From the Home for Elderly Bloggers: Disrespectful Young Whippersnappers! UPDATE: Ten Cents a Column Inch
Posted on | May 13, 2012 | 49 Comments
Of course, I refer to Jonah Goldberg who, at the tender age of 43, is a callow parvenu — a mere stripling! a rookie! — by comparison to my superannuated 52-year-old self. Nevertheless, Goldberg is old enough to resent the pretensions of still younger punks:
“It is a simple fact of science that nothing correlates more with ignorance and stupidity more than youth,” the National Review Online editor said in an interview. “We’re all born idiots, and we only get over that condition as we get less young.” . . .
“My view is, they’re going to run the country some day, so we should really explain why they’re so frickin’ stupid about so many things,” he said.
Via Ed Morrissey at Hot Air, who is a few years older than Goldberg, but still not as old as me. In fact, I didn’t realize how old Ed was (I’m guessing 48 or 49) until I started researching and discovered that he’d been working for four years as a tech writer in Southern California before losing that gig in a 1988 downsizing. “Peace dividend” and all that.
Rather than go the Michael Douglas Falling Down route — we can picture Ed rampaging across L.A. with a 9-mm — he first drove a cab for a couple months before landing a job in a call center, which “accidental career” he pursued for 18 years before his success with Captain’s Quarters finally landed him a full-time political communications gig.
All of which is to say, Ed paid his dues.
These young punks nowadays? They ain’t paid no dues. Act like they invented the dadgum Internet! Them and their Tweetdecks and “social networking” and what-have you. By cracky, when I was their age, a computer had punch-cards and was the size of a Buick! Dang smart-alecky upstarts want to tell me about this here “blogging” stuff, do they?
GET OFF MY LAWN!
Excuse this geezerly outburst. Here at the Home for Elderly Bloggers, they’re understaffed on Sundays, and I get a mite cranky when the nurse doesn’t show up for my daily sponge-bath . . .
JOURNALISM IS NOT
A POPULARITY CONTEST
I find myself accused of having “waged a war on young bloggers,” which was not at all my intent. The problem is the “flattening” effect of the Internet, which is both an opportunity and a trap.
The opportunity, of course, is that self-publishing permits anyone to put their stuff out there on the Internet and, potentially, reach a worldwide audience. Thus, if this post gets linked at Instapundit — which I certainly hope it will — then little ol’ me can reach a readership as large as anything else linked at Instapundit. Similarly, I could Tweet this to Ann Coulter and, if she re-Tweets it, then I reach her vast readership.
However, this “flattening” of hierarchy is somewhat of an illusion. Any random bozo can get up in my face on Twitter, but if this random bozo has only a couple hundred followers, so what? Ignore ’em. And just because I’m linked by Instapundit or re-Tweeted by Ann Coulter, this does not make me a law professor or a best-selling author.
The “flattening” effect of the Internet is therefore a potential trap, in that people can become confused about a virtual world that is somewhat chaotic and apparently egalitarian.
Ace of Spades, who has craploads more traffic than me, has talked about the absurdity of being “blog-famous,” which no one should ever confuse with actual fame. At any gathering of conservative bloggers, Ace is the coolest guy in the room, whom eveyrbody wants to hang out with. But when he goes to the store to buy a Diet Coke, he’s just another guy at the cash register.
Our little niche of the online world — conservative politics — is small enough that getting to that Big Fish/Small Pond point, where you are kind of fairly well-known, isn’t really all that difficult. But being fairly well-known among conservative bloggers won’t buy you a cup of coffee at Starbucks, let alone pay the rent, and finding some way to parlay this trip into an actual job that pays the rent . . .
Well, it’s a mighty hard dollar. The point of my rant (which was what the young lady first asked me about) was mainly just to continue a bit of shtick I always do, riffing on how old I am and how I was hitting deadlines for a living when these kids — and to me, Jonah Goldberg is still a kid — were still in high school, or grade school, or not even born yet, depending what they were up to in 1986.
