Thursday, November 07, 2019

The Death of the Rude Press

My blog sucks, of course, but there used to be lots of actually good places on the internet. And there was a brief era when they fell at least somewhere between hobby and income for a nontrivial number of people (income or at least potential career path for some, a lucrative side gig for others). And before that the alt-weeklies. And magazines old farts now claim were great, like Spy, but I suspect they would mostly hate now (and probably mostly liked then because they still handed out "ridiculous" amounts of money for stories by today's standards).

Still, we thought as we watched this process, it was fine, because, after all, we had blogs! Blogs were a refreshing novelty in the rapidly constricting world of print because they were allowed to be rude. This made many people—primarily people whose most consistent belief is that they are owed deference because of their social or professional status—outraged. David Denby, America’s worst living film critic, actually wrote a book about how much he detested this rhetorical mode he couldn’t even accurately describe.

Unfortunately, for all the early aughts talk of blogs taking over the world, the era of independent blogs turned out to be a brief one, and attempts to professionalize the blogging genre required stamping the iconoclasm out of it. To give one example: Web portals like Yahoo and MSN make content licensing deals with publishers like the former GMG, splitting ad revenue on stories they republish for their still-massive audiences. Splinter had such a deal with Yahoo—until, after Yahoo repeatedly complained about headlines containing swear words, the portal ended the arrangement. Deadspin had similar problems. At one point, according to a former employee, MSN began adding “OPINION” to every Deadspin headline, until GMG asked the company to stop doing so without permission. A news outlet cannot have a distinct point of view and be given the same privileges as the ones that don’t.

And again not about blogs or certainly not This Blog, but general pressure to be obsequious and the fading structures that fought against that.
If your local media has no place for people who voice contempt for your city’s police chief, say, or your state’s attorney general, or the publisher of your city’s largest newspaper, all of those people will feel more comfortable in abusing their power. They will grind you down, and in the process, they’ll tell you to be civil about it.