By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
It's easy to be cranky about blogs. I recall the grand claims made for the form in the last decade—"a publishing revolution more profound than anything since the printing press," Andrew Sullivan called it in 2002. And I notice that, by and large, those claims haven't panned out.
For instance, blogs were supposed to invigorate journalism by replacing mainstream reporters—who Roger L. Simon predicted in 2005 were about to "go on the 'endangered species' list"—with "citizen journalists" who would at last tell us the Truth. To this day, we hear enthusiasts celebrating the imminent demise of the MSM.
Newspapers haven't been killed, quite, though they are increasingly starved of ad dollars by free online competition—and are cutting back operations because of it. The Washington Post, for example, no longer maintains bureaus in any U.S. city except Washington. As the papers struggle to do their job with declining resources, blogs fill the gap—with a small amount of reporting and, as the Voice's weekly round-up of the right-wing blogosphere shows, an enormous amount of ranting, propaganda, and plain gibberish. If that's a revolution, it's the French kind, with heads rolling and power devolving to the loudest voices in the mob.
You also heard it said, back in the early '00s, that blogging would democratize the written word to an unprecedented degree, providing, in the words of Berkman Center director John Palfrey, "a series of opportunities for more voices to be heard from more places in the world by more people." That sounds, at first, like a good thing—vox populi and all that. Technorati estimates that there are 113 million blogs today, and the primary effect of them has been to prove true Sturgeon's Law, which states that 90 percent of everything is crap. Go to a Blogspot site sometime and keep hitting the "next blog" button. If you are a lover of humanity, you may rejoice to be exposed to so many different "voices." If you are a lover of good writing or careful analysis, you may quickly decide that Sturgeon was being over-generous.
And yet . . .
If Sturgeon's Law obtains, and even if the crap percentage is much higher than he stipulated, that still leaves a small percentage (but a huge number) of blogs that aren't crap. And out of the great, howling void of the blogosphere, some fine writers and worthwhile projects have emerged. Not a lot, but some.
And if you take the time to find them, you'll also find that some of them actually live up to the claims made for blogs in general, but on a more modest, often local, scale. If blogs can't replace The New York Times—at least, not competently—some of them can pick up neighborhood stories that the Times doesn't cover or doesn't understand. They can amplify the voices of writers who probably couldn't get a job with the Times but do at least as good a job as the Times' regular critics and columnists do. And they can devote time and attention to subjects that are maybe too narrow, too personal, or too fringe for a big paper, but are nonetheless worthy of notice.
So maybe the blog boosters merely dreamed too big. Blogging wasn't the second coming of the printing press; it was more like the introduction of a small press anyone could use, offering opportunities to bright people with something worth saying who previously had little hope of being heard. Once upon a time, they might have pasted together zines, as Emily Gordon of Emdashes did as a teenager, or just pestered their friends with their ruminations, as "Jeremiah" of Jeremiah's Vanishing New York admits he did. When the new tools came in, while the revolutionaries plotted big changes, these folks quietly set to work. Most of them have devoted fans, but few have very many, and most are pretty obscure.
New York is the capital of several publishing and broadcasting empires and the home of seven dailies, major television networks, and national magazines. It's a media hot spot, no doubt, and also the home of several top online properties—big-boy bloggers, if you will, who replicate and sometimes improve on the efforts of the old print and broadcast titans. You know their names. You're less likely to know the names of the smaller blogs we're singling out here.
We wouldn't presume to call them the best, because there are too many to choose from, but they give a good idea of what the best New York bloggers can do. They can take the time to cover subjects no one else bothers to look at, or share their personal experiences of the Mets, the movies, and more in ways that make readers care about them. And they do: These bloggers often draw massive amounts of comments, ignite ire, and sometimes get flamed and even threatened. They've attracted followers and fans—not always in large numbers, but people who are loyal and grateful to have this chance to see the world a different way, and on a regular basis. That's what all writers, from the big leagues to the bush, strive to do, and these people do it without major funding or support (and usually without editors or proofreaders), just because they really love to do it.