Monday, June 12, 2006

The Scary, Scary Bloggers

Mainstream coverage of the Yearly Kos has been interesting for me. On the one hand, it seems to try to hold on to the myth of bloggers as nerdy maggots who have no life outside the internet, who are young men with pocket-protectors and who are scary. On the other hand, the pieces point out that the participants of the Yearly Kos were predominantly gray-haired and perhaps boring. And scary. Here is the Time magazine article commenting on Markos's speech:

By the time Moulitsas makes his first official appearance, it's after those cordial conferencees have been milling around at a buffet reception for an hour or so, drinking from the cash bar and getting glittery-eyed. The cartoonist Tom Tomorrow warms up the crowd, reading his cartoons aloud as they are projected on giant screens behind him. It doesn't seem that vital to pay attention, but halfway through the act, a Yearly Kos volunteer stops by the conversational knot I'm in and shushes us. It's the first sign of militancy and while they may not be reaching for the bayonets, the audience stomps and hoots when Moulitsas takes the stage. He smiles benignly and begins: "My name is Markos and I run a site called Daily Kos — maybe you've heard of it."

They greet his sardonic understatement with appreciative howls. The speech starts with a warm celebration of the site's achievements (including the somewhat dubious claim that Jon Tester owes his primary Senate victory in Montana to them and not to his opponent's zipper problem) and then becomes self-congratulatory, boasting about the insurgent primary challenge to Joe Lieberman, where the incumbent now leads by only 55-40. The message of these triumphs? That the "riff- raff" has triumphed over the elite. It's all very empowering, though the speech's crescendo is about how the liberal blogosphere propelled Stephen Colbert's White House Correspondents' dinner speech into the No. 1 spot on iTunes. As wins go, it seems symbolic at best. But what a symbol! The mainstream media is obsolete! "We don't need them!" "We can now choose for ourselves the media we consume!" The air, which had been merely charged, positively crackles. A gaggle of mainstream media reporters in the back grows nervous. "Are you worried they're going to blog us?" I ask someone. He replies, "I'm worried they're going to lynch us."

The smell of sweaty fear.

Then there is Maureen Dowd's piece on the Yearly Kos, where she decides that the bloggers don't want to devour the mainstream journalists but want to join them:

I tracked down the cult leader, wading through a sea of Kossacks, who were sitting on the floor in the hall with their laptops or at tables where they blogged, BlackBerried, texted and cellphoned — sometimes contacting someone only a few feet away. They were paler and more earnest than your typical Vegas visitors, but the mood was like a masquerade. This was the first time many of the bloggers had met, and they delighted in discovering whether their online companions were, as one woman told me, male, female, black, white, old, young or "in a wheelchair."

Mr. Moulitsas assured me he didn't see himself as a journalist, only a Democratic activist. "I don't plan on doing any original reporting — screw that. I need people like you," he said, agreeing that since he still often had to pivot off the reporting of the inadequate mainstream media to form his inflammatory opinions, our relationship was, by necessity, "symbiotic."

As I wandered around workshops, I began to wonder if the outsiders just wanted to get in. One was devoted to training bloggers, who had heretofore not given much thought to grooming and glossy presentation, on how to be TV pundits and avoid the stereotype of nutty radical kids.

Mr. Moulitsas said he had a media coach who taught him how to stand, dress, speak, breathe and even get up from his chair. Another workshop coached Kossacks on how to talk back to Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity. "One of my favorite points," the workshop leader said, "is that the French were right."

Even as Old Media is cowed by New Media, New Media is trying to become, rather than upend, Old Media. Ms. Cox has left her Wonkette gig to be a novelist and Time essayist. Mr. Moulitsas and Mr. Armstrong wrote a book called "Crashing the Gate," and hit "Meet the Press" and the book tour circuit. Mr. Armstrong left his liberal blog to become a senior adviser to Mr. Warner. What could be more mainstream than that?

Which is it? Nobody seems to know.

All this is weird to me, including the focus on the few famous bloggers, rather than the vast number of us minor bloggers who keep on hammering away on our keyboards, and the selling of the concept that the people who read and write blogs are some kind of a new breed, never observed before, rather than just the same sort of folks who always used to exist, but only now with new toys. Then there is the whole labeling enterprise: Liberal and progressive bloggers need to be labeled, quick! What is it going to be? Extreme fringe element? Nerdy maggots? Tired 1960s hippies? Ravenous monsters who want to take over journalism without either the objectivity or the training needed? Ravenous monsters who want to gobble up all the journalists?

None of this sounds like me. No category for semi-crazy goddesses who dress impeccably and who just want to run this planet with a B-list blog (notice the self-promotion here?).