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September 05, 2006


On blogging and community: the Times carries a column today suggesting that, despite bloggers' cries, that journalism's not dead (it's only a-sleeping) and goes on to say that real community is formed by city newspapers -- not on blogs:

To give them a flavor of the craft, or at least a sense of how it has been perceived, [dean of the new CUNY journalism school Stephen] Shepard is showing them journalism-themed movies once a week. He began on Thursday with the original 1931 version of “The Front Page.” His future lineup includes “Deadline U.S.A.” If you believe in newspapers, as many of the students clearly do, that 1952 film can make the heart skip a beat.

Humphrey Bogart plays the tough editor of a newspaper that is going under (sound familiar?) but not without a fight. He crusades against a mobster who had a woman killed. Her immigrant mother gives the editor evidence of the mobster’s guilt.

“Why didn’t you go to the police?” he asks her.

“Police?” she says. “I do not know police. I know newspaper. This newspaper. For 31 years, I know this paper. I come to America. I wish to be good citizen. How to do this? From newspaper.”

Perhaps someday a screenwriter — he may even be a former journalism student — will have a character say the same thing about Web logs.

Probably not any time soon, though.

I was thinking of writing on this but it sort of writes itself -- how many times on a blog have you seen someone come in with a personal problem and be inundated (sometimes overwhelmed) with help, including advice, legal counsel, and financial aid? How many times have you seen someone do that in the NY Times?

Anonymity (or pseudonymity) doesn't seem to be hurting community bonding. I won't go so far as to say it strengthens it -- but there is a stronger sense of community in most blogs I read than the apartment building where I live.


One argument I made when Garance asked me in Vegas about why I blogged pseudonymously even though I was willing to appear on CSPAN under my own name is that people tend to develop characters associated with their names--and that this has been true throughout history (a lot of the feuilletons I researched in grad school were pseudonymous and would develop little stories about the pseudonymity). Writing as emptywheel, I am generally perceived to be a kind of rational zen male. Would I write different things if I blogged under my real name? Maybe. But the perception would be different. And, except when I'm blogging in close proximity to you, it's easier to remember/identify me when I blog as emptywheel.

if one really want to stretch the point, one could think of other examples where one of the first steps in forming a community is participants naming themselves -- picking your own name gives you a claim on your identity that you may not get with the name you're born with (or given in the first couple weeks, anyway).

I'm thinking in particular of modern Israel, where people moving there often renamed themselves in Hebrew or Hebrew-derived names, shedding their Russian or Polish surnames behind them. There too a self-renaming (I guess I shouldn't call it "self-christening" if it's Israel) was part of joining a developing community.

An anonymous blogger just died over at another blog.

That's not a stretch, ~pockets. Again, going back to the stuff I did in academia, one of the reasons the feuilletons worked so well is because they were written in a language completely different from that "above the line." The best feuilletonists always played with the language of the street, celebrating it with almost poetic grace. That meant that a lot more people could read it as "their" language.

I think naming is somewhat similar. By picking a name you pick an avatar and, to some degree, perform that avatar. It's a language and self-identity you choose yourself, which makes it more active.

This is an intriguing discussion to say the least. It took me back to high school where we had an assignment to discuss what was more important, civil rights or property rights? The discussion went on, well, forever.
FYI, have you seen the clip that The Nation is breaking a story sometime today of what Valerie P's actual role was at the CIA? They indicate it's taken from the yet to be released Hubris by Isakoff slated for release later this week.

I believe I've heard that in some traditional Native American cultures it's common to be renamed a few time during one's life, as new functions, signal achievements, or epochal gaffes change one's relationship to the rest of the community.

A consistency of my persona: movie references. I hope Prof. Shepard is planning to show Meet John Doe to his class, just so they know that the heroism of the journalist is not inevitable. Ace in the Hole or A Face in the Crowd make some of the same points, too.

The Nation excerpt is up here.

Perhaps if I changed my handle to "Senior Administration Official" Garance would have less of a problem with it?

In my imaginary opinion, 'Garance Franke-Ruta's' writing voice is at least as 'constructed' as any other, notwithstanding the fact that that is her 'real' name - in her case, that of a rather humorless, literalistic, anti-zen, parody of what a male supposedly sounds like. I'm sure she's much more complex and interesting in person. Sorry to sound condesending, and I don't particularly have a bone to pick with her (although I do find her to be a bit of a scold), but she's kinda asking for it. It takes a pretty stubborn obtuseness to confuse pseudonymity and anonymity. Smoke from another (more interesting) fire.


Actually, if you didn't have such a great, consistent ID already built up, that'd be great!!


I don't really have a beef with her in general, either. But when someone who gets paid because she can use her real name begrudges those who don't get paid because they can't use their real name, you begin to wonder.

Interesting post EW, liked your earlier one as well. My first experience with anonymous blogging really occurred reading a sci-fi book by Ursula LeGuin, The Dispossessed I think, where the main characters were dissidents blogged with ancient philosophers' names. Your feuilleton work sounds pretty interesting BTW.

I don't know if the conventions have changed/developed over the past few years, or I'm just clueless, but I've never considered using only one handle for the web. Always figured someone could ID me if they really wanted to, maybe not too interested in developing a "brand" either (though I seem to have a small one going at JOM).

Also basically clueless until recently about such things as "sock puppets" and "trolls."

If I remember my American history, one of the first anonymous pamphleteers (the 1770's version of blogging) was a guy who published under the pseudonym Publius, and the collection of those writings is now known as the Federalist Papers.


Interesting discussion.

There is another reason for posting anonymously. Some of us have very unique names. If you were to type my name into a search engine you would come up with one page of results. You would know where I was formerly employed, you would know I had my house remodeled, hence my address, you would be able to access the letters to the editor I have written. I also live in one of the reddest states in the country. I don't feel comfortable posting on any site, and I do from time to time post comments on a number of sites, using the name my parents saw fit to give me.

A unique name is both a bane and a blessing, depending on the circumstances.


I know exactly what you mean. I have a constructed name (my wife and I hyphenated our names when we married) that is absolutely unique (as far as I and Google know, no one outside of my immediate family shares our last name). Since I work in the technology field and have a work related blog, I want people who search for my name to turn that up, not my political ramblings. There is a lot of interesting work in "identity management" that could be applied here, but the geek community never sees the historical precedents for our work. As a History and English major in college, that frustrates me no end. I work with people who think that nothing that happened before the advent of the Web is applicable to our field.

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