Up all night
It’s a brave new world called the blogosphere. Meet some of its denizens.
It goes something like this: “In the beginning, when Al Gore created the Internet, the World Wide Web was a formless void and ‘Under Construction’ signs dominated the landscape. Then a heavy, overeducated sigh from the former Vice President swept over the face of the hardwired orb web, and it came to life like a fat kid taking a huge hit from his inhaler.Then Gore said, “Let there be Sites,” and there was nothing but pornography, stolen music and pop-up ads for Third World prescription drugs. And Gore monotoned, “That’s nice, but why not something more?” And so Gore shrugged, “Let there be blogs,” and immediately a snarky comment popped up on his screen and then another, and then somebody called him an “asshat,” and soon he was swimming in terabytes of irony and the terrifying electronic graffiti of wry, noisy mischief in a full-blown blogstorm, and Gore became irritated and afraid, and he retreated into the woods with a flannel shirt and grew a beard while meditating over his terrible celluloid visions of the coming global-warming apocalypse.
Something like that.
There’s no use explaining what a blog is because even if your spell check hasn’t caught on yet, your grandmother probably has: http://oghc.blogspot.com.
In its most recent “State of the Blogosphere” report, online link tracker Technorati.com says that the size of the worldwide blogosphere now doubles every 200 days, with 175,000 new blogs created each day. That’s two new blogs per second. That’s an army of untold numbers of freshly empowered pundits and citizen correspondents breaking news and redefining the term “mass media.” It also means an untold legion of unbalanced miseries drooling mouthfuls of instant pudding onto their keyboards—Satanists, shut-ins, alien abductees and abusers of the elderly.
With progress comes regress. It’s a dance. For every angel-dust smoking pinball junky YouTubing himself taking a crap in a fish tank or trend-infected souls laying out the contents of their purses and bags in a TSA rogues’ gallery of voluntary disclosure http://flickr.com/photos/tags /whatsinmybag, there’s someone blogging an intelligent political discourse. To say it’s a revolution is to say that Johannes Gutenberg had ink stains on his hands from finger painting.
Pre-Internet, life seemed an endless game of Two Card Monte. Choices were limited. Coke or Pepsi? Communism or Democracy? Newscasts lasted for one hour and one hour only, and if you missed that, somebody’s dad was gonna be pissed. People kept unpopular opinions to themselves, and whoever had access to mimeograph paper and a ditto machine at work was king of the alternative press. You could live a 17-day week without having any of your views challenged intelligently or otherwise. Now, thanks to blogging, you can’t blow your nose without it becoming a worldwide public debate: http://www.thegirlwho.squarespace.com/journal/2005/12/22/blow-me.html.
Halcyon days to some—when Pat Sajack’s unflinching ability to tell a vowel from a consonant from behind an batter-thick layer of pancake makeup gave him news anchor-like credibility, National Geographic could be counted on to show indigenous nudity at least twice a year, and slamming Atari games into the console until Space Invaders started doing trippy things counted for something.
The fact is, They knew the computer was coming, and They told us. We knew the computer was coming. The Personal Computer was going to change the world, and They told us to get ready for It.
But who knew it would become such a glorious free-fire zone for new honesties, openness and freedom of speech? Well, except in North Korea and sub-Saharan Africa. But those poor souls have other things to worry about. They check for food like most of us check our e-mail.
Like it or not, 1998 was an especially revolutionary year for bloggers and the alternative electronic media when former 7-Eleven employee Matt “In the end I don’t care what I’m called as long as it’s not a blogger” Drudge broke the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal on his non-blog site, www.drudgereport.com. For many, news of the fedora-wearing, dried-semen expert’s coup, along with emerging technology (Pyra Lab’s August 1999 release of its free, user-friendly Blogger tool), inspired them to create online journals of their passions and heartaches for the world to view.
