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May 17, 2006

Thoughts from a "little honeybee"


I started my blog in the summer of 2002. I didn't expect to make a dime from it. And I haven't. Not directly, anyway.

A couple of years ago, though, newspaper and magazine editors I'd never met started emailing and asking me to review books or write articles for them. What led them to think this was a good idea, I can't say. Nor have I ever known, after finishing an assignment, when the next invitation would come -- or if it would. But I do know that my writing would not have appeared in The American Prospect, The New York Times Book Review, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, and Newsday had I not started a blog.

Mr. DeCurtis ("blog on, my little honeybees, blog on") seems to view blogging, or any kind of unpaid writing, as a quasi-unethical act.

Let's assume, purely for the sake of argument, that the arts benefit more from the old system, in which a handful of mainstream media critics tell everyone else what to think, than from the new, in which anyone with a computer and an opinion can join the conversation.

What remedy, in his ideal world, would Mr. DeCurtis propose? That we shut down the Internet? That we allow only credentialed journalists to discuss the arts? That we place warning labels on blogs: "writes here 'for nothing or next to it'"?

At an Internet panel held for a group of book publicists last year, one eager young guy kept challenging the bloggers to explain their relevance, to convince him that, in the fleeting and transient world of the Internet, they would be able to help him sell books tomorrow. (Don't get me started on publishers treating blogs as potential marketing venues.) Returning to something I'd said earlier, he asked me this: "If you won't treat your blog as a business, why should I care about it?"

My answer, which began, "I guess you can't expect a room full of publicists to understand that someone might talk about books because she loves them," didn't win me any friends that day. But as someone who never expected to profit from my blog, I'm mystified by corporate and old-media antagonism toward the free and spontaneous writing bloggers do.

Sure, the quality of blogs is uneven. Reliability varies. People like me who hold down day jobs will go silent for days or rely on quick links. But so what? Nobody's forcing your browser to load About Last Night every morning. If you don't like what a blogger does, don't read the site.

Posted by at May 17, 2006 9:56 AM

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