Dot Dot Dot: How a media blogger survived a bull Moos

The Tumblr Information Super Highway and the return of blogger Jim Romenesko spur contemplation on the past and future of the Web. 

Mar 3, 2020, 10:25 am*

Internet Culture

 

Owen Thomas

Jim Romenesko is back. As a fellow protoblogger—I still think of these blog things as newfangled upstarts—I watched his awkward exit from the Poynter Institute, which hosted his media-gossip site for years, with keen interest. Now he’s got his own site again, and he’s told his side of the story.

Romenesko is an institution on the Web, known and followed assiduously by almost everyone in the incestuous online media corps. His nemesis was a virtual nobody: Poynter Online Editorial Director Julie Moos, who strikes me as an officious copy editor gone mad with power. (Takes one to know one.)

Moos apparently has her own extremely specific ideas about attribution on the Web. Links? Blockquotes? We’re not allowed to use any of the Web’s native conventions for indicating authorship; only AP-style quotation marks will do.

The story that emerges from Romenesko’s and Moos’ respective tellings of the tale: Moos ordered a change in Romenesko’s linking and writing style to goose page views. Romenesko, as a good blogger would, used direct links to interesting news stories about the media and brief summaries, sometimes verbatim, from the sites he linked to. No one was confused about who wrote what; Romenesko was providing a digest, not analysis.

Moos wanted longer writeups and internal hyperlinks, which some might call a sneaky attempt to keep readers on the Poynter website and away from the source material. When Columbia Journalism Review reporter Erika Fry called to question these changes, Moos, bizarrely, turned Fry’s questions into an inquisition about Romenesko’s attribution style—which Fry herself has said wasn’t the main issue.

So what it looks like: Moos, who has 773 followers to Romenesko’s 40,000-plus, tried to use Fry’s inquiry to gain advantage in ongoing negotiations with Romenesko over his planned retirement from Poynter.

Moos’s Twitter biography declares—as if this were something to brag about!—that she’s been online since 1999. That doesn’t make you an online expert. It makes you a carpetbagger, a latecomer who only got interested in the Internet after it had been on the cover of Time magazine a dozen times. (Yes, officious copy editors: I actually counted.)

A lot happened between 1990, when I first got on the Internet, and 1999, when the Web became a mainstream phenomenon for the likes of Moos.
I’m a Web nostalgia freak, so I was charmed by the appearance of the Information Super Highway, a new Tumblr which documents antiquated websites. I remember the early days of the Web as an intensely creative one where websites grew instantly outdated as new versions of Web browsers came out every six months. (Back then, we went as crazy about Web browsers as people do today about iPhones and Droids, if you can imagine that.)

One of the websites preserved in amber: Bob Dole and Jack Kemp’s 1996 presidential campaign website. Over sushi Tuesday night, in the politically charged suburbs of Washington, a friend and I mused over the evolution of candidates’ online presence. Aside from the red-white-and-blue color motif, there’s almost no resemblance to the social-media-driven campaigns of today’s Republican hopefuls.

Dole is famous, at least in my memory, for making the first-ever Internet gaffe, mumbling and mangling his campaign’s Web address as “double-you double-you double-you dot … dole kemp … org.”

That missing dot, an unthinkable omission now, is the ancestor of all online errors that create momentary stirs among the electronic electorate: a hashtag in a pan, a tempest in a Tumblr.

It takes a long memory to have perspective on these things. The URLs change, but people don’t. Which is why I take issue with arrivistes like Moos trying to edge out veterans like Romenesko.

Yes, those ‘90s-era websites are good for a hoot. But sometimes the old ways really are the best. Sometimes things are done the way they’ve been done for a reason.

Don’t go changing to try to please me, Web. You never let me down before.

Photo by Alan Vernon

 

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*First Published: Nov 23, 2011, 2:30 pm