The more I blog, the more I am reminded of one of the greatest and most ironic scenes in all of cinema, as Charles Foster Kane, his face in shadow in the publication rooms of the Examiner pens his "Declaration of Principles" for the front page of the morning edition. As he is scrawling it, he emphazies that "no special interests will be allowed to interfere with the truth of that news". I'm sure you believed it at the time, Charlie.
In the real world, The San Francisco Examiner began operating in 1865. Just 7 years later, tired and bored of what the news world had become, five Examiner news reporters started a social club to promote a lively fellowship of jouralism and help "elevate journalism to that place in the popular estimation to which it is entitled".
That club is the "Bohemian Club" in San Francisco, the most exclusive and talked about men's club in the world. Every Republican President since Herbert Hoover has belonged and the coveted roster of members reads like a Who's Who of Washtingon politics and West Coast elite. To many socially-aware bloggers, clubs like this are the antithesis of what open media and politics should be about.
Ironically, at the Bohemian Club today, journalists are denied membership.
As one of the original founders of the blogging phenomenon, Doc Searls might as well have been one of those five Examiner reporters. Today, in his post he says
To me this is a world where the only success that fully counts is in helping move good ideas along, in helping make this new world a bigger, better and more open place. And in helping others enjoy the privilege of participating in it.
At the same time, his post is full of melancholy reconsiderations. It's a response to an excellent post by Seth Finkelstein called New Gatekeepers Are Still Gatekeepers in which Seth tells Doc in no uncertain terms that there is hierarchy, there is an A-list and a Z-list, and that the long-tail of online journalism does not spell democracy of media, but rather the same as media has always been, dominated by exclusivity. I think Doc is feeling it too, even though he seems reluctant to admit it.
Seth is right. Today's blogging world is a world of complex rhetoric, lightening-fast replies and discussion, and advanced search tools like Memeorandum that hone-in on exactly the kind of "converstaions" A-list bloggers have. It's tough to keep up with the A-list crowd, and even tougher to engage in conversation. There are myriads of new buzzwords: bloggers talk of "the edge", and of a new media economy based upon attention scarcity. New economic thinkers like Umair Haque are creating a new lexicon of economics, media and technology, and a word coined only yesterday becomes mainstream discussion after 10 minutes of exposure to the "blogosphere".
Joining the Bohemian club involves an interrogation that one member said "would satisfy the KGB". Thousands are on the waiting list eager to pay several thousand dollars to "get in". For A-list bloggers, the price is the mastery of technology, terminology, rhetoric, and the discipline to dedicate hours of your day to reading, researching, and posting insightful new postings and replies. To be on the A-list, people need to believe you matter, and the currency of the medium is intelligence and literacy.
I think bloggers should embrace this. Rather than fearing that their idealistic vision of democratic media is crumbling, they should rejoice that a currency of intelligence and literacy is a breath of fresh air. Scott Karp, whose posts I always enjoy, says it better than I can in his response posting There's Nothing Wrong With Gatekeepers. Unlike many new media bloggers, Scott knows that the similarities between old and new media are just as important as the differences.
I'd rather start thinking of the A-list bloggers as Gate Openers. Because in today's blogging world, that's just the way it works. Scoble allows anybody to post comments. So does Doc, Scott, Fred Wilson. The A-list of truly good debaters and thinkers have the gate open wide, and anybody can truly join in. I think the A-list needs to keep taking this responsibility seriously. There is nothing wrong with a pecking order. There is nothing wrong about having to prove that what is said is worthwhile, and to forcing people to practice their writing, their thinking, and self-analysis skills. One thing we have far too much of on the net today is spurious, unresearched and unreliable information. The A-list is raising the bar.
One thing though about human nature. It hasn't changed. And history does indeed repeat itself. Don't think that new media is inherently impervious to corruption. Quite the opposite, all the clichés are true. Power does corrupt. And the power of the A-list blogger is very, very real.
One of the most important tasks at hand is to scrutinize how this magical thing has happened, and figure out how to prevent the blogosphere of today from becoming the Bohemian Club of tomorrow. Because unchecked, that's just what will happen, just like it did to Charlie Kane.