Monday, November 12, 2007

Cruelty to Bloggers?

Just when I think I won't react to an online or paper column again, I find:
The former is much more serious and applicable. It is about bipartisanship and includes a sketchy road map to U.S. universal healthcare...and Democratic redemption.

However, prone to navel gazing, I fairly vibrated from the turns of phrase as well as the clear idea in the latter. It starts:
Whom the gods would destroy they first give a newspaper column.

It would seem to be a simple task to buff one's reflections, observations, and opinions to an 800-word sparkle twice a week, yet the job cores the skulls of all but the stoutest, most resourceful writers. The perceptive reporter turns into a bar-emptying bore, the meticulous stylist into a pompous hack, and the shrewd thinker into a merchant of flapdoodle.

In 586 words, Shafer savages Cohen's content and style. ("...Yes! Yes! Afghanistan completes Pakistan! Moderates must work with moderates for moderation! Why didn't I think of that?...At least Cohen didn't resort to the threadbare cliché of constructing the piece as a faux conversation or speech, as so many Times columnists love to do. Whoops! I forgot that Cohen did just that in his Nov. 5 column...)

It is brutal and far too accurate. Moreover and to this post, the criticisms are more than apt for most of us bloggers much of the time.

The currency of ideas mitigates modestly bloggers' literary lapses, but not to the point of painlessness. Clicking onto a well written blog post is rare enough that it makes us stop and marvel. The garments of blogging are too often soiled, tattered and poorly fitting.

Columnist Chops

My first regular columns were as sports editor of my high school paper. I usually only had to get clever or insightful once a month. Some were very good and changed school policy, but most were artsy and even pretentious. I can forgive my teen self. More important to this post's point, It was so infrequent.

In journalism school, it was a step or two up, at least in assembly-line speed. For a couple of years, I turned out two or three columns a week and numerous news articles, plus editorials. One year, the poor editor-in-chief was so overwhelmed by her once-a-week editorial that she was often in tears an hour before it was due. I'd sit down with her or without her and churn one out under her byline, week after week.

I own very few of those many scores of columns. They aren't online to examine, for which I am grateful. I certainly won't journey to the nation's oldest college library building, South Caroliniana, where the originals reside.

I recall how some of my columns made people angry and actually caused protests at the newspaper in person or by letter from students, alumni, administration, and the athletic director. That does not necessarily mean they were well written, much less high art. I confess that it was simply the power of the ideas themselves, not their expression. The provocateur, pundit and poet can often blur in the mind of the reader.

Sudden Gems

I can certainly empathize with the recently excoriated Mr. Cohen. To me, the immediacy of posting on this and other blogs where I write is cathartic and satisfying. Unlike the world of tech writing and most jobs, blogging gives us the delights of immediate publishing, plus the ability to correct, expand and refine thereafter.

Surely, the mean old Mr. Shafer has points about a highly paid and not at all overworked Mr. Cohen's lack of éclat. Yet the principle remains. It is tough to churn 'em out. Some are a lot better than others. Moreover, some columnists and some bloggers are not, have never been and will never be great or even good writers.

Much like anyone else, how many bloggers or columnists pass the table test, that is make you want to share a warm drink, a cold one or a meal, in ascending order of affection and respect for intellect?

Short of getting those rewards, I'll read for the ideas and then be delighted if the insights are brilliant or expression sparkling. Both seem too much to ask, but sometimes the gods of analysis and literature smile upon us.

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