Monday, September 29, 2008

Teacher, Wordsmith, Madman Wake

Blogger Emeritus Chad Hermann's long goodbye to the burghosphere was honored with the sort of full page treatment in Sunday's Post-Gazette once reserved for Kaufmann's Department Store ads for "The Time of the Roses" sale.

(A search of Google News Archives helped me dig up this ad, along with a quirkily prophetic 1964 PG article -- "Perhaps Machines Will Read Things Like This" . Clicking the images will enlarge them for you. What a wonderful twist that, after 44 years, the article was in fact read by a "machine" and placed in Google's digital library. But I digress.)

Mr. Hermann, a respected writer and former educator, recently gave up writing his "Teacher, Wordsmith, Madman" blog. In the Post-Gazette, he says:

I grew weary of the game and the genre and everything that went with them. Even as I remained confident that TWM still kept those early promises, I feared that its company with the kind of shrill, toxic, intolerant crusading that these days so often passes for blogging would diminish it by association. If certainly not by comparison.

...and ...

I wanted TWM to be a window. And I hoped the blogosphere would be a gleaming, gaping city of them. Turns out it's just a long, dark hall of mirrors, stretching out to infinity.

In its final months, Hermann's "Teacher, Wordsmith, Madman" blog became increasingly consumed by his distain for presidential candidate Barack Obama. Here's a link to a Google search of his blog that provides some examples.

Judge Rufus Peckam writes about his Carbolic Smoke Ball colleague in a post at the Pittsburgh Men's Blogging Society.

Commenters at The Burgh Report are joining in the virtual wake, as is Ed Heath at Cognitive Dissonance in Pittsburgh and Beyond.

Heath writes:
Hermann’s piece on today’s PG’s “Next Page” was absolutely vintage Hermann. He titled it “The Out Post”. I suspect he might have titled it the “Last Post”, but apparently part of the reason he stopped blogging is because he seemed genuinely stung when his flippant criticism of Randy Pausch was so negatively received (he said he received three death threats).

Actually, Hermann describes getting "death wishes", not threats, in three readers' mean-spirited responses to his take on the Randy Pausch phenomenon:

That's right. Death wishes. A trio of anonymous comment-thread posters on other blogs -- they couldn't muster courage of conviction enough to e-mail me directly -- took exception to my suggestion that Randy Pausch had been overcovered, that the merits of his lecture had been overstated, and that most people now loudly proclaiming to be inspired by him will, 10 years hence, struggle to remember his name. For these sins, which seem to me no more than the untimely utterance of the obvious, I was wished dead or dying. (Sample: "Perhaps I'm blinded by my ... hatred of Chad Hermann, but that ... is exactly how I picture him when I imagine him dying of stomach cancer.")

This was one of the signs that it was time for me to quit.

Did Hermann's choice not to open his blog to comments contribute to the downward spiral of his relationship with his critical readers? Perhaps if he had published selections from the better of the "impassioned, respectful e-mail exchanges" he also described, it would have cleared the air and inspired a civil discourse. Then again, maybe it would have hastened a descent into blog hell.

That brings to mind a related topic.

The reader comments on The Burgh Report blog have developed into a active forum in recent months. (This link will show you an overview of all comments there, if you have an RSS Reader.) Sometimes the comments there can make for interesting exchanges. At other times, I wonder if the blog has been targeted by election season activists hoping to hijack the site.

By my recent count, the rambling reader called "Monk" was responsible for no less than 71 out of a sampling of 263 comments at The Burgh Report. Sometimes they stack up several at a time. It makes me long for a blogger version of an old radio talk show rule for callers -- "one call per show per week."

I moderate comments here, but don't have the time to keep up the pace that allows for immediate reader interaction. That -- and my ground rules -- mean that comments on my blog are few and far between.

When Kate Phillips of The New York Times spoke at the SPJ Regional here in Pittsburgh this year, she mentioned the challenges of keeping up with moderating reader comments for The Caucus, the NYT's political blog. The busier the blog, the more daunting the task, it seems.

I hope Hermann does come back with a fresh start -- and that he and his readers get to engage in a healthier discussion.

As for his current dark view of the blogosphere, I've always compared the quality of blogs to typing -- it all depends on who is at the keyboard. They are what we choose to make them.


1 comment:

Monk said...

Monk kicked out on cyberspace highway...

Thumbing nose at those that tossed me..

Could use Bus-pass, seat in back will just do fine.