There are many reasons to not like blogs. For one, they’re derivative, the great many of them dependent on hard-earned reporting. Usually, they’re mere commentary on stories professional journalists have sweated long and hard to report. It used to be the case that newspapers would give a column to a reporter only after he’d spent years mastering his beat; the freedom to opine was an editor’s great gift to a writer whose identity, individuality, whose thoughts and ideas were shackled in servitude to the ethical code of reportorial objectivity. Today, the exact opposite seems true: if you want a job with a paying publication the wisest way to get there seems to be to start a blog. Prove that readers like you first, then the editors will come calling. Journalism is very grass-roots, very Tea Party these days.
What’s more, they vast majority of blogs seem awfully inconsequential. Even the best journalists with blogs often appear to have their talents, both stylistically and substantively, crushed by the break-neck pace of the blogosphere. And just one more reason to dislike them: they’re narcissistic, a genre not only dominated by one’s personal opinions, but, worse, anything personal at all. They are memoirs of the masses.
So why start one? It’s a good question, and one I’ve thought quite hard about. And, frankly, the answer is neither high-minded nor impressive: I’m doing it because I must. I’m a paid journalist for The Jewish Week and any newspaper worthy of its prefix ("news-"), must stay relevant. As newspapers continue to migrate towards the Web, they will, inevitably, be forced to conform to its whims. Blogging is one of those.
But I’d like to justify my blog, "Well-Versed," just a bit more, if for nothing else than the mere satisfaction of feeling justified. The reasons for not liking blogs, like the ones I’ve listed above, and which I often, though not always, share, tend to be more abstractly true than actually so. Most news consumers understand that the objectivity journalists claim is something of a myth. Subjective decisions ensnare almost every aspect of the reportorial process, from what sources you choose to talk to, then quote, to even what stories you decide to report on in the first place.
While professional journalists will readily acknowledge all this, they will usually counter that there are both professional and ethical standards keeping them in check. Which is true, absolutely so, from the editors overseeing their work to the ominous, and prized, reader, who you hope relishes the news for the same reason the reporter does: a hunger for reality–the truth, or the best possible picture of it a mere human can get.
It is in this spirit–an admittedly feeble grasp at truth, or at least something truthful–that I start this blog. That sounds lofty, pretension, I know. So let me explain how this spirit translates into flesh. As a journalist, one of the greater frustrations is the inability to put all you the things you learned while reporting into your finished story. So this blog will, at times, serve as a repository for all the things that got left on the cutting-room floor. I’ll try to avoid boring you to death by leaving the things that deserve to be on that floor, on that floor. And instead I’ll highlight the interesting back- or side-stories that I hope will enrich the main story. Consider it my digital Talmud, a commentary (the blog) linked to the main text (the story).
I won’t just link to my own stories either. I don’t have any fixed ideas of how this blog will play out–though my editors say I should update it at least three times a week–but I’m guessing a fair amount of it will be devoted to other writers’ works. From the great wide world of Jewish publications, to the broader literary world beyond. And yes, this blog will focus on the literary, or at least things generally deemed as "culture," and that have some relevance to Jews. That doesn’t mean that politics or religion or whatever else culture isn’t (and I’m not sure politics or religion isn’t) won’t be included. It just means that I’ll limit my posts to stories that are refracted through a cultural lens.
Having said all that, I hope I don’t need to explain in much detail the blog’s title, "Well-Versed." I realize it’s a bit pretentious, but I thought it fit the basic contents of the blog (literary stuff), and all the other things readers now expect from blogs: self-importance, directness, occasional displays of the churlish and licentious, and perhaps even some not-so-great writing. Don’t blame me. Blame the medium.