The first time I heard the word "blog" was from Flyer colleague Chris Davis, who at some point back in the early 2000s used the term in a conversation we were having about websites in general, including one I was then doing some serious labor on. The next time the concept — of 24/7 online "Web logs" (aka blogs) — really snagged my consciousness came in late 2002 when I learned of one based on a variant of my name.
This was the famous, or infamous, or, in any case, now defunct "HalfBakered" operated by one Mike Hollihan, who currently holds forth as online editor of the locally produced Main Street Journal, a print periodical aimed at a conservative audience.
HalfBakered was so called because Hollihan had convinced himself that journalism — even, or maybe especially, alternative journalism — was a liberal scam and that I, as someone who focused on politics, was the local scammer-in-chief.
That characterization was as flattering as it was faulty, depending on misapprehensions and misprisions of various kinds — ranging from Hollihan's chastising me for allegedly ignoring a then-raging story, one that I had in fact broken, to his epiphany that my having quoted Woodrow Wilson's phrase "open covenants openly arrived at" denoted my membership in a dark and demonic international conspiracy.
The transition to more or less traditional journalism has improved Hollihan in some ways, cramped his style in others. In any case, even in his blogging days, he found enough real acorns (all of us should be thankful he discovered assorted other at-large subjects to write about) that by 2004 I found myself becoming a fan, at one point touting Hollihan's erratically appearing on-again/off-again site as "Best Temporarily Out-of-Commission Weblog."
In 2005, by now acquainted with a plethora of blogs (and a sometime contributor to one myself), I wrote a column in which I hazarded this description: "The blog is the bastard child of the conventional website and the chatroom, blending the focus of the former with the masquerade party of the latter. Add a dash of group therapy and a jigger of trick or treat, and you've got it."
Actually, you don't. And I didn't. As both the print and broadcast versions of conventional journalism increasingly find themselves stranded somewhere between hospice and Death Valley, the blog as a genre has become something infinitely more substantial. And not just because staff-written blogs of one kind or another are by now staples of all journalistic enterprises (including the Flyer). The best action is still outside the house.
Outrageous opinion remains a staple of the independent blog. But more and more it is bloggers of that sort who are breaking news — looking into corners or under rocks while big-city dailies are cutting staff, contriving circulation-builders that don't work, and trying to cover politics and government by passing along press releases.
On the score of blogger effectiveness, just ask Tennessee gubernatorial candidate Roy Herron, a Democratic state senator whose dissembling and back-and-forthing on a legislative resolution opposing the federal Employee Free Choice Act was exposed by several attentive bloggers acting in concert. Maybe it was this embarrassment that prompted Herron to redeem himself with progressives by salvaging an endangered paper-ballot initiative. D'ya think?
Ask Republican state senator Diane Black about the furor, stretching all the way to CNN, that erupted when one of her staffers was exposed by blogger Newscoma as the sender of an e-mailed "portrait of the presidents" depicting 43 presidents as usual and the 44th, Barack Obama, as a pair of goggle eyes in black space.
Or behold, for that matter, an infinite number of blogger-caused turnarounds on the national scene — ranging from Dan Rather's firing to the outing of page-molesting congressman Mark Foley to this year's valiant last-ditch stand against Graham-Lieberman, which convinced Obama to seek the exclusion of that media-muzzling mechanism from an omnibus military funding bill.
And well under way is the latest phase of the citizen media's war against secrecy: Twitter — the instant-by-instant networking of pared-down word capsules expressing everything from the fact that a given sender is brushing his teeth to the best means of evading secret-police units in Iran.
"Tweeting" the process is called. Don't get me started!
Too late. I already have. Jackson Baker is a Flyer senior editor.