August 6, 2009

7 questions for the author of ‘Say Everything’

Scott Rosenberg sketches his vision of blogosphere’s impact on our culture

sayeverythingJD LasicaScott Rosenberg, co-founder and longtime managing editor of Salon — and a longtime friend — has a new book out, following Dreaming in Code, called Say Everything: How Blogging Began, What It’s Becoming, and Why It Matters (Crown Publishing Group). It’s a well-written, well-researched, worthwhile read about blogging, its origins, import and where it’s going. He took part this week in a Q&A about blogging’s impact on publishing, journalism and our culture at large.

1Blogging is no longer the shiny new toy, and the cool kids are moving on to social networks and micro-blogging services like Twitter. Tell us why you think blogs have a vibrant future.

SR: Blogs have a great future because the Web has a great future, and blogs are the Web’s single most important native form. The “cool kids” did their part for blogging by embracing it in the early days and helping it evolve into the mature phenomenon that it is today. That’s their role; they’re doing the same thing with Twitter et al. now. But their waning enthusiasm means very little to a form that we can now see is the single most useful vehicle for self-expression online. Once millions take up some activity, you really don’t need the cool kids anymore.

2You’ve been researching and writing your book for some time. What was the single biggest surprise you came across?

SR: I was surprised by how much of everything that would come later was prefigured by the experiences of the earliest bloggers whose tales are contained in Say Everything‘s first section. Any sort of issue that might come up and hit you in the head as a blogger — with the exception of advertising- and money-related matters — turns out to be something these people faced.

3Name a few bloggers who aren’t household names but whose blogs
enrich the public discourse.

SR: I’m not trying to be difficult, but I have to ask, which bloggers are household names? Whose house, exactly, are we living in? Is Anil Dash a household name? He’s been writing some amazing stuff lately. Is Merlin Mann a household name? Nate Silver? Certainly these are all “well known bloggers,” in certain spheres, but none of them really rises to the level of name-recognition of any second-string actor.

I think I have to continue being difficult and challenge the second part of the question, too. “Enriching the public discourse” makes it sound like “the public discourse” is monolithic. There are a million “public discourses” out there, and most bloggers of any level of ambition are contributing to at least one of them. I may not be personally interested in the obsessions of a quilting blogger or a baseball geek, but they are now participating in the public discourse that matters to them.

[JD: This is worth discussing more deeply over a beer some time. While I value all the knitting bloggers, sports bloggers and mommy bloggers out there, we do need vibrant discussions in the blogosphere around public policy issues, especially with the increasing irrelevance of many newspapers and other traditional media voices. We find some of this with Josh Marshall’s Talking Points Memo, Pro Publica, the Politico, Huffington Post, Daily Kos, Power Line and elsewhere, but we need many more blogs, and bloggers, participating in the public discourse about their communities and their nation.]

4My perception is that few of us are blogging about conferences or live events anymore — it’s easier to Tweet. But that makes it harder for readers to get a contextual understanding of what they missed when it comes over in micro-chunks. What’s your impression?

rosenberg_mediumSR: Twitter’s a more efficient channel for “live blogging” an event, in a lot of ways, than a tool like WordPress or Movable Type, so it’s no surprise we’re using it for that. Blog posts are better for providing the context. It would be a shame for the person tweeting a live event to think, gee, my job is done once the Twitter stream ends, and never offer that context. But maybe now we’re more likely to divide this sort of coverage, letting the live-streamers and reflective posters each do what they do best. The only thing that worries me here is that we don’t yet really know how well a Tweet will serve as a reference point in the future (as I wrote a little while back). Blog posts have known persistence and long-term discoverability. It would be a shame to lose the historical record we are creating with Twitter.

5How did you use your blog during your research? Was it a key tool
in uncovering sources or anecdotes?

SR: Not really. When I’m writing a book I find it really hard to blog at any kind of a regular pace. And the nature of this material was such that the challenge lay less in “uncovering” additional material than in figuring out how to define the story — really, deciding what to leave out. And of course I ended up leaving out tons of important and fascinating stuff. But the most important tool was talking to people. I conducted more than 100 interviews for Say Everything; with more time I could easily have done 100 more.

6How do you think blogging is impacting journalism, both from the
outside and inside newsrooms, ow that many news organizations have journalists who blog?

SR: I wish I could say that the now-ancient “Journalists vs. Bloggers” conflict was behind us. But sadly its patterns persist. Old-line media organizations have now widely embraced the format of blogging for their web efforts. But much of newsroom culture remains defiantly opposed (or stubbornly resistant) to some of the basic practices of the blogging world. Aggregation and linking are as natural to bloggers as breathing; but, as the AP’s recent initiatives and the flurry of debate around the Washington Post/Gawker stories this past week both demonstrate, some significant portion of the traditional press has still not come to terms with how the Web works.

As the business model for much of the traditional media continues to decay, it will be important to try to limit the damage the fading incumbents can wreak on the free flow of information and links that blogging thrives on.

7How do you see multimedia and video taking blogs in new
directions in the next few years? And a decade from now, do you think text blogging will look pretty similar to what it looks like today? What’s the long-term impact of the blogging revolution on publishing and on our culture?

SR: Really, my answer to that giant question takes up the final hundred pages or so of Say Everything. I do think text blogging as a form is now mature and likely to change less than people think. The
rapid evolution is still taking place in filtering mechanisms and sharing tools — how we organize and select, how we fish items out of the river.

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Thanks, Scott, for taking time out and exploring these issues. Readers can find Say Everything at:
Amazon
BN
Independent bookstore through IndieBound
and brick-and-mortar bookstores everywhere.JD Lasica, founder of Socialmedia.biz, is now co-founder of the cruise discovery engine Cruiseable. See his About page, contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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3 thoughts on “7 questions for the author of ‘Say Everything’

  1. This is an interesting read on how blogging has impacted the world around us. I have always wanted to design and build a blog that serves as a center for my family to update one another on our lives as we are constantly on the move and rarely have the luxury of chatting over meals together. Thanks for sharing this interview!