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We'll always have the Paris Review

One of the most talked about articles of the day is the Suskind article in the Times Magazine. Almost every political blogger has had a say on it; I’m going to just choose one idea and riff from that, and not about Our Only President, either.

And for those who don't get it? That was explained to me in late 2002 by Mark McKinnon, a longtime senior media adviser to Bush, who now runs his own consulting firm and helps the president. He started by challenging me. ''You think he's an idiot, don't you?'' I said, no, I didn't. ''No, you do, all of you do, up and down the West Coast, the East Coast, a few blocks in southern Manhattan called Wall Street. Let me clue you in. We don't care. You see, you're outnumbered 2 to 1 by folks in the big, wide middle of America, busy working people who don't read The New York Times or Washington Post or The L.A. Times. And you know what they like? They like the way he walks and the way he points, the way he exudes confidence. They have faith in him. And when you attack him for his malaprops, his jumbled syntax, it's good for us. Because you know what those folks don't like? They don't like you!'' In this instance, the final ''you,'' of course, meant the entire reality-based community.

When I read that, I started to wonder ... after the whole world and his wife blogged this article, I think it’s pretty obvious that a bunch of people read it who don’t generally read the New York Times in print, or, I’d guess, on-line. I myself read much less of the Times than I used to, even on-line. There are days when I don’t bother to check the Op-Ed page, figuring that if there’s anything really interesting, one or another of the blogs I check will point to it. It’s sad; I happened to get a chance to pick up a paper copy the other day and really enjoyed paging through it, reading whatever my eye happened on.

The point is that the distinction between a reader of the Times and a non-reader has, in my case, blurred, as it has with what I’d guess are a hundred thousand people who will follow one or another link to the Suskind piece. The cultural image of a Times reader is no longer current; I may well read an article in the Post, if my blog/editors suggest it’s worth my time. That has lots of repercussions in the publishing industry, which I feel I’ve been talking about forever, but it also has lots of repercussions in the cultural stereotype industry, which hadn’t really crossed my mind.

Look, Mr. McKinnon has an idea of what a Times reader is like. I do, too, and it’s not that different from me. In Boston, there were Globe readers and there were Herald readers, and the twain didn’t meet much. But I could, if I wanted to, read the Globe’s national coverage and the Herald’s sports page; I always could, of course, but I didn’t. Now I can, and without becoming a “Herald reader”, either.

Are we being shaken loose from the old ruts, or are we simply settling into new ones, with Atrios and the Instapundit replacing the Times and the Post? Even if it’s the latter, there’s something about internet reading that resists (so far) the cultural baggage of stereotypes. I don’t have an idea of what the Slashdot reader is like, nor yet the Pandagon reader. I do have an idea of the typical LiveJournal type, although none of the LiveJournals I read (is it perhaps twenty now?) are the remotest bit like that. I don’t know. But I will say that a statement that the Times readers don’t like X, and that people who like X don’t like Times readers seems likely to be—not less accurate, for it was never meant to be accurate—less resonant, and possibly less understandable.

Now, don’t get me wrong ... this isn’t a happy, optimistic, we’re-all-learning-to-eschew-stereotypes-and-see-each-other-as-we-really-are post. Stereotypes are a kind of pattern-matching, and Your Humble Blogger is kind of obsessed with pattern-matching. Remember, there are miniscules of merit in the most wantonly fallacious stereotype. The thing is to understand these things, to use them for good, and not for evil, to know the limits and most importantly to be able to match the right ones with the right jokes. I’m just saying that maybe there is one set of them that is changing faster than people realize.



I wonder how widespread the changes in readership styles are, or if it's only some characterizable segment that other (reader-type) traits in common before the advent of the blogosphere? Or is this edging tipping-pointwards (thinking of Gladwell's characterizations of "Connectors")? And how will the newspapers collect this data--will they--to what purpose will they use it if they do---?


Interesting thoughts. For now, my only comment is a pretty trivial one: I have a pretty good idea what a Slashdot reader is like.

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