?

I read that over a few times in an attempt to locate the tongue embedded in cheek, but alas, it was nowhere to be found. Too bad, as absent its presence the eMailer’s suggestion is thoroughly risible. While it’s certainly true that political punditry, local through global, constitutes an overwhelmingly large proportion of the serious-intentioned writing in the blogosphere, it’s neither the cream of the writing, nor representative of “the blogosphere’s highest calling,” whatever that unintentionally comical notion in this context is meant to mean. Political pundits are the proverbial dime-a-dozen, not only in the blogosphere, but all across the Internet. Check into any one of that legion of Internet multi-discussion message boards, for instance, and you’ll find that, almost without exception, the discussions with the highest message activity are the political ones. Everyone, it seems, is a political pundit, and each has something to say, and typically at length. Significant length. Tedious length. Even mind-numbing length, and even the best of them.

As might be guessed, I’ve remarkably little patience with political pundits, generally speaking, even though I’ve on occasion engaged in past in some political punditry myself on the matters of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and our post-9/11 response to terrorism, my excuse for such pundit-playing being that it acted as a vent for my frustrations concerning those matters. But political pundit-playing for me is both atypical and rare.

Part of the reason for my short patience with political pundits generally is that, as I’ve elsewhere made note, he (or she — but the male pronoun from hereon in) is typically highly partisan, so thoroughly immersed in and ensorcelled by the inside-track minutiae and byzantine complexities of the structure of things political and geo-political, and revels so in his own real or imagined expertise in unraveling that structure, he almost invariably misses seeing and understanding the true shape of the structure itself. Political pundits, like all journalists of both the print and blogospheric sort, are devoted to — nay, worship — The Facts. The Facts, it’s imagined by such as these, embody The Truth. Well, the real truth is The Facts almost never embody The Truth. They’re its mere outcroppings or consequence, The Truth almost always lying somewhere beneath — not infrequently, deeply beneath — and hidden from ordinary view. Mistaking The Facts for The Truth, political pundits almost always get it wrong — or rather, almost always get wrong the larger, universal and timeless existential implications, as opposed to the merely transitory empirical effects and consequences, immediate or near-term.

Given those sentiments, do I read, say, newspapers, or watch TV newscasts?

I do. But for the so-called hard news portions only, and even that from only a few carefully selected sources (i.e., selected for their over-time-proven and fairly consistent accuracy).

And how about weblogs, which collectively constitute the blogosphere, a domain I’ve elsewhere characterized as a vast savanna of pundit poop? Do I read them?

Again, I do, but needless to say, not for hard news. That would be patently imbecile.

And what about the weblogs of the blogosphere’s political pundits, then? Do I read them?

Once again, I do on occasion, but only as sources for links, in which capacity they serve a useful purpose. Taken collectively they act as a linked directory to political writings in the blogosphere, much in the same way as the indispensable Arts & Letters Daily is by itself a linked directory to the digitally available writings on the Web which are of interest to the intellectually, um, advantaged, you should pardon the expression. Collectively, one could call the blogosphere’s political pundit weblogs, as do I, The Common Man’s Arts & Letters Daily. I almost never read any of the political commentary linked to, or the commentary these political pundit webloggers sometimes write themselves. But by noting to what and to whom they link gives me a good sense, painlessly, of what’s going on in the blogosphere politically, weblog-wise, that is.

So, if not for hard news and political punditry, what then do I see as the real value and role of the blogosphere; the blogosphere’s “highest calling,” as my eMailer put it?

My answer to that question is short and straightforward: The blogosphere has the potential to become a universally accessible venue where multitudes can be exposed to the work of worthwhile writers in a multitude of fields whose writing, fiction and non-fiction, though of high quality, is for any number of reasons not immediately marketable in the commercial (i.e., paying) marketplace, either mass-market or specialist; worthwhile writing that absent the existence of the blogosphere would go unread and unnoted. And that, to my way of thinking, is a calling of genuine worth, and worthy of being declared “the blogosphere’s highest calling.”

What’s that? Do I think the blogosphere will ever fulfill its potential in that regard?

How would I know. I’m no pundit.

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