Fixing a Blog In Time

Internet | Language/Structure
Checking the sequence of posts on Robert Cox's The National Debate blog over a sixteen-day period.


The conventional wisdom of weblogs is that they are displayed reverse-chronologically, and often read that way But what happens if you take a moment to read them, and re-read them, in forward order? What can be learned? What would be re-learned through a second or third reading? I've chosen the blog of Robert Cox, The National Debate, and summarized its posts over a recent 16-day period. I read it regularly, and decided afterwards why this was a particularly interesting sixteen-day period. I'm going to write a separate post about what I learned, but I just wanted to give a brief summary of how I came to choose him:

First, he's head of the Media Bloggers Association, which is “a non-partisan organization dedicated to promoting MBA members and their blogs.” There's over a hundred bloggers who are members, including all your A-Listers, B-Listers, and perhaps C-Listers (Z-listers, perhaps?) I don't know how they view their President, but he's remained in charge for the initial eight months.

Second, I know Bob and I've met him twice at the the two Harvard conferences I went to. The first time we met, he invited me to be part of the MBA, but I demurred by telling him that I wasn't a blogger. The second time, he convinced me to try and grab an extra seat into the conference dinner at the Harvard Faculty Club, gave me some food for thought, as well as for eating.

Thirdly, we've been carrying on some existential discussions about the nature of his craft. In Febuary he wrote a long email wherein he expressed concern that the term “blogger” was meaningless as it encompassed so many different types of peple. I found this remarkably candid (remember what the 'B' in MBA stands for after all), and produced the Blogger Archetypes document. When he got around to reading it, he reviewed it quite favorably.

Here's the settting. Over May 5-7th, he organized a conference at Belmont University in Nashville called BlogNashville. I figured that if anybody in the media had just come in from Mars, and was not clued in about blogs, they might call Bob about this conference, and follow in his blog to see what else he might have to say about it and other things over the next couple of weeks.

These are 26 postings over a 16-day period. 12 have comments, and of those, 5 included comments by me. I list the first 24 with the time and date listed, which I believe to be accurate. The last two have had the time altered, and I explain why . I've also added a content summary: the number of words, number of links (including internal ones, which to me are a sign that the writer is doing good followup) and a description of the pictures.

1. Tue May 10, 8:31am: AP Mocks Bloggers in Wholly Inaccurate Account of BlogNashville (1121 words; 3 links) Bob finds fault that the AP translated his “number of blogs” into “number of bloggers” and that “right now” was misleading since he was using January's figures. He later points out that AP has run a correction. 2 comments.

2. Thu May 12, 8:44am: Thoughts on a respectful disagreement — (817 words; 23 links) At the BlogNashville conference, Bob had asked Dave Winer to lead a session on “Respectful Disagreement.” Many people disagreed with that assignment and its execution, respectully or not, so Bob brings together the discussion here. This brought 27 comments, including some brave dissenting ones from Seth Finkelstein, who actually brought this to my attention. The last one of which is from me, inviting Bob to start a new thread focused strictly on blogging values apart from blogging personalities.

3. Sun May 15, 12:30am: John Jay Hooker hits the blogosphere (42 words; 1 link) Bob writes: “The blogosphere may never be the same now that John Jay Hooker has launched a blog. For those who met John Jay Hooker at BlogNashville you know what I am talking about.” I had read something about John Jay Hooker on the previous post, but am still hardly curious to learn more about him. 2 comments.

4. Mon May 16, 8:20am: How Many People Have Died from Blogging? (1049 words, 4 links) — Bob reports that he started using this line in interviews with media outlets, by suggesting that mistakes in journalism have caused deaths. He asserts, as other conservative commentators would for the next week, that a Newsweek item had caused the deaths of 17 rioters in Afghanistan, and demanded an apology and a retraction. This is in fact where I first learn of this incident. No comments. [Update, Wednesday: Bob wrote me to tell me of his disagrement with this characterization. He relayed the news, not asserted it; he looked for an apology, not demanded it. He also did not include the "how many people died from blogging" in interviews: I misread that– see the response. In the context of everything I had been reading for the two weeks, I assumed that such intents were there. I regret the confusion.]

5. Mon May 16, 10:37pm: Flying the MBA Flag (732 words; 7 links, 1 internal; 1 picture: Abbi Tatton of CNN)– Bob reports that he gave an interview to CNN's Abbi Tatton, who had read his post earlier in the day, and gave a link to the video off of (“Bloggers like to go after the mainstream media when they mess up,” Tatton reported on CNN's “Inside the Blogs” segment, before reading Bob's post on air.) Bob watched the segment, which led to a live report of the Personal Democracy Forum, and hopped on a train to Manhattan to catch the end of it. No comments.

6. Tue May 17: 12:08pm: New York Times to Bloggers: Drop Dead! (740 words' 11 links, 3 internal) — Bob reports that by introducing a subscription fee this September, the Times is effectively “declaring war on bloggers.” 2 comments– one from me, pointing out the memo last week that was received favorably by the online community: New York Times aims to use technology to increase credibility.