Many in the mainstream media immediately rebelled against the upstart bloggers, questioning their credentials and their credibility. All of a sudden, the journalism game was no longer a speakeasy but a flea market. Ironically, as newspaper shares dropped, and staffs were cut due to the “new media menace,” many traditional reporters found themselves with a rope around their neck and the words “You will blog” scrawled on the scaffolding under their feet. This made for some interesting entries. Opining about the sandwich game in a recent blog, local food critic Johnathan L. Wright mused over “a PB&J I could get with.” Said sandwich waters Wright’s uber-cultured palette if “made with brioche, cabernet jelly, double peanut butter and a smear of marshmallow cream.” Apparently, some bloggers have realized that they can’t be pelted with gravel over the Internet.
Aside from the sometimes insatiably corporate, artificial-vanilla aftertaste left in the mouth after reading blogs of local dead-tree daily reporters forced into the trade by threat of their livelihoods and the occasional open-bar growling and blogger blood feuds that light up and then fade out like space junk re-entering the atmosphere, some of these millions of bloggers must be quite good and skilled. And some must live in Reno.
Thanks to a handful of dedicated net-savvy local bloggers, The Biggest Little City has a presence on the Web that closely mirrors the reconstruction and growth of the city and their own Code of the West, frontier-style of self-government.
Myrna the Minx, soi-disant alter-ego of a local blogger (named for the heroine in John Kennedy Toole’s masterful A Confederacy of Dunces), runs www.renodiscontent.com, what most Reno bloggers consider the best local platform. The readers of this publication named her “Best Local Blogger” for 2006.
She’s fresh from a CNN plug that dealt with a post on her blog about gas prices. “It was really random, which is how it works,” says Myrna during a telephone interview. “It was a little too ‘conspiracy theory’ for me.” Myrna says she holds down a regular 9-5 job and her oft political-themed contents offer her an outlet not available anywhere else in her life. For Myrna, blogging sets up a clear set of boundaries and so does her software, which allows her to schedule posts at random times during the day so as not to let her co-workers in on her online identity.
“I’d been warned by people in my profession about keeping things like MySpace or blogs anonymous due to the growing concern about employers googling your name and finding out information about personal lives that is not necessarily important to making a hiring decision,” says the Reno Rambler, who blogs anonymously at http://reno-rambler.blogspot.com. “Stuff on the Web is fair game,” he says. “So I think everyone should be at least somewhat careful.”
“Blogging was never really supposed to be just about me,” says Myrna, adding verbal italics to the last word. It was more of helping to foster the creation of an organic, vibrant downtown community, one she affectionately calls “WeFi,” after realtor-derived acronyms like WeHo (West Hollywood) and SoHo (South of Houston Street). “I’m not sure what role blogs have in developing a vibe for a city. You do this in a vacuum.” Surely, an online community increases the psychogeography of a city.
As for the term “blogosphere,” it looks like it’s stuck, she says.
“I go back and forth,” says Myrna, “I kind of hate it, but I haven’t found anything better. Yukon came up with ‘The Sierrasphere,’ and some locals picked up on that.” She’s referring to local blogger and attorney Yukon Sully, http://yukonsully.blogspot.com,
Ryan Jerz, a 31-year-old grad student at the University of Nevada, Reno studying Interactive Environmental Journalism, runs www.mrjerz.com.
“I don’t think I’m making many friends,” says Jerz, who calls himself “a Republican with some pretty liberal leanings.”
“But I also think what we’re doing is very important, and we need to keep at it,” he says.
Writing about the firing of disgraced L.A. Times opinion editor Michael Kinsley, the outspoken blogger says, “Lately, I’ve spent a lot of time reading about blogging and where people think it’s going. Kinsley basically made the point that blogs are lame, and nobody cares about them. My immediate reaction was that he set up a strawman to beat on by claiming that bloggers are just guys hanging out in pajamas screaming their take to the world. Hardly. Bloggers all over the place are doing reporting work. Even locally, a mini political scandal was uncovered and investigated by bloggers after a plea by readers for the ‘real reporters’ at the RG-J to do something. They didn’t, we did. Let Kinsley chew on that for a little bit.”
