The Blog, the Critic & the Company

I’m the working mother of a three-year-old intellectual. Recently, the three-year-old and I found ourselves at a dinner party, out-classed and under-read.

The room included a humorist, a political cartoonist, a marketing maven and a gentleman farmer slash film producer. During the evening of references that went over my head, someone mentioned The New Republic, citing it as an adjective of a personality.

The following morning, while trying to keep up with the poignant part of my world, the NYTimes Technology section offered David Carr’s insight into the current travails of The New Republic and its recent blog scandal. (Scandal? The guy invented a sock puppet to be his editorial “puppet” and plead on his behalf. If you want to belong to a real scandal, apparently you need to get a seat on HP’s board.)

Aside from the uncommon synchronicity of dinner party references colliding with the next day’s reading, I’m struck by the idea that today’s blogger would need a sock puppet to come to his own defense.

Yes, in our tech-driven world, acerbic remarks have bullet-train speed. And if one’s delicate ego needs to, one can invent a sock puppet to fire back with equal toxicity while pretending to have third-party support.

But doesn’t that defeat the purpose? Can’t the puppet’s comments be part of the jousting, attributed to the original blogger? Isn’t that what popular, successful print columnists did weekly, for decades? And what about Op-ed pages? I believe that only the timing has changed: internet versus telephone wire versus snail mail.

Isn’t the purpose of the editorial blog to generate conversation from opposing points of view? Shock-jocks, Rush Limbaugh and, if I’m to believe my dinner party experts, The New Republic dating back to 1914, have relied on controversy and the battle of wits to attract onlookers. BtoB Magazine recently pulled out the Dell case study, where Dell’s attentive, overt and obvious responses in blogs helped it win over skeptics.

The point is to have conversations – to inspire them. Don’t be afraid of controversy, be afraid of silence. You can’t learn anything from silence. But you can learn a lot by listening to intelligent dinner conversation.