But there is truth in humor, and there is here a point to be made about the “flattening” effect of the Internet: It used to be, if you wanted to write for a living, you had to apply for a job and get hired at a newspaper or magazine or whatever. You would be hired in at the very lowest level, and assigned to do scutwork, and if you didn’t like it, tough — your boss had a stack of resumés in his desk drawer, and more arriving every day, and your low-level young self was certainly not irreplaceable.
Remember, I was born two years after the peak of the Baby Boom; ambitious and inexperienced young people were a dime a dozen when I was starting out. So you took a lot of crap from your bosses, and hustled your butt off just trying to hold on to that low-level job.
There were no online job banks, no Craiglist, no e-mail, no Facebook, no free self-publishing software or cheap laptops to enable young writers to reach a mass readership sitting in their parent’s basements. My daily traffic at this blog exceeds the circulation of the weekly newspaper where I started out as a $4.50-an-hour staff writer, and it took me more than 11 hard years in the newspaper business before I made it to The Washington Times as an assistant national editor, by which time I was a 38-year-old married father of three.
In the Old School, there was a clear hierarchy in journalism, and very few ways to circumvent that hierarchy, so if you wanted to get ahead, you had to work your butt off, and nobody was going to do you any favors: Get the damned job done, or get the hell out.
The whole concept of “bosses” and “employees,” it seems, has been undermined by the Internet. Your resumé is now more or less constantly “in the mail,” as it were, because you can post it on one of those job-search sites and be reached by anyone looking for someone with your particular skill-set. And it is amazing to me how young people in the political world change jobs so rapidly. You see a 20-something at CPAC one year, and they’re working for Think-Tank X. You bump into them at the next CPAC, and they’re working for Lobbying Outfit Y. The next year, they’ve hired on as a staffer for Senator Z.
Evidently in 21st-century D.C., if you haven’t changed jobs three times by the time you’re 26, you’re considered sluggish and lacking ambition.
This rapid churning is enabled by the Internet, and when you talk about “young bloggers,” this returns us to how the Internet undermines hierarchy. “Young bloggers,” for the most part, have never had the experience I had, grinding it out on deadline, writing about a bunch of crappy local news of interest only to a relative handful of readers, under the direct supervisory authority of an editor who might fire you if you screwed up. The collapse of the Old School publishing environment is not your fault, but it has deprived you of the immense value of that experience, and there’s not even anybody who will bother to try to explain to you why that experience matters, for fear of being laughed off as an obsolete fuddy-duddy.
Being young and ambitious and impatient for success — hey, I can relate. Been there, done that, and still as ambitious and impatient as ever. But you have no right to accuse me of having “waged a war on young bloggers,” when I’ve always done everything I could to encourage anybody who does good work.
The “flattening” effect of the Internet is in large measure an illusion, and you’ve got to focus on what’s real. You can try to jump to the head of the line, but if you get to the head of the line that way, you’d damned well better be able to show you deserve to be there.
Finally: You’ll note that I’ve linked Robert Novak’s memoir Prince of Darkness. Why? Because if you’ll read that book — and you really should — you’ll find that Novak remarks that when he made it to the Washington bureau of the Associated Press, he was the only man under 30 in the bureau, and most of his colleagues were over 40. By that point, Novak was 26 had been a working journalist since he was a teenage stringer covering high-school sports for the Joliet Herald-News at ten cents a column-inch.
On page 25, Novak makes an important revelation of self-awareness: “I am not a person who is easy for a lot of people to like. No stirrer-up of strife is ever popular.” Indeed. Blogging is a form of journalism, and it is unfortunate that it is more difficult for kids to get those entry-level jobs, even at 10 cents a column inch, so that they might have the kind of experience Novak had. But fortunately, one thing hasn’t changed: Journalism isn’t a popularity contest, and even unlikeable people — stirrers-up of strife — can succeed if they do good work.
P.S.: In case you never heard of this Novak guy, he was kinda important. Ask @TPCarney.