The point of all the coyness, both then (code names, etc.) and now (initials rather than full bylines, etc.), isn’t necessarily to be secretive about bloggers’ identities— ‘A.B.’ is Adam Barnes, ‘R.A.’ is Ryan Avent, etc.; MI-5 this is not—but rather to be, in a sense, dismissive of those identities. While branded blogs locate both their journalistic authority and their commercial identity in the convergence of producer and product, byline-resistant blogs, implicitly, locate those goods in the product itself. (Again: “We wanted the focus to remain on the substance of each post.”) To read Glenn Greenwald or Andrew Sullivan is to read with an awareness of Greenwald’s legal background or Sullivan’s politics—to consume discourse, in other words, that is both shaded and shielded by the identity of its author. De-bylined pieces, on the other hand, effectively remove the author as a presence—so that all that’s left is the words and facts and ideas themselves.
Put another way, courtesy of commenter Edsor’s reaction to The Economist’s move: “Too many journalists are on an unedifying ego trip.”
Which doesn’t mean everyone’s happy about The Economist’s policy shift. Commenter stealth101, for example:
I for one think that the old policy where only the poster’s city was highlighted was a good option. Over time, I have realized that I find myself inclined to read in detail what the writers I like write in major newspapers and just only gloss over the one’s who I am not particularly fond of. Maybe it is just me who does that.
Reading the blogs at the Economist freed me from those inclinations because the writer’s identity was not revealed. I read posts that I thoroughly disagreed with, but I did read them thoroughly. I can’t say the same thing about the editorials in NYTimes and WSJ because I know what to expect before I read them.
Alas! I will miss those anonymous posts.
It’s a good point—and one that applies just as readily to the bloggers as to their readers. “We hope this anonymity liberates correspondents to write what they think and not worry about how it makes them look to the world,” McShane (as ‘R.M.’) wrote yesterday. He added: “This is a place for individual writers to offer brief thoughts, trial balloons, scratchings on the back of an envelope and the like, and showcases some of the diversity of thought we have on the staff. The paper, by contrast, is what happens when we put all of our heads together, and so should be considered as carrying the full editorial weight of The Economist. We think there is room for both, and hope you agree.”
We do. And it’ll be interesting to see how the changes play out for The Economist and its blogs. Because, though “I’m happy to see that some of our bloggers who have toiled in anonymity for so long will get recognition,” McShane says, what kind of recognition that will be remains to be seen: On the Web, the line between toiling in anonymity and luxuriating in it is a fine one. “A couple of you might take a bit more abuse,” one commenter informed The Economist’s bloggers, “but don’t take it too seriously. After all, most of us commenters don’t sign our names.”
Indeed. The commenter’s byline, in this case? “nameless.”