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Saddest Ghost Lamp

Monday, February 14, 2005

Time Warner v. Guys With Laptops

I wrote this two years ago, when the Trib foolishly gave me a bi-weekly column in panicked effort to attract younger readers (they didn't know then that I have the heart of an 85-year-old man):

It's safe to say that when a new technological trend has captured the attention of my 62-year-old, Social Security-collecting father, its time has come. So it's fitting that my father happened to call last week with urgent advice that I, his politics-obsessed writer son, start a Weblog, or "blog" as the kids (and retirees, apparently) these days are calling it.

These are heady days for blogs: Not only has my dad started reading them, but Salam Pax, the Baghdad blogger whose witty and humane posts leading up to and during the war in Iraq earned him international celebrity, recently was profiled in The New Yorker and landed a column--a real one--in the British newspaper The Guardian.

And perhaps most important, the bloggers who incessantly needled The New York Times in the wake of the Jayson Blair and Rick Bragg scandals took credit for the resignations 10 days ago of Executive Editor Howell Raines and Managing Editor Gerald Boyd.

"The blogosphere"--that's the rather unfortunate term of art for the global echo chamber that the bloggers have built for themselves--"in general created a growing chorus of criticism that helped create public awareness of exactly what Raines was up to," wrote Andrew Sullivan, the neoconservative former New Republic editor who maintains one of the most popular blogs and who has had it in for the Times for years.

"It pulled the curtain back on the man behind the curtain," he wrote. "We did what journalists are supposed to do--and we did it to journalism itself."

If it weren't for the blogs ruthlessly cataloging the internal dissent at the Times, Sullivan suggested, Raines and Boyd would have hung on to their jobs.

It takes a certain ego to relentlessly post your musings on virtually everything that comes across your field of vision, as Sullivan does on his Web site. So his wildly self-regarding assertion that he and a few other talented obsessives with high-speed Internet connections and too much time on their hands played a crucial role in the decision-making process of a multinational publishing behemoth with $3.1 billion a year in revenue should come as no surprise.

But if Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the Times' publisher, ever says, "I accepted Raines' resignation because of what I read on the Internet," I will eat my hat.