August 02, 2002
Jim Henley asked why there is no "lefty" equivalent to Glenn Reynolds, which led to a number of interesting followups (see here, here, here, here, here, and here). I've been thinking about this, and (at long last) I have a few thoughts on the subject myself.
First, I don't think there's ever going to be another Instapundit, at least not in the same way. Instapundit was and is a one-of-a-kind phenomenon. He came on the scene when Slate had a section called "Mezine Central", featuring the likes of Josh Marshall, Mickey Kaus, Andrew Sullivan, and Virginia Postrel. While Postrel occasionally links to other people (indeed, it was a link from Postrel to Ginger that directly led to me getting a blog; I guess this makes Postrel my blog-grandmother), the others hardly ever do, except to each other.
When Reynolds, who got a lot of link-love from Postrel, started showing up in the Mezine section, it was clear that he was different. He wasn't a professional writer, he pumped out an enormous volume of posts, and he freely linked to many people. We all know about the Instapundit Phenomenon: He inspired all kinds of people to start their own blogs, he was the go-to guy when dead-tree media did a story about This Newfangled Blogging Thing, and he's just about everybody's first blogroll link. In short, he was blogdom's first real star.
My point is that while others may get Instapundit's traffic or blog links, the reason no one else will ever truly be another Instapundit is that like Babe Ruth, he's forever changed the game. The conditions which gave rise to Instapundit are long gone. Blogging isn't some new fad any more. There aren't just a handful of people doing it. The next big star of the blogosphere will be someone who achieves that fame in a different fashion. Don't ask me who or how, but the next Instapundit will not be like the current one.
For that reason, it's folly to talk of a "liberal Instapundit". Josh Marshall or Eric Alterman may someday start posting and linking like Glenn Reynolds does, but it won't be the same.
What I've observed here on the left-hand side of the equation is that we do a pretty good job amongst ourselves of discovering and promoting new talent. When a smart new voice* makes the scene, it doesn't take long for them to show up on a lot of blogrolls. The method is the same - one or more bloggers points them out, the rest of us check them out and link accordingly. What's different is that any number of lefty bloggers may be the first one to give the new kid a boost. It's an egalitarian thing, which is surely something a bunch of liberals can appreciate.
So while a liberal with the hit count, crossover appeal, and link generosity of Instapundit would surely be a Good Thing, I think we're doing all right anyway. And while it's not quite the same thing, we now have Brian's Lefty Directory as well. Who knows, maybe the Next Big Thing is already there.
* Such as Kevin Raybould, Jeff Cooper, Ann Salisbury, Eric Hallstrom, Chad Orzel, and Jeanne D'Arc. So what are you waiting for? Go check 'em out.
Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 02, 2002 to Other punditry
What you say about the conditions of the game having changed is exactly why I suggested you might get something like a liberal Instapundit out of Salon blogs.
The mainstream-to-left exposure blogging will get from Salon's lefty community is the next most likely place to see the sort of paradigm shift that produced Instapundit.
Brian's move is useful, too, though. And linking back to some of our supposedly apolitical but in some cases very liberal forebears who predate warblogging is also a good idea.
Got a long-assed response. I'd post it on Amish Tech Support, but Everyone's Internet is doing something hinky with users2. Mind if I post here for a bit?
- - - - - - - - - -
Because the moment a lefty turns establishment, they become conservative with time to protect what they think is rightfully theirs?
Ok ok ok... cheap joke. Supply and demand, Chuck. When the bloggers demand it and somebody supplies it, the Blogosphere will adjust naturally to promote that person through crosslinking and feedback until they are a parallel hub to balance Glenn Reynolds. The fact that it's being openly discussed and considered is the beginning of the process. All it takes now is an individual capable of providing the content and linkage to fit such a role.
They will be an expert in their field, or at least well-versed in it and able to bring together experts in the field. Someone famous with time to burn and a desire to withdraw from ordinary celebrity into a cyber-retirement could accomplish that... a Wil Wheaton perhaps? People will point to them naturally as "Hey, I agree with what this guy said" or "Check this out, it's important."
Also, people want to get word from someone who is on the scene. Who cares what a thousand pundits back in the States think about the Drudge Report story about a bread shortage in Israel... what's really going on down there from the perspective of an unbiased ordinary person? Hence, Not-A-Fish or Tal G or others get looked to as the "correspondent" in that region for the Blogosphere. Same goes for other countries, regions, fields, philosophies, or connections to other entities of interest.
