The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Wednesday, December 03, 2003  

No, This Post is Not About Me

Susan Madrak, Philadelphian, former journalist, blogger (Suburban Guerrilla), astrology nut, and friend, is approaching Christmas with about the same degree of enthusiasm I am. It’s hard to get excited about the holidays when you’re suddenly unemployed but don’t qualify for unemployment benefits (Susie for a different reason than me) yet the bills continue to pile up and the local economy remains mired in its persistent stagnation.

And so one looks for satisfaction elsewhere. In the energetic and joyous search for a new job, for example. Or in pondering the “true meaning of Christmas,” and spreading that message to others, those who need a hint that they’re not getting anything this year. Obsessively checking the Caller ID box when the phone rings just in case it’s, you know, a bank or something. Or by blogging, since you’ve been doing it anyway and these days you have time to read the newspaper from beginning to end (e.g., the Philadelphia Inquirer) or conversely, from end to beginning (e.g., the Philadelphia Daily News).

You know, blogging is fun and interesting, and lately it’s helped keep me from going completely insane, but it’s also hard work. Who knows why we do it? Many have tried to answer that question, and we all know it’s not the money, but no one has yet arrived at a definitive statement that covers all of the myriad motivations of bloggers, including Madrak, who have jumped into the fray and kept at it. (Meanwhile, some observers, well, they’re being just plain stupid about the whole thing.)

Do you know what else? A single copy of a continuously dumbed-down magazine like Time, Newsweek, or Fortune now costs four or five dollars. And the New Republic, its circulation still hemorrhaging at last check, is asking $40 dollars for a year’s subscription (44 issues -- Hey, eight weeks vacation, for them and you!), while home delivery of your local daily newspaper (circulation unlikely to be growing) probably takes about $500 out of your wallet each year. But blogs are free. For now, anyway, he said, ominously and with an evil grin. (Though also facetiously and with a plaintive smile.)

Blogs are free, that is, to everyone except those who write and produce them. (Insert something here about the cost of labor. Quote Paul Krugman. Watch right-wing bloggers go nuts. Note referral log’s record of visit from Poor and Stupid. Avoid use of word “stalker,” else phone attorney with forewarning.) If one is willing to shell out five bucks for a magazine that can be read in its entirety during one sitting, why not offer at least the same to a blogger who publishes what is arguably a specialized sort of magazine every day (or nearly every day)?

Moreover, at this time of year, you’re probably handing out tips right and left -- I mean that figuratively, not politically -- to such people in your life, if they exist in your life, as the newspaper carrier, your hair stylist, manicurist, masseur, trainer, babysitter, nanny, au pair, dry cleaner, tailor, cleaning lady, housekeeper, maid, doorman, garage attendant, dog walker/sitter, various maîtres d’hotel, and the like.

And those people have jobs!

What with this being the 21st century and the internet era and all, maybe it’s time to add someone like Susan Madrak to that list, assuming you enjoy reading Suburban Guerrilla on a regular basis -- and who doesn’t? It’s certainly not required. I doubt she’ll stomp her feet and threaten to shut the site down like the errant petulant blogger has in the past. And I know it would be appreciated over there.

(Now that I’m done with all that I’m thinking I could have just written, “Go hit Susie’s tip box,” but that seemed kind of, I don’t know, not very denbeste, you know? And besides, I was in the grip of some vicious insomnia and I don’t get cable, so what the heck.)

[Post-publication addendum: Predictably, since Madrak’s situation was mentioned at Eschaton, among other top-notch and popular blogs, there is hither and yon about the blogosphere today various carping and sniping about something referred to as “cyber begging,” accompanied by the usual claptrap about how everything on the web is supposed to be free (cf. the Napster controversy) and about blogging being a noble venture in the, again, free exchange of ideas, and oh, isn’t it all just so tacky. According to The Scribner-Bantam English Dictionary the verb “to beg” is defined thusly: “beg [ME beggen] vt 1 to ask in charity, as alms; 2 to ask earnestly; beseech; 3 to ask as a favor.” More important, however, the use of the word “beg” has evolved colloquially in recent years, I think, to convey specifically a request for something of value for which nothing has been or will be provided in return. Hence: “The streets of Calcutta (New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia, your choice) are full of beggars.” (Akin, of course, to Scribner-Bantam’s first definition, but more clearly stated for a modern audience. When was the last time you used the word “alms”?) If you fail to see that this colloquialism does not truly apply to blogging, then I think you’ve missed the point entirely. If you resent bloggers being the recipients of entirely voluntary gratuities, contributions, donations, or gifts from their readers, start a blog yourself. If you already have a blog but do not offer readers the opportunity to send entirely voluntary gratuities, contributions, donations, or gifts, that is your choice (one that for a long time was mine as well). If you already have a blog but your readers haven’t availed themselves of the opportunity you have offered them to send entirely voluntary gratuities, contributions, donations, or gifts, build a better blog. Or you could always just ask.]

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