Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bloggers and Barkeeps

Someone left a copy of the Wall Street Journal on a stool down at the Bar and Grille yesterday and as I had arrived before the regulars and Manny the bartender was busy with something or other in the back, I scanned through the paper in hopes of gaining some insight into where my money had gone to.

There were articles about this company lowering its expectations for the next quarter and that one doing a little better in the last one than it had any reason to. There was a story about how all that money the government gave to the banks was either still there, at the banks, or had vanished without a trace into whatever void money goes when you take your eyes off it. And there was an analysis of the previous day's stock exchange decline, which attributed the loss to an announcement that a big company was making more money than people had expected it would. Somehow, that was bad for stocks in general. The day before I'd heard that stock values had gone up for a similar excuse.

Economics and finance are too complicated. That's what got us into the pickle we're in right now, and I said so to Manny when he came back to the bar to pour my drink. "I don't get this when they say one day some piece of good news made the market go up and the next day they say the same kind of news made it go down. What do you make of that, Manny?"

"Well, now, Bob," he said, "Maybe there's subtleties to it that us normal folks just don't comprehend. More likely, it seems to me, these newspaper writers don't have a clue themselves so they just latch onto some bit of news to blame for whatever happened in the market. The less sense it makes to you and me, the smarter they look for figuring it out. Me, I can't relate to any of it."

I turned to the next page of the paper and saw an article I thought Manny might relate to pretty well. Seems somebody figured out that almost a whole percent of Americans are getting paid as bloggers and their number now exceeds the total of professional bartenders.

Now I thought bloggers were mostly people who have the writing bug but, being unable to think up anything worthwhile to write about, tell their few readers what somebody else wrote about somewhere, adding a little, "this is cool," or "so-and-so had an interesting remark about such-and-such." And the rest of them are just self-absorbed people who think somebody else might be interested in what they had for breakfast, and none of them is paid a dime for their contributions to the American conversation. Seems I was wrong once again.

According to "The Journal" (which is how people who want you to know they read The Wall Street Journal refer to that periodical), more people make their actual living sticking their opinions on the Internet than do so by programming computers, or fighting fires, or practicing law.

"So, Manny," I said, "says here you bartenders are out-numbered by professional bloggers."

Manny observed that spouting off opinions is a growth industry while reporting actual news is on the way out, and he wondered what the world is going to be like when there isn't any news to complain about. "I guess those bloggers will be talking about themselves and sniping at each other even more than they are already. But you know, Bob, that's how it's going anyway. Why, even the regular news these days is mostly all about the news business itself and how it's going to hell in a hand basket."

I tapped my glass and Manny reached down to the well for the scotch bottle. As he poured, I suggested maybe he ought to think about taking up blogging himself. "Why, you are one of the most opinionated people I know, Manny. Seems like you could do pretty well at that. Don't take more than a few bucks to get started; eighty dollars, it says here, and you could make a hundred thou' or more if the breaks go your way."

"Well, Bob, there's something to be said for working at home, unshaved and in your jammies, but I kind of like to put a tie on and come down here to the bar. I get to talk to people. I hear things. Some of the things I hear are even true. Sitting by myself in front of a darned computer all day? Trying to stir up some hullabaloo to entertain other people who are doing the same thing? That doesn't appeal to me, and there's something almost unethical about it."

Manny took a load of glassware out of the dishwasher and stood back as steam rose into the air. "I don't mean any offense, Bob, because I know you write one of those blogs yourself. I read it once, and it was ... entertaining."

I thanked him for the compliment and said I'd often wondered who it was that read my blog that one time. "I guess it's a good thing you don't want to be a blogger, Manny. I'd rather come down here and trade insults with you in person than read your opinions on a computer screen."

"Aw, Bob. You know you just come down here because I pour you one on the house now and then."

"Well, there's some truth to that, Manny."

"Not today," he said, "but now and then."

"Better be good to me, Manny," I said, "This article says that 'If journalists were the Fourth Estate, bloggers are becoming the Fifth Estate.'" I showed him my empty glass. "So don't be so stingy with a jigger of that cheap booze, or the full weight of the Fifth Estate might bring you down. We bloggers are getting to be a powerful force in American culture. It says so right here in The Wall Street Journal."

"And would that be the same Wall Street Journal that says the stock market went down because some company made a lot of money?"

Manny isn't cut out to be a blogger; too much common sense.

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