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A Blog Evolves

As those of you who’ve been with me from the beginning know, Via Meadia is an experiment and a work in progress.  I didn’t know how to blog when I started – and one of the things that attracted me to the form was that nobody else did either.

I don’t mean there aren’t some excellent blogs around.  There are, and I’ve learned many things from them – and I rely heavily on good blogs for information and analysis.

But blogging as a literary form is still young; we are all still learning what this form can and can’t do.

Here at Via Meadia, I’ve made many changes over the last couple of years.  Most recently, last summer I began to mix short posts and long posts together into the feed. I think that’s worked out well.  The blog is covering more subjects more consistently and readers seem to like the new material.

What hasn’t changed is my core vision for what I hope this site can do.  I want to call attention to the most important issues and stories of our time and share my ideas and perspective on them.  I want to build a civilized online community where people comment freely but in a civilized and sensible way.  (These days, my rule of thumb for what kind of language and comments we take: if my grandmother wouldn’t tolerate something at her dinner table, I won’t allow it on Via Meadia.) I want to challenge the way the mainstream media cover certain topics and events and promote better, smarter coverage of the news.  I want to find ways to make personal essays and commentary on the news economically sustainable in the changing media environment. And I want to teach and train promising young people to be a new generation of public intellectuals in a very different kind of world.

The part of the effort that readers know the least about is the last goal: working with young people to help them grow into a new kind of public intellectual.  Obviously, some of the posts on the site address this subject, but along with my colleagues at The American Interest I’ve been doing some work on this behind the scenes that is now ready to come out into the open.

Readers know that interns help with the research and writing on the site. Those of you who check the comments know that we’ve adopted a “spare the thumbscrews, spoil the intern” approach to handling any research errors or other shortcomings that get onto the site.  That isn’t going to change.

What most of you don’t know is that we’ve been building a program to increase the ability of our interns to contribute to the work.  Editors at TAI and I have been working on ways to help the interns write better prose and I’ve been holding a series of seminars and weekly phone calls with the interns where we go over the issues of the day and work out how they can best be covered on the site.

Over the last month it’s become clear that we are ready to step this up.  Some of our interns are now experienced enough and good enough that I’m now ready to let the editors post some of their edited short post drafts directly on the site without prior WRM review.

These aren’t random posts on random subjects.  The interns involved in this project have been through the mill and the posts they write are based on assignments and guidance they get from yours truly.  Obviously this is still my blog and I am responsible for what goes up on it; what I’m saying is that some of my collaborators have reached the point where, on short posts developed with a lot of input from me, I trust them to speak on my behalf.

No doubt there will be some snafus and some problems along the way and if this isn’t working out, we will make the appropriate changes.  I will continue to read every word on this site and when necessary I will make edits and otherwise deal with anything that goes awry.  I will also be tracking comments closely and hope readers will let me know how this is working for you.

If this works, the blog won’t feel less “Meady”.  It will feel as if we are making more soup, not as if we are diluting the old soup with more water.  And it should let us cover more subjects more adequately even as I continue to forge ahead with the essays and the ideas that help us shape day to day coverage.

It’s a little nerve wracking to open the blog up in this way; I feel like a parent whose 16 year old kid has just gotten a driver’s license and now wants the keys to the car. But as readers know, one of my themes on the blog has been a criticism of the way so many Boomers have failed to prepare coming generations for the rough waters ahead.  Having talked the talk, it’s time to do a little walking.

I’ll be watching the traffic and checking the comments and emails (you can contact me directly at; these comments get read but aren’t posted to the site).  The new posts will begin to appear during this coming week; they won’t be specially marked so I expect the interns and editors will get blamed for posts I write and vice versa.

Let me know what you think.  The test of everything we do here at Via Meadia is whether readers find us useful and engaging.  We pay attention to your feedback; we have to.

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  • Steve White

    Will the writing of the interns be identified as such? I would like to know what is theirs and what is yours. Thanks,

  • vanderleun

    That’s a sensible comment. Andrew Sullivan got slammed when he set up his page with a host of co-authors but failed to identify their posts as such.

    That said, this is… and has been for some time… a fine page.

  • WigWag

    Why not let the interns blog under their own names? Shouldn’t Professor Mead’s loyal readers be able to distinguish his posts from theirs? Also, those of us inclined to disagree from time to time with a Via Meadia post will want to be more gentle in our criticism of these fine young people who are just starting their blogging careers than we might be of Professor Mead.

    I hope Professor Mead will at least think about giving his young colleagues their own bylines.

  • Jim.

    I hope the interns maintain your sense of wit when it comes to replacing the vulgarities of various comments (including my own), yet are careful to maintain the sense of the original verbage.

    This sounds like a promising experiment… best of luck to you all.

  • Mike

    I think this is a great idea. Having worked with my own public school educated children to learn to write articulately, I believe this is a service not only to them, but to us all. And more viaMeadia content is always welcome!

