Yesterday on Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall drew back momentarily from the relentless news cycle to air a few meta thoughts on blogs and blogging, fleshing out some of the ideas behind his TPM Cafe venture (a multi-blog hub on politics and society) and his recent hiring notice for a “reporter-blogger” to cover Capitol Hill.
Marshall’s ruminations tie in nicely with a meeting the institute is holding tomorrow (I’m running to the airport shortly) at our institutional digs at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles to discuss possible futures of the blogging medium, particularly in regard to the academy and the role of public intellectual. Gathering around the table for a full day of discussion will be a number of blogger-professors and doctoral students, several journalists and journalism profs, and a few interesting miscellaneous spoons to help stir the pot. We’ve set up a blog (very much resembling this one) as a planning stage for the meeting. Feel free to take a look and comment on the agenda and the list of participants.
The meeting is a sort of brainstorm session for a project the institute is hatching that aims to encourage academics with expert knowledge and a distinctive voice to use blogs and other internet-based vehicles to step beyond the boundaries of the academy to reach out to a broader public audience. Issues/questions/problems we hope to address include the individual voice in conflict with (or in complement to) mainstream media. How the individual voice establishes and maintains integrity on the web. How several voices could be aggregated in a way that expands both the audience and the interaction with readers without sacrificing the independence of the individual voices. Blogging as a bridge medium between the academy and the world at large. Blogging as a bridge medium between disciplines in the academy in a way that sheds holistic light on issues of importance to a larger public. And strengths and weaknesses of the blog form itself.
This last point has been on our minds a lot lately and I hope it will get amply discussed at the meeting. A year or two ago, the word “blog” didn’t mean anything to most people. Now it is all but fully embraced as the medium of the web. But exciting as the change has been, it shouldn’t be assumed that blogs are the ideal tool for all kinds of discourse. In fact, what’s interesting about blogs right now, especially the more intellectually ambitious ones, is how much they are doing in so limiting a form. With its ruthlessly temporal structure and swift burial of anything more than 48 hours old, blogs work great for sites like TPM whose raison d’être is to comment on the news cycle, or sites like Boing Boing, Gawker, or Fark.com serving up oddities, gossip and boredom cures for the daily grind. But if, god forbid, you want ideas and discussion to unfold over time, and for writing to enjoy a more ample window of relevance, blogs are frustratingly limited.
Even Josh Marshall, a politics blogger who is served well by the form, wishes it could go deeper:
…the stories that interest me right now are a) the interconnected web of corruption scandals bubbling up out the reining Washington political machine and b) the upcoming mid-term elections.
I cover a little of both. And I’ve particularly tried to give some overview of the Abramoff story. But I’m never able to dig deeply enough into the stories or for a sustained enough period of time or to keep track of how all the different ones fit together. That’s a site I’d like to read every day — one that pieced together these different threads of public corruption for me, showed me how the different ones fit together (Abramoff with DeLay with Rove with the shenanigans at PBS and crony-fied bureaucracies like the one Michael Brown was overseeing at FEMA) and kept tabs on how they’re all playing in different congressional elections around the country.
That’s a site I’d like to read because I’m never able to keep up with all of it myself. So we’re going to try to create it.
I’m excited to hear from folks at tomorrow’s meeting where they’d like blogging to go. I’d like to think that we’re groping toward a new web genre, perhaps an extension of blogs, that is less temporal and more thematic — where ideas, not time, are the primary organizing factor. This question of form goes hand in hand with the content question that our meeting will hopefully address: how do we get more people with big ideas and expertise to start engaging the world in a serious way through these burgeoning forms? I could say more, but I’ve got a plane to catch.