Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Jonathan Alter: Autotroll

I don't know if the word officially has some other definition, though with any luck (and the grace of the editors, who I trust will correct an egregious typo), this definition will soon appear on my list of defined terms on Urban Dictionary:

1. Someone who makes deliberately inflammatory or outrageous statements on his own website or other forum in order to attract attention and/or traffic.
2. The act of making such a statement.

Johnathan Alter autotrolls by attacking bloggers in "All Umbrage All the Time" just to get bloggers to talk about his article and link to it.

Alter's article appears on page 29 of the July 28, 2008 edition of Newsweek. It also appears online on Newsweek's website, though I won't drag Alter down to the level of us mere Netizens by providing a link.

Not only will I not drag Alter down into the digital mud with the rest of us, I also won't burden his employer's servers with what little traffic I might send their way by way of a link. I still get the occasional hit for my link to Newsweek essayist Anna Quindlen's "Write for Your Life", in which she wistfully calls for...well, I'll let you read that post in case you're interested. Let's just say that the answer to what she's calling for is a four-letter word that starts with "b" and ends with "log", even though she herself never uses the term, or shows any awareness of such a thing. Still, here's an excerpt from what Alter wrote, the thing that set me off:
Bloggers rarely pick up the phone or go interview the middle-level bureaucrats who know the good stuff. It's a lot easier to chew over breaking stories and bash old media. Where do they get the information with which to bash? Often from, ahem, newspapers.
Alter weasels out of being held to this statement with the qualifiers "rarely" and "often." Oh, folks like Gort and Mark Cour and David Yonki go out and do their own research, conduct their own interviews, establish their own networks of contacts? Blog entries that they write are regularly pirated, plagiarized, and republished as "exclusives" and "scoops" by the local mainstream media? Well, pshaw, they're the rare exceptions! Them, and hundreds of thousands of other hard-working bloggers like them.

Alter's whole tone is one of Old Media good, Blogging bad, and who can blame him? With the blogosphere thick with writers that put him and Anna Quindlen and George Will to shame, it is entirely possible that one day Newsweek will look at its balance sheet and ask, "Why are we paying these people the money we're paying them?"

Magazines are destined for the recycling bin. Newspapers are pressed into service as fish-wrappers and puppy-trainers. Radio and television broadcasts escape into the aether and are gone, unless someone deliberately records them. But words on the Internet have an enormous staying power, as many an impetuous writer has learned to his regret.

Ironically, Alter's words on the printed page are destined to grace the bathrooms of many a subscriber for the next few weeks until they are unceremoniously gathered up and put out for recycling - except for those few copies that will grace the waiting rooms of doctors and dentists and car-repair shops for decades to come. But the online version of his article, the version preserved on the Internet that he despises so much, has the potential to float around in some form for much, much longer.


Gort said...

When I first started blogging someone advised me to start an argument with one of the "big boys" as a way of increasing traffic. Not my style.

Now the big boys are doing it in reverse.

Michelle D said...

I'll send you my urban dictionary defs later. They are funny.