Some of you may know that the English newspaper, The Guardian, is expanding its coverage of the U.S. It’s website has a global reach and now has a significant portion of its readers here in this country. As part of this expansion, Comment is Free, the Guardian’s daily blog about politics and international affairs will be adding a U.S. section come June.
The Washington DC editor asked me if I would contribute a weekly column to CiF. This is really a dream come true for me. When you first start blogging as I did in 2003, you sometimes feel like you’re shouting down a dark hole and all you hear in reply is your own echo. It’s gratifying when the mainstream media validates the value of your work.
In addition, there is still a significant percentage of people who look down their noses at political blogs as a reliable research source of information or opinion. Usually those people are the ones who disagree with your views to begin with and their dismissiveness tends to confirm their opinions in a loop of circular reasoning. I appreciate the Guardian granting its imprimatur to my work. It goes some ways toward combating this prejudice.
A perfect example of this is Wikipedia, the world’s largest source of online research. It has a deeply confusing attitude toward blogs as sources for Wikipedia articles. Generally, they are frowned upon as unreliable since they are self-published sources, a definite no-no in the Wikipedia world. However, if you are a genuine expert in the field you write about, then blogs can be accepted as sources:
Self-published material may…be acceptable when produced by an established expert on the topic of the article whose work in the relevant field has previously been published by reliable third-party publications
But it seems up to the blogger and Wikipedia members to sort out whether you are an expert or not. If you consider yourself an expert, and even if your blog presents original research on a topic, if another member disagrees they can remove your links at will and quote you irrelevant chapter and verse to “justify” their actions.
In my case, there are several members who have campaigned to remove references to my blog (read my Talk page) in Wikipedia articles arguing that by linking to my blog I’ve created a conflict of interest. Given that the conflict of interest rules were created mainly to prevent commercial entities from either promoting themselves or tearing down their rivals, they aren’t relevant to my situation. They also argue that despite my background in the field about which I write, since I am not a professional journalist, author, or academic, my contributions are not trustworthy and not disinterested. Considering that Wikipedia exists online and exploits all the opportunities that the web offers to disseminate knowledge, I find it ironic that it’s standards are so conventional. Either you write a book, newspaper or magazine article, or academic journal article if you wish to be an acceptable source. Write a blog and you’re chopped liver.
A senior Wikipedia editor I respect recently wrote to me about a phenomenon called “wikilawyering,” a tendency, as the online encyclopedia grows ever larger and more complicated, to parse the rules to an incredibly fine degree. In Talmudic interpretation it’s known as pilpul or in English ‘casuistry.’ He examined the work of my opponents and told me that it was such an example. I’m hoping to be working with him and other sympathetic Wikipedia members to figure out how serious political blogs can be treated with more respect within the Wikipedia universe.
And should anyone reading this edit Wikipedia articles, I’d welcome my work being referenced and linked there.
Though the pay at CiF isn’t much, at least I am getting paid. I remember a hilarious story Calvin Trillin wrote I believe in the New Yorker about a nice lunch The Nation’s editor treated him to over a discussion of his becoming a contributing writer. Trillin relates jocularly that the fee for his pieces was to be “in the low three figures.” But three figures is better than no figures.
My English friend, Michael Furmanovsky wrote to me saying: “You should be proud to be contributing to the best newspaper in the world.” As a dyed in the wool NY Times reader I find it difficult to transfer that title to The Guardian. But the truth is that the Times has nowhere near the diversity of political opinion in its pages that The Guardian does. This is proven by the fact that it is The Guardian and not the Times which has developed Comment is Free, a terrific means of integrating the best of the blog world into mainstream media.
The Guardian truly lets a thousand flowers bloom. The Times seems to specialize in a limited and carefully selected number of hot-house flowers. It’s a different journalistic philosophy and while I value both–as a writer I’m especially grateful for The Guardian’s approach.
I want to continue encouraging readers to provide story ideas to me along with links and any other background information that is necessary to write it.
Congratulations. Your voice deserves wider distribution.
I think wikilawyering is different in many respects from talmudic arguing (of which I know next to nothing that didn’t appear in Yentl).
Wikilawyering is much closer to CalvinBall, where the rules are infinite, obscure, vague, hard to find, and constantly changing.
The Wikipedia is a pit. If you continue to add to it for more than just minor edits, you’re a real mensch. And a bit of schmendrick as well since your contributions will never be acknowledged or appreciated and will most likely be reverted or adulterated within a few days.
Best wishes though.
Richard Silverstein says
You could be right about that. Pilpul connotes more the disputatiousness of rabbis arguing fine points of Torah and halacha (law). Wikilawyering is more like what John Yoo did in writing his infamous torture memos.
If you read my Talk page you’ll see lots of vacuous wikilawyering.
Congrats Richard! I look forward to become a regular reader!