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Busting Bernie's Blogging

By Steve Rhodes

I was a huge Bernie Lincicome fan when he was employed by the Tribune, but his latest ravings about the Internet era of journalism are typically ignorant - and I have to say Reader media critic Michael Miner didn't seem to have the facility to challenge his nonsense in this interview. Let's take a look.

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"Bernie Lincicome is back in town, hoping to write something for somebody," Miner writes. "I suggest he write for his generation. One voice is missing from new media - the voice of the old sage who thinks new media is ridiculous."

Don't we get enough of that from old media?

"After 16 years as a sports columnist in Chicago, Lincicome and the Tribune parted ways in 2000 and he took his talents to Denver. Lincicome wrote a column for the Rocky Mountain News until that paper folded last February. Then he blogged.

"'When I started doing it,' he says, 'everybody said Oh, great, we can still find you. I asked them, Are you going to pay me? I could never figure out a way to get them to pay for it."

Okay, let's get one thing straight: Newspaper readers never paid Lincicome or any other columnist or reporter. The newspaper paid them. And the newspaper collected money from advertisers by selling them the (theoretical) attention of readers and from subscribers who paid (back then) a quarter for an entire package of reading options. Lincicome worked for a vast enterprise. Expecting readers to pay him for his individual columns is not only an example of old-school arrogance, but a fundamental misunderstanding of the business he was/is in.

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"This, in the view of Lincicome - and many another senior journalist put out to pasture - constitutes a serious deficiency in new media."

Why? Again, in old media Lincicome didn't write his column and publish it on a sheet of paper and go out in the streets and sell it. If he went to work now for ESPN.com or AOL or Deadspin or any other enterprise - and hey, whaddya know, the Tribune is on the Web! - he'd get paid. The fundamentals haven't changed.

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"'I did what I do,' says Lincicome, inviting me to read it all myself, as his fitful blog will linger in the digital firmament forever - like a dead star."

Better than existing only in the firmament of microfiche forever, though, isn't it?

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"'Some of it's pretty good, some of it's not. But it's pretty much what I always did, with the exception that nobody paid me to do it. I twitter. I don't know how many followers I have, more than I expected, a couple hundred. It's whenever I think of something clever I put it in there.Again, who knows if it lands anywhere. It was the same thing with the blog. Maybe 300 to a couple thousand people read it depending on the topic - but jeez, I used to have half a million and I used to get money for it."

Okay, this is where oldstream journalists were/are delusional. What makes Lincicome think half a million people read his column every day? Not everyone buying a newspaper reads every feature. The Internet is a cold slap of reality in the face of these arrogant bastards. Now you know how many people really read you. This reminds of a conversation I had with the editor of Chicago magazine when I told him I was leaving to start a website. "But would you rather be in the pages of Chicago magazine or on the [sneer] Internet?" That was a no-brainer. On the Internet! Chicago had a (controlled - meaning purposely limited for the sake of demographics) circulation of about 180,000 back then. Did I believe 180,000 people read my articles in the magazine? Hardly. Considering the majority of the magazine's content and the kind of readers it attracted, I figured I was lucky if a thousand people read my articles. Given the reach of the Web, I figured I would actually increase my readership by striking out on my own - and indeed I have. I wish we lived in a world where half a million or more Chicagoans read Bernie Lincicome back in the day. Alas, we don't.

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"Lincicome has never been more eloquent than when he contemplated writing in a medium he did not believe in. Introducing his blog, he called the blogosphere 'a place that exists only in fancy rather than in fact, much the same as Camelot, but without the honor'."

First, not a great recipe for success to work in a medium you don't believe in and then complain when you aren't sufficiently rewarded. Second, how is the blogosphere more fanciful than a newspaper - which exists for a day and goes in the trash?

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"'I should have a fresh appreciation for bloggers, but I do not yet,' he admitted on his blog. 'Every word typed is as closely considered as ever, every original thought is as savored, every sentence as well crafted as talent allows.

"'Yet, to be self-published still seems to be unnoticed, to imagine notice is to be self-deluded'."

Exactly backwards. You can only imagine being noticed in a newspaper, short of the occasional readership study. The Internet tells you exactly how noticed you are. You can look up the numbers.

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"As time went on, his view of blogging did not change. It struck him as delusional. His last blog post was written in September, and alongside it was his 'thought of the day,' this:

"'In the movie Julie and Julia the character's food blog did not become legitimate until a story about it appeared in a newspaper. It takes newspapers to authenticate anything, so if newspapers would just ignore blogs, there would be no more blogs, including this one'."

Wrong on so many levels it's hard to know where to start. The newspaper did a story about the food blog because it was so successful. In fact, it spawned a book and a movie! And, Bernie, newspapers ignored blogs for a long time and they certainly didn't disappear, did they? Finally, it seems readers didn't need the help of newspapers in ignoring your blog.

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Comments welcome.

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COMMENTS:

1. From David Rutter:

As one of those beached whale media fossils currently under discussion, I am well some days and, as with all old creatures, less well on others.

The difference usually centers around which other old beached whale has risen up in some last wheezing death rattle to bemoan the state of the universe and irritate me. The good old days. The way it was. Blah, blah, blah.

It is in these moments that I am honestly aghast that I was ever a part of this wallowing self-delusional blather.

Or is this nothing more than the inevitable aftertaste of unhappy career denouements? Will I be like Bernie Lincicome eventually, sputtering defiant curses at the sky? Lord, I hope not.

Did I ever sit around the post-shift pub and bemoan the Internet or smirk at that newfangled CNN? I believe I was not ever Bernie Lincicome and do not plan to be. Though noble in his wit, he's fallen head-first into some Sargasso Sea of Gummy Bilge. My hope is that he was more than just a low-rent Royko who was just a low-rent Mencken. Are they all now somewhere bellowing at the cruel universe?

Royko reviled a universe that eventually decided he had to pick up his own tabs. And Bernie is mad because no one will pay him. Oh, the tragedy.

As much as I am prepared to believe in my own inadequacies, this one, your honor, is one to which I plead not guilty. No, wait. Not only not guilty. I plead hell no, not guilty.

First of all, big city media-ites often give me a sharp pain in the gallbladder for their self importance. Bernie Lincicome apparently thinks he was Keats who likewise was poverty stricken but managed to dash off a few good poems before he cashed in.

Lincicome believes without much question that he deserves to be paid, and perhaps he does. But just as he earned a good living for writing occasionally sublime stories, his same employers paid him for writing drivel, too. Sometimes when you get paid regularly, the distinction between sublime and drivel is harder to assess.

Personally, I like that reporters and editors and photographers get paid because it generally affords a better life than if you don't get paid. But Lincicome seems to posit a universe in which he will sit in the corner and grumble because he hasn't been paid. And since getting paid is the only real point of the exercise, he probably won't write much anymore and certainly not for that great, useless echo chamber of the Internet. At least, not much that's of any value. He'll just sit there in a small round ball, hold his breath and turn blue.

That's a loss for us and, worse, an unnecessary defeat for him.

This "getting paid" fetish reminds me of professional baseball players. If they get paid the equivalent of Uruguay's GNP to play right field for the Cubs, that's fine with me. If they play only because they get Uruguay's GNP, they've mixed up results and motives.

All good writers do it because they want to. Because they have to. They write for themselves and hope someone else finds it interesting. And if it's so interesting that someone will pay, so much the better.

I always thought I was paid as a happy and useful coincidence. But I never wrote only because I got paid for it.

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Posted on Dec 6, 2019