“The mini scandal was about a blogger called the Cobb Gobbler (www.cobbgobbler.net). When the site started, it was registered in the name of Mike Dillon, who was a primary opponent of Ty Cobb. I and another blogger investigated the site’s registration, talked with Dillon, etcetera. I also investigated a claim of breaking the law by Cobb and found out the Cobb Gobbler was wrong and/or lying himself. I think since then the blog has become totally irrelevant, and the guy almost dropped off the map. The charge he raised was serious against Cobb, but the RG-J didn’t address it. I did and found the charge to be baseless.”
“I blog because I want to do something. I started blogging over five years ago and have evolved a lot in that time. It was pretty lame at first, and I asked myself many times what the hell I was up to. Now, I feel like I’m gaining an understanding about the purpose of blogging, the direction it’s heading, and the importance it will have in the future. I don’t care about Reno being on any map of blogging. I just want Reno to have a place to discuss its own issues, have a little fun and gather. I’m not concerned at all if I get picked up and linked by Instapundit or DailyKos. Why should they care about us here? They’re national sites that discuss national issues. If a Reno issue goes big time, then sure, those guys should defer to us, because we know the local stuff better, but we shouldn’t be trying to compete with them. What does that do for Reno?”
Though Jerz’s politics don’t match up exactly with Myrna’s, the Reno bloggers seem to tolerate each other’s existence and include each other on their respective blogrolls.
“Everybody believes in the community,” echoes Myrna, who admits to spending two to three hours a day blogging for the first few months after she first got her blog up.”
So what makes certain blogs more successful than others? “It’s a mysterious science,” says Myrna, whose site garners somewhere around 800 unique hits per day. “It’s really hard to figure out what works. There’s a set of rules you find out by breaking—somebody tells you that you really shouldn’t do that. It’s an alternative universe with a different set of values.”
For Myrna, blogging came to pass as a reaction to the multimedia swarm. Like many bloggers, she admits to being a smart-aleck. “In a way I have tried to tone it down so as not to alienate people.”
“Regarding the newspaper world’s rush to blogging, I suppose it’s just an obvious reaction to the ‘instant information anytime’ world we live in now,” says Reno Rambler. “Adaptation and all that. Problem is, of course, that newspaper blogs tend to be generalist info blogs and rather boring and lazy … newspaper blogs that I’ve read come across as, for lack of a better word, ‘desperate.'”
The Dean of Reno Bloggers could very well be Andrew Barbano, self-described “fighter of public demons,” who started putting his “Barbwire” columns online in 1996 and now runs 10 sites.
David Toll at Nevadaweb.com originally started uploading Barbano’s pieces to Nevadaweb during the university scandals of 1996. “I had him reserve NevadaLabor.com well ahead of that in 1995, but I don’t think I had it built and launched until 1996 with the university/Regent Rosenberg scandals as the driving factor.”
The Sparks Tribune entered Barbano’s university scandal pieces in the 1997 Pulitzer competition.
“For the first few years, I worked strictly in html code, then bought and basically taught myself how to use Dreamweaver.
Barbano is not at all surprised at how blogging has taken off. “I never cease to be amazed at the human drive for self-expression, starting when the first caveperson scratched a rock on a wall,” he says.
“The personal computer is merely the latest in a long chain of devices including carbon paper and copy machines, all methods for producing more of our stuff.
Any bartender will tell you how easily complete strangers will pour out their life stories while the mixologist pours drinks into them and pretends to listen like a cut-rate psychologist,” he says. “Even introverts want to talk to somebody, and the web certainly makes that far less painful than enduring face to face humanity.
“I’m a writer,” says Barbano, whose www.NevadaLabor.com site is viewed by more people than many small and medium-sized Nevada newspapers, “a descendant of that guy who first scrawled charcoal on the wall. Writers don’t get paid well, so I’ve had to master all the means of distribution, which is why I have become, to varying degrees, qualified in the production of all forms of disseminating my writing—TV, radio, newsprint, billboards, web. And as I told the late great Guy Richardson in a Reno Kazoo-Journal feature two decades ago, all media are slowly melding into a single medium as intermediate steps in the process of communication are removed. We still have moveable type, but it’s moved with a mouse.”
Ryan Jerz believes he often angers other bloggers.
