So the news is finally true - Ezra Klein shifts tomorrow from his own blog to a presence at The American Prospect. Ezra's announcement has turned into congratulatory paean to the young fellow, on that I, oddly, can't really get into the spirit of.
Please, don't get me wrong - I think Ezra is a brilliant, talented writer, clearly devoted to his subjects and determined to find answers. I will certainly continue to read him, and to comment, because his blog attracts an interesting group of people who are great to debate ideas with.
But look - not much, really, has changed. And while I like what Ezra does - so much, I started to do it myself - I'm not sure that what is gained here replaces what is lost.
I'm torn by my reactions, of course. I don't, by nature, like to think of myself as a jealous person. In my gentle, open heart, I wish people only the best. I sincerely believe anger and bitterness can only hurt, and mostly only hurt the person feeling them.
But you know, you watch people succeed, and, as you get older, you do realize that some people get... if not the breaks, well, maybe the benefits. I don't like to do comparisons, but I'm not bad at math, and when I start to compare and start to feel less than... it's hard.
So I don't want to seem bitter. I'm not. Really. My life, my career... it is what it is. If I wish my life had gone differently, well... it didn't, and frankly, I wouldn't be the person I am, with the experience I have, if I had done it differently. And would I rather have the attention thrown on a 17 year old a little wise beyond his years? Probably not. I was precocious enough, thank you, and it wasn't all that.
But really, what I find curious, if I step back, is this notion that what Ezra's doing is necessarily a net plus. A couple of his commenters allude to it, and I think it's worth mentioning, too.
A lot of ewhat's happening in media these days is an acknowledgment that the web has changed almost everything. It would be ludicrous, at this late date, to deny the power of the blogs, to ignore that some seriously talented writers have found their voice, and made the format sing.
And thus I think it's not surprising that major media organizations, scrambling to adjust to a new world have done what major organizations always do in times like these - they've gone out, raided the talent drawer, and tacked Blogworld onto their existing operations.
And so, at Time, you have Ana Marie Cox (nee Wonkette) ensconced at Swampland with three senior Time writers, new to blogging - Joe Klein, who struggles with the challenges of new media; Karen Tumulty, who has shifted with surprising ease and grace; and a virtually invisible Jay Carney, who seems utterly disinterested. At The Atlantic, Andrew Sullivan, Ross Douthat, Matt Yglesias and Megan McArdle make a bench heavy with seriousness, with surprisingly less weight in the result than one might expect.
The New York Times and Wall Street Journal are erife with blogs of all sorts (The WSJ even has its Opinion Jornal, just to continue the separation between its Editorial Page and the rest of the paper). TV Networks struggle to come close, with anchor blogs that rarely seem so interesting, or relevant.
And now The American Propsect joins National Review and The New Republic in promoting individual writers to personal blogs.
Personally, I wonder about the value in this. Yea for Ezra... but I don't think this was the promise of blogging, at least not the romantic notion of it that's been sold: a new, free-spirited form of media that p[roves independent voices can survive and thrive without the major companies. Is The American Prospect major? No, perhaps not; but there's a sense of ordering being put on blogging nonetheless, one I simply ignored for quite a while (I read Yglesias and Sullivan far less than I used to, in large measure because I have no use for the imprimatur of The Atlantic over them..
It's that sense - of order, of putting in place rules and structure and large organization - that worries me most about the change for Ezra. I'm torn because frankly, I want to make a living as a writer. If the offer came to me, I'm sure I'd take it. I think it's extremely challenging to make a new media, "independent" voice thrive in the marketplace - hard as its ever been, if not harder - in the face of the big players working to carve up their slices of a finite pie.
My general distrust of The Man (even, as Sprint says, knowing that in no small way, I am The Man) isn't the point here; yeah, the hippie in me wants the internets to just run wild and free like Woodstock and the Free Love Movement, blah, blah, blah. But my rational side says all that running amok is dirty and you don't get to wear nice clothes and be generally fancy (That is where my friend Jennifer and I - and even RedStar - tend to meet). And the problem I have is the reverse one - it's that Big Media is moving into the blogosphere, and they're doing it badly.
Ultimately, the blogging that major news organizations need isn't the blogging mostof us do. It's less about us, as people, and more about the story - explaining, clarifying, amplifying, embellishing the story so that people can see more, understand more, know more. When I go to Time's blog, I know that I'll get (generally) solid reporting, and not a lot of "why can't I find nice pants that fit". Sure, Cox still has some her charming snark that shines through, but not the gin sozzled, why do I do this, almost anything goes quality of Wonkette (which, really, has never been the same without her).
Similarly, with each jump to greater media prominence, Andrew Sullivan gets more corporate, more insitutionalized. Sure, he's an idiosyncratic voice - the big gay British bear of conservatism American politics never knew it needed or wanted - but his idosyncracies are hardening into shtick, just as "George Will" is cast in amber as the uptight Reaganite with a charming baseball fascination. Washington loves these characters, who never really challenge the status quo, but in fact are the status quo: predictable, unchanging, all purpose commentators on the passing scene in politics.
I think what seems very exciting now - a realm of enormous possibilities as blogworld and Medialand uneasily conjoin in shotgun wedding after shotgun wedding - is, in fact, a sanding over and a smoothing out and a general way to tame what seemed untamed. It's not the loss of the wild and free animals that bothers me, it's that Big Media can't solve its problems by coopting the blogosphere, and making some its stars into happy shills for bigger as better. What surprises me about Ezra's move is its very conventionality - it's a columnist spot for a nice guy at a small political mag, just like it's always been, but perhaps a little more 24/7 (though Ezra is really one of the least 24/7/365 bloggers around, working on a near Carson-like production schedule). That's not bad for Ezra... but it's knowable, it's defined, and it already exists. What he did on his blog was really quite new, and different, and unexpected.
I didn't really intend to go on at such length, just note the passing scene and move on... but scratch my little green eyed monster, and you never know what will pop out. Though I'd rarely say it publicly, frankly I'm happy to remain a prospective independent voice in the blogosphere - my competitive, ambitious nature does think that its only a matter of time before this becomes a much bigger thing for me. It's not self interest that has me wondering if Ezra's move is the best move, except that it is. If these are the options - struggle independently, or watch as a thrilling experimental lab for new writing gradually gets eaten by the monster it tried to escape - I'm not sure I like them. On the other hand, I still think these are not my options. And I think Big Media still has no idea what it's contending with in the blogs. None at all. And inside, my little green monster goes, "Grrrrr...."