TO celebrate four years of of writing about blogs, Kevin McKenna, the editor
of the New York Times Circuits section, and his deputy, Henry Fountain, recently
spent a week working
wirelessly from Bryant Park. Early on the morning of their fourth day dodging
pigeon droppings, Mr. McKenna saw his deputy get up and wander over to the lions
guarding the New York Public Library. He stayed there for a long time.
"I didn’t get any IMs from him for more than five minutes, so I wondered
what was going on," Mr. McKenna said. When he finally walked around the
library to find out, he found his deputy seated with his laptop balanced on
his knees, his head balanced on his laptop. "It’s desperate," Mr.
McKenna recalls Mr. Fountain saying. "I can’t think of a single new angle
for a blogging story!"
Writing about blogs is a pastime for many, even a livelihood for a few. For
some, it becomes an obsession. Such people often feel compelled to commission
new pieces several times daily and feel anxious if they don’t keep up. As they
spend more time hunkered over their computers, they neglect family, friends
and jobs. They try to come up with story ideas at home, at work and on the road.
They beg openly or sometimes, like Mr. Fountain, quietly so as not to call attention
to their despair.
Sometimes, too, the realization that no one is reading sets in. A few parts
of the New York Times have millions of readers, but never have so many freelance
journalists written so much to be read by so few. By Jupiter Research’s estimate,
only 4 of the New York Times’s online users read stories about blogs.
Where some editors might label themselves merely ardent, Mr. Fountain is more
realistic. "I wouldn’t call it dedicated, I would call it a problem,"
he said. "If this were beer, I’d be an alcoholic."
Mr. Fountain described the rush he gets from what he called "the fix"
provided by seeing one of his ideas appear in print. "The pleasure response
is twofold," he said. "You can have instant gratification; you’re
going to hear about something really good or bad instantly. You know what bloggers
are like. And if I feel like I’ve commissioned something good, it’s enjoyable
to go back and read it. Sadly, that hasn’t happened much recently."
Jeff Jarvis, president of Advance.net, a company that builds Web sites for
newspapers and magazines, and a blogging enthusiast, defended the fact that
he is quoted in every single article about blogging ever written. "The
addictive part is not so much extreme narcissism," Mr. Jarvis said. "It’s
that you’re involved in a conversation. You have a connection to people through
The constant search for blog stories is what led Alan Krauss, a staff editor
at the Times, to commission to the point of near-despair. Hounded by his boss,
Mr. Rothfuss, 27, asked for 750 words that focused on technical topics. "I
was trying to record all thoughts and speculations I deemed interesting,"
he said. "The obsession came from trying to capture as much as possible
of the good stuff in the blogosphere in as high fidelity as possible."
Eventually, Mr McKenna recalled, he reached rock bottom: he sent
a photographer all the way to Key West just to take a photo of a blogger.
Still, he does not rule out running even more articles about blogs someday.
Maybe even next week.