  • Damir Marusic

    We’re listening very carefully to your feedback—we take it very seriously as we navigate these new waters. I just ask you to think about some of these recent tweaks in light of an un-bylined publication like the Economist. IF this is to work (big if, we know), we hope that what is being published is indistinguishable from Professor Mead’s output: that we succeed in institutionalizing the Mead worldview in such a way that he’s able to cover more of the world with the same number of hours in the day.

    Please make no mistake about it: this is not any form of autopilot program where the good professor goes hands-off while an army of slave laborers cranks out cheap imitation posts. The editorial process is rigorous, and Professor Mead is both guiding coverage on a daily basis, and providing feedback during the day on what’s working and what’s not working. He’s also writing posts as well, while doing the invaluable big picture thinking which guides the blog forward.

    There is a masthead link on the sidebar which gives credit to all those involved, but we think we’d like to keep it at that. The Internet tends to promote personality and viewpoints over substantive analysis, and what we’re trying to do here is subtly get around that tendency. At the same time, we seek maximum transparency with our readers, for we hope you trust us that we’re not trying to pull one over on you.

    So please keep the feedback coming.

  • Anthony

    “I want to build a civilized online community where people comment freely but in a civilized and sensible way…And I want to teach and train promising young people to be a new generation of ‘public intellectuals’ in a very different kind of world.” Following that script WRM, the interns/mentees will hit the ground (keyboard/PDA)running – life (writing) renews via generational exchange.

  • Mike Anderson

    Common worldview or not, it would be interesting to see the occasional “roundtable discussion” post, where the contributors are identified and we can see their different perspectives. That said, press on with the good work!

  • Andrew Allison

    For once, I must agree with WigWag: the apprentices should be held to a different standard than the sorcerer. Could the good professor perhaps byline his contributions with his initials?

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @Alice: the essays will all be mine. The short posts are group efforts and more or less the way things are done at the Economist and other newsmagazines we are going for a house style and house voice when it comes to the short stuff. When and as interns take on more complicated writing assignments, the pieces will be given a byline. (We’ve already done that a few times with reviews and other short essays.) To see who else is involved in the blog, take a look at the contributors page.

  • Kris

    Fresh meat! [Rubs hands in glee.]

    If you decide on a career change to Public Relations, this post should have pride of place in your portofolio.

    “A blog evolves”

    In Queens?

    “we hope that what is being published is indistinguishable from Professor Mead’s output: that we succeed in institutionalizing the Mead worldview”

    We are the Mead. You will be assimilated.

    WRM@10: “Alice”? Would Grandma approve?

  • SC Mike

    Would your grandmother have allowed the use of the word “SNAFU” at the dinner table?

    Just having a bit of fun. You’ve an unusual blog in terms of breadth and depth; the quality of writing is first-rate, and your innovative yet pragmatic prescriptions are thought provoking.

    The very best aspect is that you read the New York Times so that we don’t have to. I read the WSJ daily and the WaPo, that is enough for one wildly right-of-center wingnut like me. I know the Gray Lady has topnotch reporting, but there’s so much other baggage.


  • Jim.

    One caveat:

    If the interns’ posts are too frequent for a busy professional such as WRM to edit, they might be too much for the busy professionals in this audience to read and think critically about.

    The Internet gives us quantity of information. The value-add is in giving us quality.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @Jim: That’s why we are calling this an experiment and asking for feedback. In fact, for some time now, some of the draft posts have needed little or no editing by the time I see them. The interns are getting better and so are the editors. And the posts that come in reflect some serious efforts on my end to train everyone involved and to assign posts and stories. This may work; it may not. We’re going to try to make it work because the payoff for readers can be substantial. And I’m not going to be spending less time on the blog; I am going to try to spend it a little differently. If you think the quality is falling off, let us know. We take that seriously.

  • Mrs. Davis

    Agreeing with WW twice in one week may be more than my heart can handle. The interns better hope you stick to the thumbscrews, ’cause it’s sounding more like a plantation all the time.

  • jaed

    I agree with the remarks above about the need for bylines. Bylines need not be prominent; if you succeed in the goal of creating a “Mead-flavored” blog, most people won’t pay attention to them, but their presence will create a sense of accountability, and a sense that human beings – not a corporate body – are behind the posts. (Damir Marusic above derides this as an emphasis on personality above viewpoints, but I find this subtly incoherent: a person is the only entity that can *have* a viewpoint, after all.) They need not be complete names, or even real names; pseudonyms or initials are fine as long as they are consistently used.

    But I for one would rather not read two posts and wonder whether the same mind wrote them or not, or start guessing whether Mead wrote today’s remarks and his quality is slipping or whether they were the work of an intern. (And if you tell me I won’t need to wonder because it will all be homogenous anyway, I’ll tell you that “House Style” that is imposed to the point of utter uniformity, and a required viewpoint, tends to result in unpleasant mush. If you doubt me, read a newspaper.)

