This Week in Elder News: 26 January 2008
Arranging a Life in Retirement

The NYRB Snarky Attack on Bloggers

When the latest issue of The New York Review of Books arrived in Crabby Old Lady’s snailmail box last week, she was surprised to see a big, bold headline on the cover – BLOGS - by Sarah Boxer. The NYRB is more likely to deconstruct Montaigne (again), discuss the death of Susan Sontag or ruminate on evil in postwar Europe (all in this issue) than report on anything as revolutionary as blogs.

Crabby doesn’t mean to get snarky about the NYRB. After all, she reads it. But she doesn't expect depth of coverage or understanding of tech culture and on that point, Ms. Boxer’s story on blogs wasn’t disappointing.

As with all print media stories on blogs, the first 500 words once again defined blogging. Blogs have been around for more than ten years now and with 100 million of them, they need defining these days as much as carrots and Crabby will thank the press to give it up.

Further, the NLRB story leads with an image of Wonkette as though that sums up blogging, which isn’t much different from using People to typify magazines. In addition, the story purports to be a review of ten books about blogging, but they are barely mentioned. Instead, readers are treated to Ms. Boxer’s seemingly willful misunderstanding of blogs (even though she apparently did some measure of research for her own book on blogs due out next month). Some examples:

“Bloggers thrive on fragmented attention and dole it out too – one liners, samples of songs, summary news, and summary judgments. Sometimes they don’t even stop to punctuate.”
“Many bloggers really don't write much at all. They are more like impresarios, curators, or editors, picking and choosing things they find on line, occasionally slapping on a funny headline or adding a snarky (read: snotty and catty) comment.”

Ms. Boxer apparently believes “snarky” is a blog-centric portmanteau word although several dictionaries trace it as far back as 1866, and she also finds “anyhoo,” “haz-mat,” “nutters,” “bejesus” and “babealiciousness” peculiar enough to comment upon. This woman needs to get out more.

The point of her entire story is to put bloggers in their place compared to "real" writers and journalists - like Ms. Boxer. She seems to have surfed the most notorious of the blogs – sex and Superman take up a lot of paragraphs – and she compares English-language blogs unkindly with their Japanese-language counterparts:

“The largest number of blog posts, some 37 percent, are now in Japanese, according to a recent Washington Post article by Blaine Harden, and most of these are polite and self-effacing - karaoke for shy people. Thirty-six percent of posts are in English, and most of them are the opposite of polite and self-effacing.”

Crabby is confused. Does Ms. Boxer mean blog posts or blogs - there is a difference, of course, and Crabby knows of at least two blogs that publish in both languages.

Somehow, in Ms. Boxer’s world, bloggers who have out-reported mainstream media are nothing more than link whores. She dismisses Little Green Footballs for pointing out a doctored Reuters news photo and Joshua Micah Marshall of Talking Points Memo for reporting Trent Lott’s racist remarks (which led to his resignation as Senate majority leader) as nothing more than attempts to pimp their stats by "bring[ing] down a big-time politician or journalist.”

It’s the style of blog writing that most gets under Ms. Boxer’s skin. After unequivocably stating, “If people wrote like this for publication, they'd be fired,” she attempts to punch up her skewed view with the help of academe, quoting Stanford linguist Geoffrey Nunberg from an ancient (2004) NPR interview:

"’I don't quite have the hang of the form,’ [said Nunberg]. And, he added, many journalists who get called upon by their editors to keep blogs are similarly stumped: ‘They fashion engaging ledes, they develop their arguments methodically, they give context and background, and tack helpful IDs onto the names they introduce.’ Guess what? [writes Ms. Boxer] They read like journalists, not bloggers.”

You wouldn’t know it from Ms. Boxer’s story, but there are thousands of well-crafted, cited and source-linked blogs informing and entertaining readers. Crabby Old Lady wouldn’t be nearly as well informed if she didn’t rely on blogs and alternative media at least as much as the mainstream press.

Ms. Boxer may have written a book about blogs but Crabby doubts its depth or value. Boxer treats blogging both too superficially and too seriously. Blogs run the gamut from the likes of The New York Review of Books to People magazine in as many styles and levels of professionalism as other media. It’s time for the print press to get over their provincialism and report on how blogs are changing the media landscape.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, David Wolfe recounts how a high school English teacher falsely accused him of plagiarism and what he did about it in I Never Got to Show Her.]


I think Crabby may have given the author more attention than she deserves...but, that's just an opinion.

That was interesting and like the Internet led to many books how it impacted things and was it good or bad I suppose there were bound to be books on blogging. I haven't read any. I don't intend to either; so her book will have to find maybe non-bloggers to purchase it?