7. Tue May 17, 1:16pm: Star Wars (45 words; 1 link; picture: Yoda) Bob's daughter gets free tickets to an advance screening courtesy of Pepsi. No comments.

8. Tue May 17, 2:09pm: Newsweek Retraction? (450 words; 5 links, 1 internal) MSNBC reports that Newsweek has offered a retraction, but Bob can't find it on their website. “It is tiresome to see, once again, that the same sorts of people who routinely hound public officials, military officers, celebrities and even private citizens to take personal responsibility in whatever scandal du jour they are beating to death are so quick to absolve themselves from any direct responsibility in a case like this.” 3 comments: I ask Bob when we might get to that discussion on bloggers and values, and he says that he is 500 emails behind due to BlogNashville.

9. Wed May 18, 9:33am: The Last Word on BlogNashville? (60 words; 1 link) Bob points to a May 13th summary of the conference by Jim and Lynette of Fun Times Guide. No comments.

10. Wed May 18, 9:43am: First Casualty of TimesSelect (123 words, 1 link) Bob relays that Ken Waight, who ranks the partisanship of syndicated columnists in his Lying In Ponds website, is considering abandoning the effort as he expects the Times's online readership to evaporate. 3 comments: I offer to spot the $50 for Ken, who I've never spoken to before in my life. The next day Ken acknowledges my gesture publicly, and sends me a kind email as well.

11. Wed May 18, 9:47am: Goodbye Dan (92 words; 2 links, 1 internal) Bob offers good wishes to Dan Okrent, the departing NY Times ombudsmen; cites Jay Rosen; praises Dan personally for pressing the editorial page to require columnists to use their column-space to post their corrections to prior columns (this was in March 2004; Bob had called attention to the issue by posting a parody page in protest, and the Times's initially response was to send him a cease-and-desist letter). “Dan has done more to diffuse relations between bloggers and the paper than any other individual.” So much for the previous day's war on bloggers. 1 comment, pointing out that Bob probably meant “defuse.”

12. Wed May 18, 9:59am: Roundup (140 words; 8 links, 2 external)– A few followups, one on the respectful disagreement session, one on Bob discovering that the term “Dowdification” has been coined based an Bob discovering that Maureen Dowd had used ellipses in a quotation artfully compress what the President had been saying. I had not followed any of these links at the time. No comments.

13. Thu May 19, 8:27pm: MSM Circles Wagons Around Newsweek (158 words; 3 links, 2 internal) Bob reacts to David Brooks castigating bloggers for “going too far” in blaming Newsweek. Three days later, Jay Rosen reviews the coverage (3235 words), and takes direct issue with a magazine being blamed for the deaths: “Equally absurd was the blogosphere's use of the catch phrase: Newsweek Lied, People Died.”

14. Thu May 19, 9:56pm: Roundup (162 words; 12 links) There are more last words on BlogNashville. Also, “Jay Rosen worked a plug for the Media Bloggers Association into the Washington Post.” I actually read it at the time. No comments.

15. Fri May 20, 12:48pm: The Empire Strikes Back (317 words; 9 links, 3 internal) Bob begins: “If anyone thought that corporate America was going to sit back and let bloggers have a free hand, expressing their views and building their influence and credibility with readers outside the control of traditional communications channels they are about to find out they are very mistaken.” He cites a link to something he learned a month ago– that somebody was trying to affect the Google PageRank of blog posts that mention CNN– and adds links which are tangentially related. I skipped over this when I first read it, and I'm not sure why this was news that day. No comments.

16. Fri May 20, 2:39pm: Huffing and Puffing (275 words; no links) Bob is “creeped out” by the HuffingtonPost, and doesn't link “as it's getting enough free publicity.” Bob can't understand why the she has high rankings in inbound links but not in traffic. He then tiptoes around insinuating that Arianna is manipulating traffic statistics to boost advertisers. 3 comments: I explain to Bob why the statistics are the way they are, and scoff at the idea that traffic numbers can be manipulated, since Internet advertisers are old hands at auditing this.

17. Fri May 20, 1:34pm: Revenge of the Sith (140 words; 1 link) Favorable review of the latest Star Wars episode,linking to an article by David Halbfinger in the New York Times recognizing the political spins that are being given to the movie. 1 comment, in agreement.

18. Sat May 21, 5:46pm: Faux Video Blogging (43 words; 2 links) Bob expects the TV networks to crack down on bloggers hosting pirated video– that is, video recorded off of broadcasts (as opposed to “true video blogging,” seemingly produced originally). One of the links is to Trey Jackson's site, where Monday's CNN video clip is still up. 2 comments.

19. Sat May 21, 5:54pm: Happy Birthday to Me (233 words; no links) not Bob's birthday, but the second anniversary of his blog. “In short, blogging is pretty damn cool.” 1 comment.

