introducing readers to writers since 1995
February 23, 2004
The BookExpo Panel Should Be Interesting
by Ron Hogan
I thought I wasn't going to say anything about this, other than a private note to Jessa, but after thinking about it some more, I guess I have something public to say about "link-poaching" after all.
I don't believe in its validity as a concept. Not in the slightest.
In the past, I've seen items on other blogs that I "knew" had to come from me, and I've even thought to myself, "Geez, I would've appreciated a little credit for that one." But then I realized that was just ego talking. And when you get right down to it, do I post a link to an interesting story because I want you to see how interesting it is, in which case I shouldn't mind at all that others find the story interesting and worth mentioning on their own sites, or because I want you to see how clever I am for finding it?
I won't pretend that this blog is a completely egoless affair. I appreciate being read, and I appreciate being considered worthy of recommendation by a number of other bloggers, including Terry Teachout. I also try to steer people towards my favorite blogs, especially if the odds of my having found a given story without them are exceedingly slim. But I don't necessarily think that giving other blogs props for finding a cool URL makes me a better person, and I don't think failing to do so makes me a lesser one. In the long run, nobody owns a URL except the person or corporation who owns the site on which the original page is kept, so it's impossible to "poach" that link from somebody else. (My actual words, now those are copyright-protected. But I digress...) Especially since there's any number of reasonable explanations for how somebody might have found a URL without visiting one site or another on which it appears.
I'm also a bit wary of the whole "blogosphere" meme. I've been lucky enough to meet a couple bloggers in person and become friendly with them, and I'm hoping those individual relationships continue. But I'm not so sure that makes me part of a "blogging community." The "backstage criticism" Teachout mentions in his post certainly sounds less like a "community" than a clique, and not in the least attractive. But, hell, I'm sure readers of Beatrice find certain aspects of it (or me) equally unattractive. I'd rather focus on the best elements of the blogs (and bloggers) I like to read regularly; I hope others read me in the same light.
There's one dimension missing from this discussion that I think merits attention:
Terry is, primarily, a journalist by trade, and journalists are trained from day one to attribute, attribute, attribute. My background is also in journalism, so I try to be as scrupulous about attributing. It feels vaguely dishonest to me to pass something off as my own (which I do believe is an impression someone who doesn't visit a wide range of sites might easily come away with). That others may feel that it's a free-for-all out there and everything is fair game may simply be a function of the openness of the internet, and a generational thing.
What I do know is that I appreciate the traffic boosts I get from other well-traveled sites (Jessa's included) and I try to return the favor as often as I can. I will admit that I felt an air of "the lady doth protest too much" around Jessa's post; it was vitriolic and didn't engage the question in a particularly substantive way, and that's too bad, but then part of Jessa's appeal is that no-holds-barred approach. I'm sure that's what draws a lot of her fans back to her site every day.
It's all too bad because ultimately I think everyone in this "clique" of bloggers wants the same thing - to widen the circle of discussion of literary matters. And it is a shame to see her dismiss other sites so out of hand, because I've had terrific worthwhile correspondences with a number of bloggers out there - Terry, Maud, Lizzie, Ed, yourself - that I never would have had otherwise. To keep widening the circle of people who care about books is no mean feat.
What Mark said, and a further thing: I'm trained as a scientist, and its standards are even *more* stringent than journalistic ones, I'd venture to guess. Anything that's from another source--whether it's verbatim, paraphrased, or even vaguely alluded to--must be cited. One has to bend over backwards to make sure that earlier studies are referenced properly and that if something is actually original, then it must be triple-checked that it really is so. And even things that might seem to be "fair use" or common knowledge still has to be cited. Example: it's well-known that Watson and Crick discovered the helical structure of DNA. But if I write a journal article or paper that says that, I have to reference the original paper that appeared in 1953.
Whether such stringency is necessary in blogging is a completely different matter. I think there has to be some definition of "fair use," i.e. if a link appears at the New York Times, chances are good that every blogger who cares to link to it will link to it. But in my own case, I find stuff that interests me or only a narrow range of people, since I focus very strongly on crime and mystery fiction. And so if stuff like that were to appear uncredited, I might get a bit antsy.
But in the end, I'd just rather see everyone get along. Yeah, it's a Pollyanna-like attitude, but it's mine.
I give credit because it's the norm. Terry's simply stating the norm explictly. But there's also a lot of variation within that norm. My rule is to cite the place I found it; some people think you should cite the blogger who originally called it out. Terry says you don't need to cite if it's a widely read source; Moorishgirl says she cites those regardless, as I do. It's simpler that way. If I occasionally forget where I saw something, I don't sweat it too much; this is more like "give-a-penny, take-a-penny" than it is like double-entry bookkeeping.
I don't worry about the odd blogger who doesn't give a penny.
Terry says you don't need to cite if it's a widely read source...
Perhaps, but then how widely read does a source have to be before we don't have to cite the intermediary sources?
I can sympathize with the underpinnings of the journalistic and scientific cultures that lead people to want to cite regularly (although I think there's a distinction to be made; citing a blog where you found a link isn't like citing Watson & Crick's journal paper to establish the decoding of DNA, more like citing, say, Richard Dawkins cite of Watson & Crick). But I see blogs as more of an "information wants to be free" zone where nobody has "dibs" on interesting links, and we can all come to the information by plenty of paths. Namechecking others is all well and good, but to be honest I think blogrolls pretty much take care of whatever "responsibility" we may have on that front.
And, yeah, it'd be neat if we could all just get along and enjoy talking about books, which is why it's somewhat disappointing to see Terry continuing to dig at Jessa in a somewhat unbecoming fashion when he could spend the time more productively by, say, telling us how his evening with Norman Podhoretz went...But, hey, I'm sure there's readers who wish I didn't spend two days a week harping on Janet Maslin, so it all balances out.
Hey Ron, from where I'm sitting you can never spend enough time harping on Maslin. Keee-rist!