Today's Public Editor column in the New York Times is like a living time capsule. An ornery reader wrote in asking, basically, "What is this thing called 'blogs'" And the Times' managing editor decided to answer him.
The headline is probably enough, on its own: "Other Voices: What Exactly Is a Blog?" This is is a headline from a real newspaper circa 2010—one that is not published in some indigenous community in Brazil that just recently got electricity! Seriously, though, I read this headline and had to touch my iPhone for a little while to make sure it wasn't 1998, and I didn't have to get ready for the school bus in five minutes. Phew, we didn't enter a time-space continuum.
See, the Public Editor's column is where Public Editor Clark Hoyt and other Times overlords answer questions from normal idiot readers. Today's column was sparked by a telegraph-to-the-editor from one James Sunshine, the retired executive editor of The Providence Journal. Sunshine had read a previous Public Editor column discussing the ethics of a post by the Times City Room blog. But he was upset that nobody even explained what a blog was:
Your column left mostly unanswered several questions that really should be addressed before we go much further into the swamp of online "journalism." It dealt with the standards of blogs, as though we all agreed on what a blog is and is not. I spent 45 years at The Providence Journal, and I still do not understand them. Nor do I like them
After a few paragraphs of expressing exactly how little he understands and likes about blogs, he adds:
I think we would all benefit if we just dropped the word "blog" and went back to simply putting out the newspaper, which we used to know how to do.
Times editor Jill Abramson decided she had better things to do with her time than explaining to an old person what a blog is. (Which, if you think about it, is the modern version of the Myth of Sisyphus.) Instead, she just said that they are really cool things that "offer readers the most important, up-to-the-minute developments."
Hey, Clark Hoyt, New York Times Public Editor: This column has sparked another question—from us. How many of the New York Times readers are irascible old people who have apparently just awoken from a 15-year slumber, Rip-van-Winkle style? Probably the majority of the print subscribers, right? Are you going to start answering every letter these readers scrawl out with their fountain pens in the light of a flickering tallow candle? Will your next column be someone asking how airplanes stay up in the sky, or What's all this talk about women getting the vote? Because we strongly support it. This one was great.