Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The blog is dead. Long live the blog!

Steve Coll is calling it quits on Think Tank for a while so as to work on a new book. He's got an interesting final-for-now post up today about the lessons he's learned about using this format, and you should take a look at the whole thing. I'll just reproduce my favorite bit, which is Coll's closing:
Some problems that I half-expected that also turned out to be true: 1) Writing fast about serious subjects because they are in the news, without doing a lot of reporting first, can produce crap. 2) Even the better instances of that sub-genre are still not very satisfying over time to the author. There are a few transcendent deadline essayists born from time to time (Murray Kempton, Michael Kinsley, Rick Hertzberg, half the sports columnists of the last three decades) and many other very good ones, including a number blogging on this site, but the rest of us might not wish to be tempted by blogging freedom to emulate them if we can instead spend our time travelling, reporting, researching in archives, or writing books in our attics. This is just a blog post, however; I am free to revise my thinking in an hour, or whenever I revive Think Tank (as I intend to do), and presumably no one will notice.
Emphasis here is mine.

I think we all need to be cautious of the temptation to be first with the news, first with the analysis, fastest, most comprehensive, most poignant and polished and comprehensive all at the same time.

2 comments:

  1. You are right of course. But being first means being read. I could write the best damn piece of analysis on the 'freedom flotilla' fiasco the internet has seen, but if I publish it four months from now, no one will read it.

    Ok, maybe a few people will, because it is Israel, and they are always in the news. This does not hold for everybody. I have half an essay written up on Haiti and the problems that did (and did not) lead to the devastation of the earthquake earlier this year. But what is the incentive to finish it? No one cares about the island now that the news crews have moved elsewhere.

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  2. "I think we all need to be cautious of the temptation to be first with the news, first with the analysis, fastest, most comprehensive, most poignant and polished and comprehensive all at the same time."

    There is a lesson there. The folks who churn out the most comprehensive and polished analysis at the earliest time tend to be the people who studied the subject matter when it was not so popular to do so. I love the introduction to Tom Barfield's new book in which he points out that he was long viewed as just some guy who had tenure and was thus able to teach largely useless, esoteric knowledge to students with odd interests. Suddenly, after 9/11, people cared about Afghanistan and his in-depth knowledge on the country was in high demand.

    We would do well to turn to the real subject matter experts, rather than the familiar faces, voices, and columns. This, of course, would require that we learn how to recognize legitimate, trustworthy sources of information. Unfortunately, that runs counter to our preferred mental shortcut of searching out the loudest voices who have a (D) or (R) next to their names or are known to be "conservative" or "progressive" rather than wise, informed, or reliable. Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann will always have louder voices than people who actually know wtf they're talking about.

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