Yesterday was an amazing day and it was a great privilege to be a part of it. I don't mean that it was a historic day in the development of media or anything like that. I still, like Jeff Jarvis, don't really understand what this venture is all about, and this is after having attended the launch. I also think that, despite the fact of its train-wreck-like quality, Dennis the Peasant's relentless, vitriolic critique of Pajamas/Open Source Media does raise some good points. (Also see Ann Althouse here and here questioning why bloggers who are already getting a good income from blogads would want to sign up with OSM in the first place.)
No, it was an amazing day just in the fact that it got a group of smart, absurdly varied bloggers and journalists and other strange personages together at the same few events, which made for a lot of fun and some real moments of intellectual/cultural frisson. Also, the party had an open bar.
It was an amazing day for me personally just in that I got to meet so many people, some of them people I admired greatly or read already or whatever, and I also got to re-connect with so many people I hadn't seen in awhile and connect better with people I only sort of knew.
What follows will be an exhaustive account of my impressions:
I started the day talking to Boi from Troy. I asked him what his brief stint editing Wonkette was like. He talked about how hard it was dealing with all of the e-mail from Wonkette's rabid lefty audience wanting him to pursue dubious anti-Bush conspiracy theories and rumors.
Next I hung out a bit with blogging wunderkind Steven I. Weiss, of Canonist, CampusJ and countless other blogs and other outlets before that. I talked to him about my interest in learning more about Jewish thought (no secret to anyone who really knows me) and he hipped me to some authors whose names I've forgotten now.
Then it was time for the morning panels and launch. The table I was at included a diverse group of people. There was Weiss, a student from the New School Media Studies program, a Japanese reporter from Nikkei (which I guess is a news service as well as the stock exchange) and Stephen Green, aka Vodka Pundit. I didn't talk to him, but what I noticed about him that day was his clothes. For the day time portion of the proceedings he was wearing a salt and pepper blazer and some sort of gray slacks with an ordinary white shirt blue tie combo. But, for the cocktail hour he was in a very slick dark suit with a burgundy pocket square (though it was double-breasted and I don't know how I feel about that). Multiple costume changes like he's hosting the Oscars or something! Wow! (Actually a lot of people put on fancier clothes for the evening, something I couldn't do because I live in the suburbs.).
The first speaker was Andrew Breitbart, Matt Drudge's right-hand man, the guy somehow involved in founding the Huffington Post, the guy behind the new breitbart.com newswire etc. etc. He's a charming, laid-back guy and I wish he'd done more stuff over the course of the day. I saw him at the party that night and he was hilarious (or maybe I was just drunk).
He said that this was the first launch he'd ever been to at which Parliament-Funkadelic wasn't playing and maybe that was a good thing. He said he'd been on-line for 10 years, literally. He noted that being involved with Huffington Post he was in competition with OSM, but here he was introducing them, because "in the blogosphere we're all friends". (Ahhhhhh) He went on to introduce Roger L. Simon and Charles Johnson and say that they were both heroes. Over-the-top encomiums and reckless throwing around of the h-word quickly became the order of the day.
Roger L. Simon was the next speaker. First he tried to explain the name change. He said that Pajamas Media was conceived in ironic recognition of a moment in media history. (The whole Jon Klein, president of CNN calling bloggers just some guys in their pajamas thing.) He then went on to recount the Rathergate thing as an illustration of the power of blogging. But the purpose of this venture is not merely to criticize but to create. Or "Times have changed but with changing times comes responsibility." (Hence the new name.)
He said the Open Source Media was to be "a hybrid of journalism and blogging." He said it will have "elaborate fact-checking protocols" and "a firm firewall between news and opinion," and that it will "publicize errors on the front page."
He then went on to say that OSM will be "citizen journalism, not created by elites, top-down" but will instead be "grassroots" etc. etc.
Roger then turned it over to José Guardia, the "Western European Editor" of OSM, leading to one of many technical hiccups that would take place over the course of the day. Guardia appeared in the form of a really crappy looking Windows Media file of some kind, with bad resolution, lots of audio hiss and pop, and constant freeze-framing. It was literally painful to look at. I still don't really understand who the audience of this day-long event was meant to be but if it was to include media or potential investors and not just people who were already cheerleaders then I can't imagine this looked good to them.
