UPDATE -- Ezra ends up with Vox Media, also owner of SBNation, founded by the founder of this site. Ezra's statement very worth a read.
In a critical 2002 Salon story, Jennifer Liberto tells this anecdote of MWO's battle with Susan "Steno Sue" Schmidt of the Washington Post:
MWO launched a new offensive against an old target, Post reporter Susan Schmidt, whom they (along with other media critics who use their names) thought covered the investigations against the Clintons with particularly partisan relish. They dubbed her “Steno Sue,” labeling her a stenographer for Independent Counsel Ken Starr, and launched an e-mail campaign. Several of the site’s readers sent Schmidt angry e-mails.Please read below the fold for more on this story.
But instead of engaging them as Brown did, Schmidt sought vengeance. After figuring out where two of the e-mails originated from, Schmidt contacted the senders’ respective employers. A small media hoopla ensued; Washington Post ombudsman Michael Getler confirmed to the American Prospect that Schmidt did, indeed, contact the employers and was “told not to do it again.”
But those two were mere foot soldiers in MWO’s war, and the incident only helped to spur on the guessing game of who was really the person behind the curtain, sending directives and choosing new targets. Certainly there’s a level of sophistication to those decisions — choosing fairly obscure targets of derision, like Schmidt, for example, loathed only by near-professional Clinton defenders. And that’s got Beltway observers convinced a political professional is somehow involved. [Emphasis supplied.]
You can see how much the Salon writer detested MWO and the defense of Schmidt is surely an embarrassment to Salon today. But that was the general attitude toward bloggers and of course it continued for many years, especially against Markos Moulitsas and this blog, which grew to be the largest progressive site.
Back in the day, not only was the Bush Administration and its historic incompetence and malfeasance the prime target of lefty blogs, but its enablers, "Traditional Media," so long cowed by the success of Fox News and right-wing "media watchdogs." If you weren't there, you could not imagine just how awful the media was. (Sure they are awful today, but they were exponentially worse back then.)
Fast forward to this week and the announcement that wunderkind blogger/analyst/journalist Ezra Klein was leaving his perch as head of the Washington Post's WonkBlog. The release from the Washington Post on the event was interesting:
We regret to announce that Ezra Klein, Melissa Bell and Dylan Matthews are leaving The Post for a new venture. [...[ When Ezra joined us in 2009, he was a wunderkind blogger with brash confidence and a burning desire to write a column in the print newspaper. As he leaves us, Ezra is still a brash wunderkind, but now his burning desire has a grander scope: He is looking to start his own news organization, an ambition that befits someone with uncommon gifts of perception and analysis. Ezra’s passion and drive will be missed, but we will take pride in watching him chart out his new venture. [Emphasis supplied.]Ezra's origins as a blogger (he began with a site with Jesse Taylor at Pandagon which was passed to Amanda Marcotte), his smooth transition to liberal wonk and then his rise to the Washington Post with WonkBlog tells a fascinating story of the arc of blogging and journalism this past decade.
Most telling to me was the change in Ezra's ambitions from becoming a columnist for the Washington Post (surely an assured path for him at this point) to, in the words of the WaPo release, "looking to start his own news organization." I think this speaks to two trends, the waning influence of traditional media like the Washington Post and to the great potential for influence for independent news sources.
One can argue that people like Ezra and Glenn Greenwald are sui generis, and this only speaks to their particular talents, but I don't think so. The field and the business of journalism has changed in dramatic ways. In terms of the work, traditional media does not dictate the terms of the debate. A large part of this phenomenon is driven by cable news, especially the partisan networks Fox and MSNBC. (I don't know what to make of CNN at this point.) Traditional media simply does not carry the influence it once did. I think that as much as anything, Ezra's willingness to cut loose from the Washington Post reflects his realization of this. (Unlike Greenwald, who has always been an outsider, Klein was well perched to reach the pinnacle of the establishment media. I always predicted he would be the new David Broder. And he would have been should he have chosen that path.)
Klein's future now is much more ambitious. And that, it seems to me, is a good thing. I'm very often critical of Klein's approach to policy and journalism, but there is no denying that what he and his team have offered at WonkBlog is utterly superior to anything offered in traditional media. If for nothing else, the focus on policy and issues is unparalleled in traditional media outlets. (My beef was the label attached to Klein's work—that of the "liberal" view of policy. If "liberal" means the centrist view, then sure. But it doesn't and it shouldn't. A world where Ezra Klein represents the "liberal" view is the same world where Hillary Clinton is the "liberal" candidate for president.)
What do these dramatic changes mean for blogging and journalism? In my view it offers us an opportunity for good journalism, unshackled from the dinosaur journalistic enterprises and their rather perverse conventions. It also may prove that the demise of traditional media does not necessarily mean a demise to the journalistic enterprise we all depend on to form our views. For all the rancor we heap upon traditional media, it does remain the main source of our grist for the mill. But there is nothing saying that the news-gathering function can not be served by other outlets. Indeed, it is Ezra's ambition to form a "news organization" that is the most important part of this particular story and what that ambition signals for journalism—that new models of news gathering are forming and replacing traditional media. This is a good thing.
As for blogging, at least as I think of the form (a medium for analysis and opinions of facts, news and policy), it should give heart to its practitioners who aspire to something more than expressing their opinions. And of course blogging can have many objectives, including for some an entry way to a career in journalism. At this site, the objectives have largely been activist. For others, it can be informing the public in a new and fresh way. It seems to me all of these objective are better served with the changes in the field of journalism.
Blogging as a way to make a living, like traditional media before it, has its own financial challenges. The severe reduction in advertising revenue that has been a constant feature of traditional media woes (one can not overstate the dramatic detrimental effects of the loss of first, classified advertising revenue and then, traditional advertising revenue on traditional media as businesses) also plagues the blogging "business." Much of that needs to be sorted out by those who make their living in blogging.
But the emergence of these new sources for journalism speak to a creative dynamism that can and should lead to great new blogging approaches. The symbiosis between journalism and blogging can become less hostile and more cooperative. A Media Whores Online and its successors will almost certainly always be necessary, but just perhaps, the two forms can learn to appreciate the function of the other.
It's a brave new world that is emerging in both journalism and blogging. I don't make a living at this, so it's an exciting time for me. But I can see where it might be a little bit frightening for those who do earn their living in these ways. It certainly will be interesting to see how it goes.