“Some don’t even respond to me,” he says. “I think it’s because I decided to become a crusader for honest discourse in every discussion. I’ve written diatribes about blind partisanship, and people take offense to that. I won’t deny having a political bias, but I don’t think that matters. Who am I to tell you how to think? I think Reno and the rest of the world would be better off if everyone would just shut up and think about the possibility that the other side is right. Just once.”
Too many bloggers are in what Jerz calls “the infancy stage of expression.” In other words, “they have to scream their takes louder than everyone else. … If Myrna took her site down today, there would be a void. She has certainly brought people out of their holes and into the online world. But I’m also not sure if those people contribute anywhere but over there, so it’s not like the community has grown because of it. Her community has grown, which I’m sure is fine with her. I think the idea is to build a community where more people from the offline world take part. But if you start a site and tell your friends, and they participate in your site, you’re really just transferring the offline world to the online world. If you start a site, and your friends come in there, and more people find it and then your friends start visiting and participating on other sites, and the whole thing grows, that’s building an online community. I see that starting in Reno right now, but I’m unsure if the people doing it know why they’re doing it.”
If there are more than 55 million blogs worldwide, there are at least that many individual “takes” on what makes a good blog.
“The first rule of blogging (for me) is to make it about what I’m interested in and not about what I think others might be interested in reading. If somebody finds my blog and likes it, that’s fine, but it’s not what inspires me to write,” says the Reno Rambler. “My blog is just a personal vent space that focuses on my own interests as a politically active educator, bicyclist, and Reno resident.”
Of course blogging is also good for business. Robert Payne of www.twelvehorses.com, an online marketing and messaging company in Reno, says blogging is an excellent way to personalize a brand.
“We’re don’t bloggertise,” says the 34-year-old, who says he scans 50 blogs a day. “We started doing a lot of blogs for other people, practicing what we preach.”
Payne says he sees business-blogging models as very fluid. “In the future, I think we’ll see more plug-ins and blogging will be even more interactive.” By the future, Payne means months, not decades.
The online community bred from www.gunbloggers.blogspot.com had their first national gunblogging convention and ammo dump in October.
“Saturday morning we were up and at ’em bright and early,” says Mike, AKA Mr. Completely, gun-enthusiast and regular blogger. “After everyone got their weapons out of storage and loaded into the vehicles, we headed off to Denny’s for breakfast. The place was crowded, but the waiter was well-organized and managed to get us all seated and fed without any major catastrophes! From the feedback I’m getting, it’s going to be much bigger next year.”
Plans are tentatively for the Gun Blogger Rendezvous to be again at the Circus Circus, either last weekend in September or the first weekend in October. The Pyramid Parks Department range was great,” he reports.
The range rat says you won’t even need a deadly weapon to participate at next year’s celebration of marksmanship. It will be open to “gun blog readers, commenters, shooting enthusiasts, and anyone else with an interest in shooting sports.”
What the Black Rock Desert is to conspicuous counterculture with its annual Burning Man freak-out and money grub, Reno will be to the largest gathering of conservative political bloggers. Todd Zuccato of Blogging Man, http://www.bloggingman.org, says the inaugural event will be in Reno because of the city’s large number of hotel rooms and presumably more conservative populace in comparison to Vegas. “At this point, we plan to do it every two years, in off election years,” he says. The event is scheduled for October 2007.
“The biggest problem I see is that everyone wants to be an expert with their information or opinion and tell the rest of the world what they think,” says Ryan Jerz. “I’m learning now that newspapers have been using that model forever, and people can do better. People are starting their own sites to be mini newspapers. I’m against that. I want my readers to tell me things about the things I know, and when we put them together we’re all better off for it. The mindset of the public has to change for that to happen, and until everyone realizes that’s really what they want, we’ll be stuck in a rut.”
In a world where content is king and one person’s gentle baptism is another’s waterboarding, blogging has gone from a curious online phenomena to worldwide proliferation and saturation in a nanosecond. It’s an Orwellian world as promised, and, yes, Big Brother is watching. But millions are watching Big Brother.