Mrs. Exile has decided that I've developed an unhealthy fixation on Jeff Jarvis. She may be right. Nevertheless I feel compelled to comment on a thread that was recently being batted around on BuzzMachine, if only because I can't seem to get it out of my head without blogging about it myself.
In one of his posts, Jarvis addressed Tish G (of Snarkaholic, nee Spap-Oop!) on the issue of so-called "A-List" bloggers and the perceived gender imbalance of their ranks:
Allow me to don your hairshirt of the offended and say that I’m sick of people attacking me because I ended up on a meaningless list. I didn’t create a club, join a club, go to any club meetings. I am not now and have not been a member of the worldwide A conspiracy.
But the real point, Tish, is that you’re missing the real point of this new world: There is no club. No one can stop you from speaking anymore. You can be heard if you have something someone wants to hear. Use that freedom. Fly with it. Stop growling on the ground.
Of course no one was stopping Tish and others like her from speaking before, either. In the age of movable type no one could stop you from printing a pamplet or 'zine, or even self-publishing a whole goddamned book if you were so inspired. Millions of people were involved in such activities before the blogosphere was even a gleam in Al Gore's eye, but how many of them ever saw an audience beyond a closed circle of family, friends, and diehard fans? What kept voices like Tish's from being heard was the control of distribution, which used arbitrary means at best for determining what was worthy of mass circulation and what wasn't. Being good had nothing to do with getting published any more than being a straight-A student has to do with getting admitted to Harvard -- in both cases so much talent is knocking at the door that quality somewhat counterintuitively becomes a secondary concern. Such as who you are and who you know.
How has this changed, exactly? Our medium is now electronic, but still we are so many millions of voices -- run the numbers and even by the most conservative estimates there are likely tens of thousands of blogs that merit more than just a random drive-by via the random NextBlog button by virtue of their insight and excellent writing. And yet unless one of these blogs is picked up by one the "A-List" bloggers, chances are you'll never know that such a blog existed, no matter how well-written/humorous/wise it is. So how is this the "A-List"'s fault? It's not. As Jarvis points out, there is no conspiracy or club which placed him at one of the major interchanges of the blogosphere. It just happened, probably by virtue of Jeff's previous media exposure with such publications at TV Guide and Entertainment Weekly combined with his unabashed embrace of the new medium of blogging (although I will never be comfortable with his term "citizen's media" to describe the phenomenon).
But that's where the absolution ends. Like it or not, Mr. Jarvis, you and the rest of the "A-List" have extraordinary power as to who gets heard and who doesn't in the blogosphere. To throw up your hands and mouth platitudes about excellence naturally rising to the top is disingenuous at best and downright mendacious at worst. Like it or not, the power to foster a more diverse blogosphere is disproportionately in your hands. Just reading the feeds isn't going to cut it. You need to get out there -- way out there -- in search of voices that you know will never get linked on the likes of Instapundit or Atrios. Forget the RSS feeds and the Technorati tags. You need to spend an hour out of each and every day wandering the blogosphere's outer reaches and share the serendipitous fruits of your labor with your ever-burgeoning audience of true believers in the power of the blog. Sometimes it's not about aggregation and how many people Digg something. Sometimes it's about finding something that no one has ever seen before and using your "A-List" cachet proactively to broaden our horizons and enrich our virtual conversation.
Like it or not, the power is yours. As is the responsibility. As much as I like to give you shit, you're a decent guy, so I'd like to think you're actually interested in getting not only more voices but more kinds of voices heard out here in the blogosphere. So start by not instinctively circling the wagons when someone tells you that you're part of the problem (newsflash: most of us are), because that doesn't necessarily obviate the possibility that you could also be part of the solution as well.