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October 2, 2004

Newsroom Joe Hates Bloggers: Nick Coleman's Classic Hit

"A stupid piece of writing cannot become a genre classic unless it is aggressively stupid, or stupid with great purpose, high flourish, true style. I think everyone who clicked a link and read Coleman's hit piece on bloggers saw it as a potential classic right away. I mean the ending alone, in which the writer says he is baffled..."

In its brief, tense and comic history, the type of op-ed essay where journalists dump on bloggers reached a spectacular new low, or, if you enjoy the comedy of this pattern, a new high recently in Nick Coleman’s diss-the-bloggers column, which, like it or hate it, has style. Newsroom bully baroque. (Previous examples here and here.)

Coleman’s Blogged down in Web fantasy (I love the meaningless title, like a pop song) has already become a hit among bloggers for the clarity of its intentions. (Published in the Star-Tribune, Sep. 29, 2004.) Coleman goes for the really big put downs, stylishly done. “Do bloggers have the credentials of real journalists?” They do not, he says.

“Bloggers are hobby hacks, the Internet version of the sad loners who used to listen to police radios in their bachelor apartments and think they were involved in the world.”

What an image. The misfit who develops an interest in the public world because everyone in his personal life rejects him. The loser. The loner with his scanner thinking he’s law enforcement. That’s who bloggers are, according to Coleman, who has the boys from PowerLine in his district.

His column is also a warning to area residents. “We are not dealing with journalism, people.” Look where these bloggers come from. “We are dealing with Internet chat rooms: sleazy and unreliable, with no accountability.” Maybe not subhuman, the creatures found there, but sub-journalist for sure. “Most bloggers are not fit to carry a reporter’s notebook.”

On the reporter’s notebook his motion for final judgment rests: “I covered Minneapolis City Hall, back when Republicans controlled the City Council. I have reported from almost every county in the state, I have covered murders, floods, tornadoes, World Series and six governors.” And the closer:

“In other words, I didn’t just blog this stuff up at midnight.”

For me the funniest part of Coleman’s column was the way he wrote it knowing he was to get ripped by the bloggers he was ridiculing. It’s the Struck a Nerve Fantasy in opinion writing. I’m sure some of you recognize it.

X publishes something graceless and unconvincing, but extremely polemical. Everyone hates it because it’s bad writing. Friends of the argument are not friends of the piece. So X has almost no defenders. The reactions come in. X’s piece gets ripped because it’s aggressive, mean and wrong.

But X walks away satisfied: looks like I struck a nerve, says X to self. And the greater the hostility back, the bigger the nerve struck!

This is Coleman’s fantasy. He wrote it to be insulting and to get insulted back. Of course it worked. That’s what so funny about it. It always works. Next time you see that phrase, “looks like I struck a nerve,” think of Nick Coleman.

“Bloggers don’t know about anything that happened before they sat down to share their every thought with the moon. Like graffiti artists, they tag the public square.”

A stupid piece of writing cannot become a classic unless it is aggressively stupid, or stupid with great purpose, high flourish. I think everyone who clicked a link and read Coleman’s hit piece on bloggers saw it as a potential classic right away. I mean the ending alone, in which the writer says he is baffled…

So, how is it that nakedly partisan bloggers who make things up left and right are gaining street cred while the mainstream media, which spend a lot of time criticizing themselves, are under attack?

Yeah… how come? Check into that phrase “street cred.” What does it mean? It’s actually a reference to his journalism colleagues, who might currently be granting some credibility to bloggers. Especially those they find themselves reading. More and more journalists have the blog habit, after all. Coleman’s baffled by them. (Here’s one; here’s another.) More baffled after he wrote his column than before.

Reading his own writing, how could he cope with an announcement like the one NPR’s ombudsman, Jeffrey Dvorkin, gave five days before Coleman’s Big Diss: “First, we must acknowledge that the blogs have truly arrived,” said Dvorkin, who isn’t some creature from an Internet chat room. “It is hard for journalists who have led a sheltered life without public accountability to acknowledge that those days are over.”

And that’s where Nick Coleman’s imagination failed him. To him, blogs “are to journalism what ticks are to elephants.” The guy in his basement with the scanner has shown up at the crime scene and he’s now getting in the way of the cops and the journalists who cover cops. That’s how Coleman sees the bloggers. It’s impossible for him to imagine how he might have a sheltered view of anything. “They hate me because I know stuff,” Coleman thinks.

But one thing he doesn’t know is that his column belongs to an era in newspaper opinion writing when it was possible to compose 972 words condemning a class of objects and never name a single one of those objects (let alone link to one). That’s a low editorial standard routinely surpassed by bloggers, but the Star Tribune says no problem, we still do the zero examples hit piece here.

Dvorkin’s message was a very sober one. “We need to make room on the bench and give the bloggers a place at the dinner table.” Coleman says there will be no place at my table for them. Journalistically speaking, these people are lowly, they are filth, and many of them are crazy.

I know you probably read it once. But read it again. Nick Coleman’s Blogged down in Web fantasy. A classic in the old newsoom reactionary style. May the url live on and on.

UPDATE, Dec. 17: No such luck! The Coleman url has died— an intentional thing. Some day when investigators are going over the crash site for newspaper journalism this kind of message might seem significant: “File not found. The page you requested could not be found. It may have been moved; more likely it has been removed from our servers. Most articles are automatically purged from’s free news database after three weeks. Exceptions include obituaries, recipes and movie reviews.”

Posted by Jay Rosen at October 2, 2004 12:33 AM