Roger took over again. He said that the goal was "not to overthrow the MSM but to enhance it." He also said that OSM intended to "foster dialogue", meaning dialogue between those of different political persuasions. To this end OSM has commissioned studies by Princeton. He quoted one study which supposedly shows that 43% of Americans are uncomfortable being called "conservative", "liberal", or even "moderate". Interesting if true obviously. Roger's conclusion: "Hybrids aren't just for cars."
Roger then went into the usual spiel that anyone launching a new venture involving blogging does: Blog readers are affluent, early adopters, opinion leaders etc. Which in short means that they're members of the elite, which probably means that bloggers are members of the elite. So tell me again how blogging empowers the common man Professor Reynolds?
Finally, Roger informed everyone that OSM would also have "lifestyle blogs", meaning blogs on sports, fashion, pop culture etc. This signaled a major problem with OSM's approach, one which would become more apparent during the disastrous, cringeworthy "fashion panel". What seems to have happened is that as an afterthought they thought they should somehow bring on board some "fun" (i.e. non-political) blogs, but since no one involved with OSM ever reads non-political blogs (seemingly) or seemingly knows anything about pop culture, they made a couple of mistakes in how they did this. One: the very idea of cordoning off a part of the site and putting a big sign up saying "fun" or "lifestyle" is a bad one. This is not how the human mind works. You don't all of a sudden say "Okay, brain I want you now to focus exclusively on silly, fun thoughts about America's Next Top Model" and then "Okay, now it's time for serious political thoughts and nothing else," particularly in the internet age, in which at the click of a mouse you can go from a deconstruction of Plamegate to a deconstruction of a Lost episode to a deconstruction of a bad celebrity outfit. The best blogs shift gears all the time, whether it's Andrew Sullivan talking about Madonna in the midst of inveighing against the Bush administration's torture policies or Karol alternating between hip-hop and conservative politics or Ken alternating between conservative politics and relationship stuff. A sense of fun and awareness of pop culture should be infused throughout all the writing on the site, in the manner of the great New York Observer or even the way Gawker mixes in serious topics, albeit approached obliquely. If you ghettoize the fun to a fun zone labeled "fun zone" you risk killing the, um, fun. Second, they didn't get very good fun bloggers, which became apparent during the panel.
This panel was one of the most bizarre spectacles I've ever witnessed and would justify an epic-length post in and of itself. First of all, there was a high-concept conceit to the panel which went amazingly badly due to technical issues. The panel was supposed to be moderated by The Manolo who's one of those bloggers with an annoying on-line persona shtick. Because he's anonymous his moderating was to be piped in over the speakers from somewhere else. The trouble was he was on an enormous delay. Judith says 10 seconds here. To me it felt more like about 5 minutes.
Tom Julian, this corporate coolhunter guy, was also trying to moderate on-site. Beyond the technical glitch, he was clueless as a moderator. The discussion was directionless and awkward. The only thing memorable about it was that Elizabeth Hayt, an NYT fashion journalist, bravely showed up. And I say bravely pointedly, to contrast her dignified bearing with the hooting and hollering that occurred both in the room and on-line for her daring to depart from the blog triumphalist mood of the day.
She stated at the outset that when she was booked she told the guy on the phone that she doesn't blog, she hates blogs, and thinks blogs are absurd so she didn't know why they were booking her. He said "That's why we want you." She was brought in as a sacrificial lamb, an example of evil MSM thinking for the assembled blog horde to devour with their teeth. She gave her quick critique of blogs, half of which I agreed with: the endless self-refrentiality, the bad writing etc. She also said that they were "for rich people with too much time on their hands who feel disenfranchised." Since most big bloggers are rich law professors or software developers or something like that who felt disenfranchised by the mainstream media's coverage of things it's hard to argue, especially when you're trumpeting how upscale your demographics are simultaneously.
The crowd was having none of it. By the third comment here someone's talking about bitch-slapping her. Nice. Ed Driscoll admits to hooting at her remarks here, which means that he openly admits to doing so to a guest who was invited by a company he works for specifically to share her views. Classy.
Thankfully, this torture eventually ended and it was time for the political panel.