To Bloggers, Some Advice

As someone with more than a passing interest in online media–look, you’re reading my words on an online media outlet right now–I’m often discouraged by the medium. What could be simply a cheap and, critically, data rich outlet for content seems to have evolved into a sub-par artistic aesthetic. That is to say: I am excited by the power of blogging as distribution system, but frustrated by the bottom barrel standards for the content it hosts. Truly great content is rare–some of the Salon.com or Slate.com properties, a few of the Gawker Media properties–and the rest is primarily comprised of half-assed recontextualized content. Something that blogging does well–timely coverage, portraying an intimate portrait of writers–has morphed into lazy, hastily written, ill thought out grabs for page views. I get that media is the business of monetizing an audience, but other distribution systems manage to maintain at least a pretense to quality. For some reason, blogging has become the equivalent of daytime TV–a lazy, easy, empty, half-hearted grasp for an audience. After the break, two recommendations to help bloggers get their sh-t together.

1. Don’t Be Cynical

Blogging is, unfortunately, dominated by a hipper-than-thou, extremely cynical authorial tone. It’s prevalent because it’s easy and it offers a reliable point of view for analysis. Unfortunately, it’s also just sort of empty. An example?

BlackBook’s own Joe Coscarelli recently wrote a post for Gawker on pathetic aspiring media professionals that perfectly captures what I’m talking about. Joe is a fine writer (and a good guy), but the piece comes across as one long, rambling, pointless self-loathing diatribe. It’s all about the futility, patheticalness, and general woe of the callow media youth. All I could think while reading it is: “look, if you don’t like blogging, do something else…go to law school…become a teacher…there’s lots to do in the world.” This is the essential problem with cynical negativity: if what you’re discussing is so unbearably horrible, why are we talking about it? Traditional criticism is a different matter–it is, in its attempt to articulately point out failings, at least attempting to be constructive–but cynical criticism is just draining and unhelpful. Bloggers, if you find yourself writing about how much everything sucks and about how you’re just so above it…please, rethink your approach. This attitude is easy, lazy, and not constructive.

2. Only Recontextualize When There Is Value To Add

The second dispiriting habit of bloggers that I’d like to address is editorializing that is simply ill thought out or a stretch. The basic value that editorial content adds is its legitimacy and depth as a piece of thought, so there is no excuse, really, for putting out intellectually thin editorials. An example?

Jezebel, the Gawker Media women’s blog–its voice is, basically, pop sex-positive feminist–is one of my favorite media outlets in any medium. The site’s editorial outlook is essentially my outlook and their pieces on misogyny, sex-negativity, body fascism, etc. are generally absolutely stellar. My one gripe with the site is that, in its zeal to recontextualize news for its editorial outlook, it often casts too wide a net. For example, this post, which criticized a Yale student publication for creating an overly white “Most Beautiful” list. This is precisely the sort of diversity critique that I typically get behind 100%, but in this case the post struck me as a stretch. I think anyone who is familiar with campus publications knows that no one takes these lists seriously and that they’re essentially composed of the editors’ friends. That just seems self evident. The breathless tone with which the author points out that the list “is 21.6% whiter than Yale in general” just struck me as hyperbolic. Oh, you mean that a meaningless half-jokey list in a campus publication that has nothing to do with employment or broader culture was marginally whiter than the school? Shrug? There are many needed critiques of the Ivy League’s issues with race, but this was not one of them. It’s the kind of thin editorializing that constitutes the worst of the web’s output. Disappointing, particularly from a normally excellent blog.

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