On accountability, authenticity, and my relationships with local bloggers

Posted by Ryan Jerz on Wednesday October 17, 2007.

This is about to be VERY long, so get yourself settled in.

Something that I’ve repeatedly said, on this site, on television, in print, and in person, is that I care a lot more about what other local bloggers are doing than I do about what’s happening in Washington. And I feel like I show that in what I post about, where I make comments, and what I say in those comments. It’s become clear to me that I have to reiterate how I feel about blogging, the people that do it, and where it is being taken by those people.

I’ve long held that I think we (in Reno) have a very vibrant community of bloggers here and we should strive to be a model for other cities to emulate. I’ve said it in print, on my site, and on television. One way of doing that is to work together on projects, get to know one another (it’s still a very small town), and be truthful and authentic. If we can’t do that, we can’t ever separate ourselves from other communities. Bloggers all over can make stuff up, hide behind fake identities, call each other names, and thump their chests to prove they are the mightiest. All of those things have been done to me, and even by me (except the one about hiding behind fake identities). I try to be better, but sometimes it’s either too much of a temptation to poke someone or too difficult to let it slide. In the end, though, I’ve always tried to make amends one way or another.

This latest flap (summary: someone either deliberately lied about something I didn’t say or misunderstood something I didn’t say and refused to admit they were wrong about it, so I kept asking, only to have what I didn’t say become far worse and much more insidious) is a shame because I was pulled into a conversation I didn’t want to get into anyway. Which is why I didn’t say what I was accused of not understanding. The point was to avoid it, but for some people, that’s not enough. Ironically, or hypocritically (I prefer hypocritically here), the same person who did it accused me before of attempting to be the King of Reno Blogs. Stupid. You could very easily call it stupid that I even bothered to get involved. But that’s where you and I differ.

See, for the above reasons I choose to get involved everywhere my name is brought up. Because I feel like if my name is out there (and this pond, again, is small) and something is wrong, I have the ability to correct what has been said about me. In case you didn’t already know this, it’s what makes blogs and any other online conversation great for discussion. So I do it. If it denigrates into a bigger fight than it should have been, so be it. As long as I’ve defended my name against things I perceive as wrong, I’m cool with it. Where it becomes a problem is when it happens on a site that I once believed was run by a truthful person. Granted, I have long railed against her for being anonymous while saying things that she should be held accountable for. I have called out cowardly acts, left numerous comments when I felt there was a dishonest argument being made, and railed against the complete lack of accountability that anonymous bloggers have.

Despite knowing better, Myrna has even said that I’m obsessed with her. If anything, I’m obsessed with the issue of anonymity. I can think of at least four cases where I have felt that someone hiding behind a fake name did one or more things that warranted having to face the prospect that they are not as hidden as they’d like to be. In these cases, the act was always personal—attacking someone who does use their name in a way that can only be righted by outing the person who said it. Honestly, it’s the only thing you can do. Of the four cases, I have publicly outed two of the people. Both were people who had political aspirations and were either using their anonymous personas to hurt opponents or somehow gain a political advantage over others by using their positions within their respective parties. Neither anonymous persona exists any longer.

The other two cases have played out as follows. One was a guy who is perceived by just about everyone else as a fringe freak anyway, and all he ever did was get personal with me and talk like a little kid a lot, so I let it go. The other has asked me not to reveal their identity because it would mean they would lose their job (a job that I know about, and believe it to be, i not an outright lie, at least a case of delusion for thinking they’re that important). At the time, I responded that I would agree to that as long as it didn’t get overly personal and begin to hurt my situation. It’s a request I have honored and plan to honor going forward. I should also add that none of the identities I have uncovered were due to anything other than what is available to anyone on the internet. Some of the information has since disappeared, but it was there, and I got it when it was available.

That brings us to these times when it seems like there is a lot of fighting going on in blog comments. In actuality, there probably is. And it’s due to people making a ton of assumptions. For instance, I have often described myself as a Republican (due to the fact that I am registered as one, making it official), but have never been a person who took that label as part of my identity. I don’t agree with Republicans because they are Republicans. I agree with people who say things and do things that I agree with. And I take that part of my identity very seriously. So you can imagine that I wouldn’t appreciate it when I state a case and am immediately assumed to be a party hack. This has happened all over this state’s blogs. And it frequently happens on Reno and Its Discontents.

I can only figure that it happens because I say things Myrna does not want to hear. In the case that prompted this post, I tried to argue that that family who the Democrats paraded in front of cameras, and specifically the 12-year-old boy from the family, were exploited. What happened when the idiot Republican talking heads attacked them should have been expected. It was not a case where I was blaming the victim. I don’t expect a family that has been sold a bill of goods to understand as well as the people selling the goods to them what will happen once they buy. The Democrats threw those people to the wolves, then were outraged when the wolves ate them up. I think of this as a classic case of sacrificing innocent people to score crappy political points. But instead of taking the time to understand what I was saying (like, maybe, by asking me to clarify) I was used as an example of someone who both did not understand the political issue (not the issue I was speaking of anyway) and parroting the distracting talking points of the right wing hacks that I tend to despise. If I was parroting them, it was completely unintentional. See, I tend to despise them, so I don’t read what they write, and I don’t listen to what they say. I came up with my position all by myself.

