Tuesday, April 9, 2013

On Blogs and Public Service

There are many motivations for writing a blog.  Part of it is that it is just plain fun and a bit thrilling to expose a bit of yourself to the outside world and yet still retain some anonymity.

I started this blog for three reasons: One, just for a fun hobby and to give my joy of writing some kind of outlet that felt more productive than a notebook stashed in my desk drawer. Two, I was trying to connect with students at OSU and share some of the fun I have being an economist engaged in the real world.  Three, I wanted to provide a small public service by trying my best to explain what economics has to say about policy matters that are pertinent to Oregonians.  [And yes, I know that this service is worth just about as much as it costs to read this blog]

To accomplish this third objective I have tried my best to provide sober, unbiased (or, failing that, being completely honest about my own biases) analysis.  I try not to be too dry or technical so that reading this blog does not become a chore. I try my best not to question personal motives unless it has to do with preferences, payoffs and decision making.  Most of all I try to be decent.

And I do all of this to make sure that I don't get in the way of the very service I am trying to provide.  I don't do blog ads and no one has ever once donated to this blog using the handy widget you'll see on there on the right (which confirms that, indeed, economists have you all figured out) so I have no need to drive page views with videos of kittens falling off chairs and such.  What I have found is that this tone had a wonderful byproduct: the readers of this blog and, almost to a person, the commentators on this blog are serious thoughtful people genuinely interested in the issues raised herein.  I don't have to block any comments save for the commercial trolls.

Which is all to say that my point about Jack Bog's blog in the previous post is that so much, if not all, of the potential public service of Jack's blog is undone by the tone and tenor of his writing.  Which is a shame because there is so much of value there - potentially more than all of the other blogs like mine combined.  His blog became a privileged outlet for inside baseball-type info of Portland bureaucracy and politics and, to my mind, he essentially squandered most of the valuable capital he created.  So I can imagine a parallel reality in which I would be devastated at the suspension of his blogging, while in this reality I am in fact grateful as it was getting too vitriolic and relentlessly negative - and yet I was completely and helplessly hooked, so now I have to kick my addiction.  [It is kind of like the worst of reality TV]

Now I suppose the counter-argument is that his crankiness is what drove the page views that made his blog powerful, thus his is a persona he affected and cultivated (I hope so because I can't imagine being so pissed off at everything all of the time).  But while I think and hope his on-line persona is in large part fiction, I don't buy that he needs it - what are page views if your are not being taken seriously?  If he was reporting with real restraint I think his blog would be ten times more powerful with half the page views (but perhaps not as profitable).

Finally, I complete the circle of thought with a link to this Frank Rich piece about the decline of mainstream media news organizations.  It is a terribly sad piece and makes me wonder (yet again) what will fill the gaps in the public watchdog role they once occupied?  It is precisely for this reason that I hope a new Jack or someone like him will rise from the ashes of the old and provide more service and less snark.

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