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @jaed: Of course, many newspapers have bylines and still, as you say, produce mush. Others are pretty good even without them. We’ll just have to see how this all works out on Via Meadia. What we hope is that a strong, non-mushy house style, a distinctive point of view in which staff are grounded and a common mission can bring higher not lower quality to the website as a whole. Many readers had their doubts when we started the short posts, but on the whole over time the reaction to them has been positive, and the number of people who check our homepage every day is up sharply. Believe me, if the quality of posts starts going downhill, no one will be more concerned than me.

  • John Barker

    It has been my experience that failure to prepare for succession often leads to the failure of an institution. Let the princes and princesses compete for place and honor. The kingdom will thereby prosper.

  • a nissen

    Did Alice swear and get jerked?
    Is a “public intellectual” another name for a “pundit” or are we talking about presidential timber, e.g. Woodrow Wilson?

    My $.02 on who might have gone off their rocker:
    Professors who do not credit those who make grant fulfillment possible come to be known as sponges or worse. In the case of blogging interns, the need is not so much identification by name as distinction between minor and major contribution. Blanket statements appropriate up until the present, not as appropriate come the new dawn. That said, go for it!

  • PetraMB

    Like most others, I’m unenthusiastic about not knowing who wrote what. I’m a huge WRM fan; since the inception of this blog, I’m reading it regularly, and often quote it with some gushing comments on WRM’s brilliance… So what do I do now? Cut out the gushing comments and just quote Via Meadia?

  • Luke Lea

    When I’m disagreeing with someone I want to know who it is! Initials would be nice. Or even pseudonyms. But anonymous posts on highly controversial subjects? By s.o. who may are may not be Mead?

    One of the main attractions of this blog, for me at least, is that the author was so unafraid to be his own man, a man like no other man on the internet. But now we’ll not even know whether he approved the post in question?

  • Gary L

    One fascinating thing about VM is the compact size of the comments section. I realize that, as a blogger looking to establish your WWW bonafides, you would, on one level, love to receive several hundred (at least!) comments on your every post. But on the other hand, for those of us who do try some semblance of a life offline, VM is ideal. Some of my favorite blogs (e.g., Ann Althouse) usually attract a hundred or so comments within a few hours. I rarely have time to read all the way through them, or feel that it’s worth the effort to express my own opinion given how minimally it will be attended. The overall quality of the VM comments sections – disregarding the occasional and inevitable troll – is at a high literary level, worthy of review, and – most important! – able to be read all the way through in a short span of time.

  • Jim.


    I don’t mean to imply that the interns here are sub-par…. it’s just that even quantity *of* quality can be beyond what I’m looking for sometimes.

    I might be forced to impose some *self*-control on my blogreading habits… horrible thought… 😉

  • PB

    I’ve been reading this blog for a few years now and I keep coming back because WRM offers interesting insights. But I am utterly baffled by this desire to hide the authorship of posts. I don’t get. Why is it so important? What value does it offer readers? It’s a burr under the saddle and it’s one of the things that is frustrating about this blog. I don’t see any value in being left to wonder whether something was written by Mead or some intern or by committee.

    Damir: “I just ask you to think about some of these recent tweaks in light of an un-bylined publication like the Economist”

    Just because The Economist does it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. I suspect that the reason The Economist continues to do it has more to do with tradition, institutional inertia, a “that’s the way we’ve always done it” attitude than any value it offers to readers. If The Economist was being founded today, I seriously doubt it would adopt that policy. After all, The Economist’s “Democracy in America” group blog identifies blog post authors by their initials.

    “The Internet tends to promote personality and viewpoints over substantive analysis, and what we’re trying to do here is subtly get around that tendency.”

    You realize the blog’s name is Via Meadia? How does that not promote personality?

  • Damir Marusic

    @PB But that’s the point exactly! We’re not looking to make Via Meadia a group blog which comprises many different voices, perspectives and opinions. At this point anyway, we’re not talking about giving interns or anyone else any kind of free reign to make arguments divergent from Prof. Mead’s. Rather we’re trying to bring more value to the blog’s readers by expanding the kind of coverage we’re able to do given that the good professor is one human being and there are only so many hours in the day.

    But all your comments are being listened to very carefully. Please do keep them coming.

  • Luke Lea

    [my comment seems to have been awaiting approval for a couple of days. any problem? thanks]

  • Luke Lea

    [oops, sorry. now it’s up — something about posting the above; I’ve noticed this problem in the past. Is Opera browser not compatible? just wondering]

  • Luke Lea

    I’m not sure higher traffic should be your goal. Influence counts for more, and high quality is always a minority preference. Think little magazines. Your stuff gets picked up regularly in the mainstream media. What more could you ask for?

    Should you start getting ten times as many hits and comments, that would be a turn-off for people like me, who can’t get a word in edge-wise at places like Krugman’s. He gets swamped with ditto heads.

    I’m sure economics and workload comes into play. You have a lot of interns. Are they getting paid? Why not give them their own special blog?

    Or maybe the alternative, for people like me, is to only read and comment on your long posts. At least we know that is you — and it is you we really care about. You are unique on the internet and I, for one, appreciate that immensely. Even (or especially) when you challenge my assumptions.

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