I know John Hughes mostly as the nice guy who occasionally tells me that The Sacramento Bee can't run one of my missives* in the Letters to the Editor column. More recently, however, Hughes has been trying to make something of Ipso Sacto, an ambitious project to sift through the offerings of blogs in northern California. He idealistically thought that a major news organ like The Bee would be eager to take of the pulse of the local blogosphere, with its fervent advocacy and free-wheeling commentary.
He was mostly wrong.
So what went wrong? It may well be a cultural thing. There are certain professions—journalism is one of them, teaching is another—where it is easy to have a sense of mission. Sure, life would be rough without plumbers and electricians, but journalists serve Truth (and occasionally Justice) by carefully and dispassionately dispensing the first draft of history in the pages of their newspapers and the sound-bites of their broadcasts.
(Jan. 3, 2007) When I started this site it was in close association with my employer. My situation at work has changed, and it no longer appears likely that any of my demonstration projects will be adopted.
What to do? I could simply turn off ipsoSacto.com. I own the domain, the server is housed in my home office, I work on this in my “spare” time. Bottom line: I get to decide.
In the 22 weeks that I have been working on this, I've come to genuinely enjoy reading the regional blogs. I would continue reading them even without this web site.
Well, sometimes they do. Writing on deadline is tough work, and tight deadlines are the enemy of accuracy, limiting as they do the opportunity to check and recheck one's facts. I know a little something about this, having sampled the news writer's experience during a summer job in journalism several years ago. My first published article was less than a stellar exemplar of fact-checking. I had to learn fast—and write fast. (One of my acquaintances is retired Bee journalist Walt Wiley, who once laughingly told me that my ten-week fellowship as a science writer at the Albuquerque Journal was “more than enough” to turn me into a journalist. I suppose it was a decent apprenticeship.)
Journalists have also been lionized by their association with the famous Woodward and Bernstein, whose series of investigative reports at the Washington Post were crucial in destroying the Nixon presidency. One could get a swelled head. (Bob Woodward's cranial edema was so severe it clogged his critical faculties. It took three books on the Bush administration before he realized they're all compulsive liars.)
By contrast, what is a blogger? And what are the qualifications to be a blogger? These are easy questions, since the simple answers are, respectively, “anyone” and “none.” Who would want news and information from folks with no qualifications at all?
Well, frankly, lots of people. Haven't you noticed the exceedingly slender credentials held by most of today's noisiest opinion shapers? The talkers on radio are most skilled at heaping praise on callers who agree with them and cruelly taunting those who do not. The books by Coulter, Hannity, Ingraham, and Savage (even when largely ghost-written) are simply their on-air rants in print form. Essayists they are not. (In her last book [and pray that it may indeed be her last], Coulter devoted three chapters to attacking Darwin and evolution, cribbing almost everything from a couple of “intelligent design” apologists.) When the so-called mainstream media are being denounced for blandness and irrelevance, why should journalists not feel defensive? Hughes has certainly encountered this sentiment himself:
Yeah, bloggers get no respect. And neither does the effort of John Hughes to track the local blogosphere. Say, wouldn't it be nice to go visit Ipso Sacto and show John some support.
(January 4, 2007) As if my self-esteem as my employer's principal blog-watcher isn't low enough already, I get to edit and publish this opinion from a co-worker:The initial source of Boxer's concern was the blogosphere, that sometimes subterranean sewer of suspect journalism, where reputation-besmirching rumor runs rampant.Thank you very much.
Oh, and add Ipso Sacto to your link list.
*Hughes once gave me one of the nicest rejection notices ever, when he took the trouble to tell me how much he liked a bit I did on UFOs, men in black, and black helicopters. It was just too long (and probably no longer timely). I'd run that piece today as a blog post if it weren't long lost in the ozone of my abandoned CompuServe account. I doubt that John's archives go back that far.