My position was borne out of the fact that I now have a 12-year-old son myself. He was eleven at the time, but I still considered it relevant. I thought about whether I would ask him or even allow him to be thrust into a position where what people say about him could affect how he sees the world. Middle School is hard enough, let alone the national press and the assholes that are considered opinion leaders. No way in hell would I have done that, so I formed an opinion of the situation based on that. Forgive me for thinking that the situation might have some relevance in my personal life and might shape the life of a young person one way or another. My point was that the political issue on the table (SCHIP) might be a very, very important one, but it wasn’t the only one. As a result, I got called an apologist for the people attacking the young kid who my thoughts were on protecting from the beginning. The irony, of course, is that the person saying tat about me seems to think that she is somehow the guardian of the kid because she vehemently supports SCHIP, which will make his life better, and thinks that that boy’s being thrust into the national spotlight for all the jerkoffs to attack him was a good thing.

When I mentioned this in my Reactionary Hurl I said that every time it happens I die a little. While I may not actually die, it does make me less enthusiastic about my thoughts on blogs. For a long time now, I have held that blogs can be a seriously important medium in the way information is distributed. People with insider knowledge can easily publish that knowledge. Heads of companies can read feedback that their customers publish. Political schemes can be uncovered. A better community can be built around specific issues, neighborhoods, or ideas. The point should be that when someone publishes something to their blog, or leaves a comment on another blog, everyone reading should be able to learn from that. It should be information that helps you think about something that you haven’t thought of before or it should teach you something you never realized you didn’t know. The bottom line is that it should help you grow.

I often talk about my belief that some people see blogs as their own op-ed column or (my personal favorite) their own radio show. I believe that because in an op-ed or on a radio show, the writer or host has control over the content and the reaction. The newspaper can choose whether to publish a letter critical of the writer. The call screener can choose whether to let a caller on the air. On a blog, the site’s owner can choose to moderate comments or delete them,but it goes against the very nature of the democratic web. If you only allow comments that you agree with, you’re considered untrustworthy. So, to counter that, we have people who immediately go into attack mode when something they disagree with hits their blog. I liken that to the perceived expertise that comes with a hefty amount of site visits. If you start getting a lot of hits, and a lot of people tell you you’re doing a great job, then you start to believe it. And when someone comes along and tells you that what you said is either not entirely true or that you’re missing a critical possibility, you get defensive. How can they come and question you at your site?

I also think this is especially apparent when what you are doing s a labor of love. You write on a blog because you have passion for the topics. So for someone to say that there are other possibilities seems like a personal attack on you and your being. That becomes even funnier when supposedly nobody knows who you are. The part of it that bother me the most, though, is what it says about blogs. Since I want them to be looked at very seriously (I’d love it if they were on par with newspapers and beyond radio), I pay attention to the reactions people have on them. A lot of the time, it’s what the stereotype suggests: they are vitriolic, juvenile, and lack any sort of accountability. Perhaps if the community as a whole demanded more from the individual people within it, that would change. Too often, however, the very people that comprise the community will lament the lack of civility, but defend the rights of the people being uncivil. It seems to me that they do so because they like what the person is saying. They’re defending them because they agree, not because they understand the implications. I refuse to do that.

My refusal to do that leads me to respond, even when I agree with something, in a way that is an attempt to ensure the conversation includes all the possibilities. That is not a claim that I know all the possibilities. It is a claim that I won’t allow for blatantly biased “facts” to be thrown out there without the possibility that other equally logical positions exist. I can do that while not exposing my position, and I often do. Inevitably, someone accuses me of having a bias toward one side or another, and I laugh at them. And the conversation is denigrated into name-calling and juvenile fighting. All it began with was an attempt to have a conversation, not an attempt to call someone stupid.

Now,don’t get me wrong. There are times when there is a history between myself and the person I challenge, and I know they should know better, so I approach it in a way that says that. Perhaps I could work on that, but I see it differently. If it’s a conversation that has been held before, don’t insult the intelligence of the people participating by going right back to the tired assertion that you tried to pass off before. Approach it honestly.

If I had just read all of that, I’d be wondering how I reconcile my belief that the community is superior. Here’s how I do it. I don’t take it personally, and don’t hold beliefs against someone at all. Unless you have meant to get personal (like in one or two past examples), I maintain that I hold local bloggers above all others online. I have repeatedly offered to collaborate on projects, offered technical assistance where I could, and pointed bloggers toward projects that will help them become a bigger success than they currently are, even when they didn’t know about it. I have reiterated to anyone I correspond with privately that these are my beliefs and I don’t hold personal grudges unless you cross specific lines. I’ve never even said that I have to know who you are to do so. I will respect your choice to be anonymous if it means we can work on something special. I’ve also stuck to my word.

I really do want the local community to be a success. I believe that we can be and I believe I know how to do it. Time is my biggest reason for not doing everything I’d like to see myself. I need the motivation of others and the accountability to others to make these things happen. So anyone who claims I do not want these things either hasn’t tried to get to know me (which is their choice) or isn’t being entirely truthful.

All of the above is the truth. It has kept my poor wife up late at night as I explained myself and my views to her. It has bored the living hell out of people who happen to make the mistake of asking me about blogging. But it has also gotten me to a point where I’ve finally figured out what my plans are in life and how I can make them happen.

Ryan JerzRyan Jerz is an all-around good guy who wants people to eventually refer to him as "that dude who climbs mountains."

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