20. Tue May 24, 10:45am: BlogNashville Makes it to Korea (118 words; no links)– More last words on the conference, this time, an article by an MBA member in the Korean collaborative online publication OhMyNews. AP correction mention. No comments.

21. Tue May 24, 11:49am: On Manipulating Blogs (24 words; 3 links, 1 internal) Followup to Friday's post “The Empire Strikes Back,” Bob relays a primer on “GoogleBombing” and Quixtar. This analysis, as it turns out, comes not from a blog but from an independent online publication, Juicee News, of Jasper Alabama.

22. Wed May 25, 2:00am: Blog Posts Leads to Arrest of Murder Suspect Bob heard this story on CNN's “Inside the Blogs” and sees it as a complement to the previous assertion about no one having died from blogging. I clicked the link just now to read the story: a Queens man had written in his blog that earlier in the day he had opened the door for a man who he recognized as his sister's ex-boyfriend. The ex-boyfriend had later killed the man and the sister. No comments.

23. Wed May 25, 8:44am: Eager to Dismiss Citizen Journalists, Media Gleefully Jumps on 'News' from al-Qaeda Blog (414 words, 12 links) Bob complains that the media is citing web reports from Iraq, while it doesn't give as much currency to web journalists in this country. No comments: I did not feel the need to point out that anything coming from Iraq is doubtless original information, whereas most of the things which come from U.S. blogs is derivative of information already known.

24. Wed May 25, 11:16am: Former Blogger Disparages Blogging on the Way Out the Door (235 words; 3 links, 1 internal; 2 photos: girls dancing) The “former blogger” of the headline is Ana Marie Cox (unrelated to Bob), popularly known as Wonkette, has been quoted by the Wall Street Journal as saying of bloggers. "They're cliqueish, they're arrogant, they get things wrong." Bob believes that this demonstrates that the only way to get quoted is to “knock other bloggers” (notwithstanding the other bloggers quoted in the article). The “former” is unexplained (I believe that Wonkette has split blogging duties where her staff). Bob also posts pictures of Wonkette dancing with an unidentified woman, the filnemes suggest JessicaCutler, and the title which comes up when you hover your mouse over is "Wonkette Pseudo-Lesbian Photo1". 3 comments.

25. Wed May 25, ~12pm: Revenge of the Washingtonienne (476 words; 16 pictures of Jessica Cutler nude; 1 picture cropped; 1 picture of Cutler's book with link to Amazon with referring code nationaldebate; 3 banner ads to Playboy with referring code nationaldebate) Bob had taken the occasion of a lawsuit against the kiss-and-tell Washingtonienne blogger by one of her former paramours to remind readers of his vital role in the breaking the story last summer that the was . “My hope had been that Cutler's book would include the photos so readers can see for themselves just how offensive the photos were but that was apparently not part of the book deal so in the interest of full disclosure I am publishing the complete set of Cutler's Playboy's photos (with permission) in low-res format. If you insist on seeing the hi-res photos I'd ask that you click on the banner above so the click-thru money from can be used to support this site.”

26. Wed May 25, ~7pm: The New Gatekeepers Series (77 words, 5 links) Bob passes along verbatim email I sent to him and others. I cannot reveal how much of the series he had read, but I do know from my logs.

If you click on the links for the last two posts, you'll see different dates. Here's what happened. The post announcing the New Gatekeepers series was stuffed– set to a previous date– so that the last three stories would go in front of it, and, conveniently enough, the post with the Playboy pictures stayed on top. (Bob confirmed this to me via email.)

Perhaps the Playboy pictures got a bit too much attention, so over Memorial Day weekend they were backdated to May 20th— and thus themselves quickly removed from the front page.

Incidentally, the post on the following Sunday is titled More Big Media Propaganda:

The Media Bloggers Association was recently mentioned in the papers in New Zealand and Thailand.

The bloggers are building a framework of collectivism to legitimise themselves. The Media Bloggers Association ( is "promoting the explosion of citizen's media" and has hundreds of bloggers as members.

Typical propaganda from a journalist – the purpose of the MBA is not to "legitimise" bloggers for the very simple reason that the MBA does not accept the predicate that a blogger needs anyone or any group to make what they do a legitimate form of media.

Much to comment on. What did you think I meant by the title of this summary… "Fixing a Blog In Time"?

Update June 12th: This post originally said a fifteen-day period. The number of days between the 25th and the 10th (inclusive) is sixteen, not fifteen.
Update November 29th: This post originally misidentified the editor of the Lying In Ponds website. It is Ken Waight, not Ken Sands, who is someone else entirely. I regret the confusion.
Update April 10, 2007: I think I saw Bob once in 2006; otherwise we have not been in touch. A couple of months ago I was surprised to find that Bob had actually completely removed his blog from the Internet, apparently in May 2006. A critic of his copied down the closing comments.