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“[This will be] the first time Wired (or any other magazine) has been guest-edited by a sitting president. The theme of the issue: Frontiers. … For this completely bespoke issue, he wants to focus on the future – on the next hurdles that humanity will need to overcome to move forward.” President Barack Obama Wired
We were all bloggers, or so it seemed circa 2003. Blogging was where those of us who didn’t trust the Bush administration’s push to war got alternative takes from Juan Cole, Marcy Wheeler, and other informed sources. Or if we were conservatives, blogging was where we fisked (remember fisking?) the lamestream media. Blogging was where a new wave of feminism was born on sites like Jezebel (a surviving Gawker Media property), launching writers like Irin Carmon and Anna Holmes. But blogging wasn’t just for the young. It also energized older writers (Andrew Sullivan, Mickey Kaus) and gave them a much larger audience than they’d had before.
At the height of the blogging craze, there were even utopian claims made on its behalf: Blogging would give us (finally) the Republic of Letters that the Enlightenment promised, a world where everyone could be a writer and find an audience—an interconnected network where, in true McLuhanesque fashion, a divided world would become a unified global village. Thanks to blogs, journalist Trevor Butterworth wrote in the Financial Times in 2006, “power was shifting from the gatekeepers of the traditional media to a more open, fluid information society.”
When protests broke out in Iran in 2009, conservative writer Michelle Malkin framed it in terms of the revolutionary potential of blogging: “In the hands of freedom-loving dissidents, the micro-blogging social network is a revolutionary samizdat—undermining the mullah-cracy’s information blockades one Tweet at a time.” Malkin was, of course, right to see Twitter as “micro-blogging,” but what she perhaps didn’t realize at that time was that Twitter and other social media were about to render traditional blogging old fashioned.
Blogging was fun, and it broke the rules. As founder Nick Denton said in a 2013 interview, “The basic concept of Gawker was two journalists in a bar telling each other a story that’s much more interesting than whatever hits the papers the next day.” Which is another way of saying Gawker tried to harness the conversational informality of blogging, the way the medium bypassed the codified rules of print journalism. But Gawker is dead, undone (depending on which interpretation of history you believe) either by its own hubris or by the vindictiveness of its billionaire foe, Peter Thiel.
A funeral for blogging itself feels not far off—or at least a mid-life crisis. Blogs still exist, but they lack the youthful vigor of 2003. “It seems like the new young people aren’t very interested in blogging,” Kelly Conaboylamented Tuesday at The Hairpin. It’s not so much that blogging is dead, but that it’s splintered beyond recognition. Almost every publication you can think of has blogs, but the impact is very different than the blogs of yore.
The most successful bloggers are now running corporate media empires like Vox, or working for the mainstream media. The first cohort of feminist bloggers have moved on to media development and books. Conservative spleen has reinvented itself as Breitbart.com and Nazi-themed anime memes from the alt-right. Mickey Kaus is now a Trump-thumping Twitter ranter. Andrew Sullivan is an aging rock star, largely quiet although he occasionally appears in New York magazine, where he’s a contributing editor, to warn about the dangers of Democracy or to live-blog political events.