Of course, it would help if that individual could also manage to build up a network of links from the traditional media establishment resources, too. The whole blogger-journalism relationship thing is still rather important and it would certainly jumpstart the career of an ordinary blogger up to the eighth rank for coronation
Part of Reynolds' ascendancy has not only been because of his having been there when the spark ignited and his positions, but it's been perceived that a link from him could easily direct a large number of visits in a particular person's direction. This promotion ability has, over time, reduced the number of his own positions and thoughts being posted and turned his posts more into a "look at this stupid thing or takedown" or "check this out I agree with it" kind of list.
It's fed upon itself with the "core" upper-eschelon bloggers linking each other and sometimes tossing scraps to the second-tier bloggers, with an understood arrangement of links back and allowing the flow of discussion to remain centered on how Reynolds or Kaus or others tend to direct it.
The King can make his Dukes, so-to-speak, and the Dukes are loyal to their King. Now and then, an Earl rise up, or a Baron falls out of grace. The system solidifies over time, but if someone else were to naturally obtain that kind of traffic-directing power, they would eventually settle into a "hub" or blog star role.
The "blog star" must provide content that fulfills a demand or need.
Reynolds' content has been the links and the pieces he writes for the traditional media, like his pieces in FOX NEWS. The political opinions in light of 9/11, Big Ashcroft Is Watching You, and the Middle East situation are fairly popular, especially in light of mass media's failure to address its own biases and inability to fact-check. Online folks are too smart for that kind of chicanery being done in the name of journalism for a profit by mass-media, and the bloggers are tearing at the periphery in the hopes of digging to the center and feasting on the corruption within.
Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs satisfied the demand and need for outrage at the world's amoral and duplicitous mistreatment of Israel in the face of the Islamist threat on all sides of it. Europe seems to have joined the Arab League in re-learning how to express its long-suppressed anti-Semitic nature, and it's through Little Green Footballs that those who otherwise feel powerless to strike back at Reuters or Amnesty International for their convenient omissions or blind eyes turned to the situation.
However, when I look at the kinds of material passed around by folks via e-mail, it's primarily humor. The Joe Cartoon Flash funnies and light bulb jokes and sex jokes that get passed around, well, there will come a time when the spark will hit and people will flock to the blogger sites where there's a high percentage of humor or satire
I point to the popularity among bloggers of Larry Miller, writer-comedian-pundit. The man not only can express an opinion and form an argument, but he can do it in ways that remind us that humor and satire are the ultimate weapons against arrogance and ignorance. The foolish can argue all day, but it cannot stand to be laughed at.
The next major blog star will provide a hub not for liberalism or conservatism, but to humor. Folks want to laugh, and the man or woman who picks up that pickaxe and mines out that humor for them at various sites, well, that will be the next person to wear the crown.
Time will tell.
By the way, if you want to see ascendancy in action, look at NZ Bear/Truth Laid Bear. There's the secret to kingmaking within the blogopshere: hits and crosslinking, combined with a schtick that folks want to get hits from in turn.
He's got folks talking up a storm about the validity and invalidity of his ecosystem, all the while he rises up towards the upper-eschelon. He sneezes, and Reynolds links him. Then, when he's gotten close enough to the core, he starts posting more opinion pieces with open-ended calls for debate and consideration.
Very clever. My hat's off to him for playing it that way so far, he's deserved it, and he ought to be ready to pick out the virtual stars or routers to connect to make the constellation or Veritas Ursa soon enough.
Who knows... who knows...
One slightly banal point to make: What Glenn does is actually really hard. Not just anyone could scour the web on a daily basis and produce a decent list of things they like, even if they never provided any commentary.
Dammit, Charles, it wasn't some liberal who "discovered" Chad Orzel. It was me, ME I tell you! MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!
Ahem. Back to you, Charles.
So is Glenn the blogging equivalent of Kibo?
I'm not big fan of much of what Instapunidt says, but yes - what he does is very hard and he's quite good at it. Though he does slip into mutual appreciation society mode at times, he clearly makes an effort to be generous with his links, particularly in giving attention to new blogs.
That's some nice company to be included in. Thanks! :)
A few comments. Matthew Yglesias is absolutely right when he says that what Glenn does is hard. I simply don't have the time to link as often as he does. If a lefty Instapundit is to emerge it will have to be another academic or a full time writer like Andrew Sullivan. The rest of us would get fired from our day jobs if we tried to match his output.
I also agree somewhat on the issue of specialization. How Appealing has become one of the most popular sites on the web, and all it does is discuss appellate litigation! For some bloggers, specialization is the key to success. For others though, like me, who prefer to cover a range of topics beyond my field (I am also a lawyer), the specialization hook is not so useful.