Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Bloggers, editors, and I.F. Stone

At Salon today, Gary Kamiya writes in praise of old-fashioned editing and editors, and naturally touches on the blogosphere:

In the brave new world of self-publishing, editors are an endangered species. This isn't all bad. It's good that anyone who wants to publish and has access to a computer now faces no barriers. And some bloggers don't really need editors: Their prose is fluent and conversational, and readers have no expectation that the work is going to be elegant or beautifully shaped. Its main function is to communicate clearly. It isn't intended to last.

Still, he says, the better writers will be the ones who ultimately prevail in the electronic age, as quality rises above the glut of competing voices. Success will be awarded either to the highly talented writer, or to the writer who collaborates with a highly talented editor.

Kamiya's piece reminded me of a tribute to another of my heroes, the rebel journalist I.F. Stone, that Dan Froomkin posted back on July 9.

"The best blogger ever," Froomkin wrote, "died in 1989 at the age of 81." The I.F. Stone Weekly, which ran from 1953 to 1971, was essentially a paper blog. Stone's newsletter was composed as a miscellany of short articles, opinions and commentary on material written by other journalists, like today's blog.

The newsletter's other blog-like quality was that it was unapologetically opinionated and passionate, "a far cry from the passionless prose that afflicts so much mainstream political reporting."

Like so many of today's top bloggers, Stone built a community of loyal readers around his voice — an informed voice, full of outrage and born of an unconcealed devotion to decency and fair play, civil liberty, free speech, peace in the world, truth in government, and a humane society.

Froomkin criticizes the feeble attempts at blogging so many newspapers have launched, which he complains are written "in monotone." Stone's informal, impassioned, energetic style is what the print-reporter-turned-blogger ought to be emulating.

As Kamiya contends, editors have a significant role to play in the future of online media. But both writers and editors need to be attuned to the way that blogging involves a different approach to voice from the newspaper column.

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