My experience in reading blogs is they vary from those who are like she described to those that are more like her article. It's a diverse world, and it's up to the reader to find what suits them in it.

Even in blogging there are those seeking to commercialize the process, selling a supposed an ability to reach more readers; but that's a choice unlike being published somewhere. Web-logs are out there in the ether and we, who read them, find what we need all by ourselves and bookmark what worked and release what didn't. How cool is that!

Steven hit it on the nose. She's just trying to attract attention....poor thing.

Thanks, Crabby. It just feels good (to me) to read a good defense when misrepresented. As you say, generalizing about blogs/blogging is like generalizing about magazines or newspapers. I'm sure when newspapers started there was much talk about how trivial and low class they were.

Well said!

Print journalists (and probably traditional journalists in general)are threatened by the online world. Newspapers have been failing since the 1970s; corporate owners are playing catch-up to court the alternative online audiences.

The blogosphere turns the model of being a professional on its head: instead of being paid to write, the blogger may pay for a site and, even if the blog is free, is unlikely to be paid for it.

I was a newspaper journalist for a long time. It was a deeply paranoid world to inhabit.

Thanks for that post. I enjoyed reading it and the comments. Her self-proclaimed expertise of blogs reminds me of people who become experts on the South from watching Dukes of Hazard and Hee-Haw. Designing Women and Mayberry come closer to my experiences. Sorry but I'm still on a rant after watching Bill Maher make generalizations about us by showing Huckabee supporters. I get so tired of being lumped into one group, especially when that group is made up of racist evangelical homophobic rednecks. Just as all women don't vote monolithically, neither do all Southerners. Some of us are white educated liberal retirees.

OK, back to you now! My apologies for the side trip. I just watched the Maher episode yesterday that I recorded earlier from week before last and am still fuming. Boxer's tone triggered my reaction.

I give many blogs more attention and respect than I do some newspaper editorials. Often bloggers are more meticulous about facts, and more courageous about opinions. Your blog, Ronni, is an example of well written and well researched articles, written with passion and insight.

There are pieces of worth and pieces of trash published in every form of media. And it's human nature to sabotage someone who might take a slice
of your pie.

Thank you yet again for standing up for the value of blogs.

She just doesn't get it, does she? Yes there are bad blogs; yes there creeps out there but for most bloggers it's a way to think out loud, make ourselves heard in the world, and share our lives. When I hear a news commentator ask his co-anchor what the bloggers are saying, it tells me that blogging has credibilty. When CNN links to my little blog as it did last summer, it tells me that despite my own insecurities, I (and others like me) have something to say. Ms. Boxer didn't understand what's going on in the blogosphere at all nor does she wish to understand.

Well, I now believe it was a godsend that you were "forced" to move out of New York. It probably saved your intellectual life. Next you should cancel your subscription to the NYRB, a publication that belongs to the nifty fifties (or whatever newspaper strike it was founded to save us from). I grew up in NY, and only I can know how shallow New York intellectuals can really be when considering global phenomena. It took me years to recover...good luck to you in banishing the NYRB from your reading list. You will miss nothing.

Well, Francine, I haven't banished the NYRB and I do enjoy a lot of what they publish. I just sure didn't think much of their foray into an area where their expertise is lacking or, rather, their choice of writer for blogs.

Thanks for the competent review of the incompetent review of blogs!

I mean it's like reviewing the classics of literature based on the essays of 12 year olds or something... then again, I know some 12 year old bloggers that are pretty damned good....

Oh, oops, that was a snarky comment, huh? My bad.

Elitism like this turns my stomach. History is filled with people who don't understand the future as it unfolds around them. I am reminded of someone who once told me her business was not going to join the website/email bandwagon because it was a passing fad. Of course, she has eaten those words.

Great job taking her on.

I hope someone has already sent her and the NYRB a link to your review of her review.

While I found little of value in Boxer's piece, I was rewarded by her excerpt from the Superman post.

...i can see them mirrored in superman's eyes, in his look when he says to himself and the dog next to him, quietly and with no inflection [but with] some sadness and open ended resignation... "well, i'm back." and the puppy is like, "dude. the ball."

"Dude. The ball." God, that cracked me up.

"Pimp their stats?"

Lord save us from stat-pimps!

And just what stats is Ms Boxer pimping?

When I received my copy of the NYRB and read the "Blog" article by Ms Boxer (only last night), I immediately thought of how inaccurate she was and what a total snob she must be also. I loved your comments Ronni on Ms Boxer's article, and I hope she reads them.

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