In light of the continuing crisis in New Orleans and on the Gulf Coast, we’ve decided to resume updating of “Live from Katrina,” our list of stormblogs and other useful links. To see it, go here.
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A funny thing happened on the way to my writing what was supposed to have been today’s lead posting: I ended up spending half of Sunday and all of Monday creating and maintaining what appears to have been the Web’s most comprehensive list of bloggers who were reporting from the scene on Hurricane Katrina.
Needless to say, that had less than nothing to do with the mission statement of “About Last Night,” but I did it anyway, and thereby hangs a tale.
Like many, perhaps most Americans, I didn’t realize until Sunday afternoon that a Category Five hurricane was headed for New Orleans. I’d spent the whole morning writing a long, involved posting about how I’d become disillusioned with the new Museum of Modern Art. I came up for air, turned on the TV, and discovered to my astonishment that the city about which I’d been writing for the past few months (I’m working on a biography of Louis Armstrong) was at high risk of being blown into the Gulf of Mexico.
Being a blogger, my snap reaction was to head for my iBook and find out what was what. I quickly discovered that lots and lots of people were posting on Hurricane Katrina. But while most of their postings included links to other blogs, no one had thought to assemble a one-stop list of stormblogs and other relevant sites. After bookmarking a few of the best ones, I got the idea to throw together an “About Last Night” posting called “Live from Katrina.” The first version, as I recall, contained links to a half-dozen blogs, most of which made mention of one or two other bloggers. I checked out every link I ran across and, when appropriate, added it to my original posting. Within an hour or two, other bloggers, including Jeff Jarvis, were linking to my list, which by then included a number of other informational sites. At that point it occurred to me to send an e-mail to Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit suggesting that he take a look at what I’d done. He linked to it a minute or two later, and the hits started pouring in.
That was when the Web began to work its own mysterious, self-sustaining magic. Stormblogs I didn’t yet know about started turning up in my referral log courtesy of the Instapundit link, and I in turn transferred them to my new blogroll, adding other useful links as I discovered them. By the time I went to bed at three-thirty that morning, I realized that my informal little list had turned into a potentially significant resource.
I awoke without benefit of alarm at seven and set to refining my list, indicating which blogs had been updated most recently and posting excerpts from the best ones. Within an hour or two I had created what was for all intents and purposes a manually operated aggregator page of Katrina-related sites. I was supposed to deliver a piece to Commentary at noon that day, but by mid-morning several other high-traffic pages, including MSNBC’s Clicked, National Review‘s The Corner, and The Wall Street Journal‘s Best of the Web, had linked to “Live from Katrina.” I felt I ought to keep on doing what I was doing, so I sent an e-mail to Neal Kozodoy, the editor of Commentary, asking him if he could extend my deadline for a day. He agreed on the spot, and I spent the rest of Monday updating “Live from Katrina” more or less continuously.
By midday Slate‘s Today’s Blogs page had caught up with me:
“Katrina has been downgraded still further to a Category Two storm–that is, disastrous but not apocalyptic,” reports converted arts and culture blogger Terry Teachout in a link-stuffed post at About Last Night. “The eye of the storm is now moving across Mississippi to Alabama. New Orleans has already been hit hard, and flood damage appears to be extensive. … CNN is carrying eyewitness reports of looting. Large pieces of the roof of the Superdome roof, the ‘shelter of last resort’ for nine thousand stranded locals and tourists, were peeled away by high winds, but the damage was superficial, not structural.”
The funny thing was that I hadn’t really converted. In addition to “Live from Katrina,” Monday’s “About Last Night” also included its usual quota of art-related postings, including my MoMA rant and Our Girl’s report on a gig by Erin McKeown, all of which were pulling in the usual quota of Monday-morning traffic. It was as if two different blogs–a stormblog and an artblog–were simultaneously inhabiting the same body, and doing so without any apparent conflict.
As Hurricane Katrina finally slowed down and Monday shuddered to a close, I stopped updating “Live from Katrina” and started thinking about the implications of what I’d been doing for the past two days. On the one hand, nothing could have been less typical of “About Last Night” than for me to have thrown myself head first into so unlikely an undertaking. Yet at the same time, nothing could be more characteristic of the new world of new media. One of the most distinctive properies of blogs, after all, is that they are instantly and infinitely malleable at the whim of the blogger. “About Last Night” is about art because Our Girl in Chicago and I want it to be about art. If we decided at noon tomorrow that it would henceforth be about hockey, or smoked salmon, there’d be nothing to stop us from changing course at 12:01. Instead, we decided to make a one-day detour into citizen journalism, and the blogosphere promptly sat up and took notice.
Don’t get me wrong. I love newspapers. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t pour so much of my energy into them. I hope I spend the rest of my life writing for them. But what happened to this blog two days ago is a dramatic demonstration of the two most important properties of the new media: independence and immediacy. I doubt that any print-media editor, however savvy or enlightened, would have let me do what I did with “About Last Night” on Sunday afternoon. I would have had to talk a half-dozen suits into letting me tear up my job description for a day, and by the time I’d finally talked them around (assuming I succeeded in doing so, which probably wouldn’t have happened), it would have been too late to bother. As a blogger, I didn’t have to talk anyone into letting me do what I wanted–I just did it, with Our Girl’s enthusiastic blessing.
Am I glad to get back to artblogging? You bet. I’m beat to the socks.
Am I glad I took a day off from artblogging to try and do some good? Absolutely.
Am I glad I’m a blogger? A hundred thousand times yes.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a deadline to hit….
UPDATE: Here are a couple of messages I found in my e-mailbox when the smoke finally cleared:
• “You’ve really outdone yourself with your compendium of Hurricane Katrina links. What a fantastic effort–I can’t believe every news site hasn’t done something similar (but they haven’t). And then to read that you’re doing this even though you’ve never been to New Orleans–well, my jaw dropped.”
• “I appreciate your posting the list. My family all lives in New Orleans
(they’re in Alabama at the moment) and no one can even get near their
neighborhoods to see how things are going. I can’t look at any more photos–New Orleans looks like postwar Berlin in A Foreign Affair–but I
like reading the blogs to see how people are doing. Thanks again.”
Letters like that make it all worthwhile.