I do not like blogs. Even the word bothers me. Like “yeast” and “malady,” I have a natural aversion to it. Then there is the blog itself. The thing, itself. A crusty bit of eye sleep, I always said. Journalism’s hang nail. No editing necessary, no need for spell check, just a vomitorium of half-baked ideas spewed upon us by anyone with means and aim.
So I avoided undertaking one until the fall of 2005. I was writing a column for NUVO Newsweekly in Indianapolis when I was offered opportunity to “blog” on their new website. Initially I hesitated, for all the stated reasons below and above. Eventually though, I relented, taking it as an opportunity to write all silly Chicago sports and stat dork stuff I couldn’t run in the paper proper. And then, in order to avoid both the word and the term, I referred to it as “The Blip,” something fun, quick, ultimately insignificant. Even when I wrote it at foxsports.com with a jillion other eager, participatory sports fans, my opinion did not alter. Fun though it was, blogs seemed systematically fraudulent.
But no! According to my brother MJ and our friend Mok, I was all wrong. There were, they said, plenty of good blogs out there, thoughtful, organized, intelligent, edited. And indeed, without really considering, I had already become a fan of a television blog by NJ Star-Ledger TV writer Alan Sepinwall due to his fantastic writeups on The Wire, a particular favorite of mine. I did not know of Sepinwall, that he was, in the words of a certain doctor of journalism, a Professional Journalist with an obligation to cover the story for good or ill. All I knew was I liked his work.
So I’ll read Sepinwall’s outstanding essays on D’Angelo, Lester, The Bunk and co., not because he actually writes TV for a living — only because he does it well. God knows there are plenty of mopes out there getting paid by the inch who have no business having their thoughts distributed to the masses in the guise of worthwhile writing…
That was another one of my original beefs with blogging. Who are these authors? In the world of blogging, anyone with internet access is certified. Your opinion is as valid as mine, mine as valid as yours, ours as valid as Hunter Thompson’s and Leonard Pitts’s and Studs Terkel’s and Mike Royko’s and Shakespeare’s and Louis Menand’s and Jerome Holtzman’s and George Orwell’s. And that’s a problem, because my opinion might not be as valid as yours, nor yours as mine, nor either of ours as any of the writers listed above. As Bill Simmons conceded in his “Vengeance Scale” column: “I shied away from historical examples (like Stalin deporting Trotsky, or Germany’s response after World War I), only because that’s probably a whole other column. And I’m not the one to write it.”
This is important. Just because you have a forum doesn’t mean you’re worthy. Know enough to know what you know and to courteously and courageously zip it whenever you step onto foreign ground. I try to maintain that in my work, to stay within the lines, and if I do indeed choose to venture out, to do so as an earnest explorer, not a phony guide, and to be sure that my reader knows this going in.
Because we should know who is giving us our information, and we should seek it from trustworthy sources. I am proud to know that when my family and friends have a sudden need to know what three Bears scored defensive touchdowns in our 30-17 win over Green Bay in ’93, or the last third-party Presidential candidate to carry a state in the general election, or the name of the actor who played both Walter Peck and Richard Thornburg, they turn to me, just as I turn to Ric and Josh for matters of philosophy and certain filmmakers and writers, Sven for world affairs, Ben for Stones Throw Records, Avril for comics, Swiryn for modern American politics, Rota for certain hip-hop discussions that can only be had with him, Dan for the Cubs, Luke for the Sox, Heather for the art of making strangers feel comfortable at parties. Seek the experts. Make friends with the leader. Listen to everything.
Certainly there are other creedos that I hold true; my guess is that they will reveal themselves as the weeks progress. You have other important items to attend to, and so do I, and I would not feel right if I occupied much more of my time or yours for something that is really just an explaining intro. So a bit more, and then I will be on my way:
I said earlier that I don’t like blogs because they are so often informal and careless. As both a professional writer and high school English teacher, I am not happy with any standard that allows public, respected writing to include sloppy work with zero attention to form. I don’t like to think that the work of writers who make a gajillion and one specific choices about their craft (thank you IU creative writing teachers) could possibly be dumped into the same vat with those who focus on Loud Noises, the Brick Tamlands of writing.
But then, one could say exactly the same about books, film, music…and certainly television, that The Wire doesn’t belong in company with The Hills or Dancing with the Stars or whatever else, and it is possible that had I been born forty years earlier I would be blindly rallying against the ills of The Tube, claiming that nothing of value can come from it.
But we make our own value, and while the medium might well be the message, we control the medium. It’s time to stop fighting, to stop allowing outside definitions define my work. Because if the readjack.com blog comes to produce work as thoughtful, inquisitive, and entertaining as even Season 5 of HBO’s finest, I will be a happy man.