Content, Controversy, and Conservation

Over at Cenantua’s Blog, Robert Moore offers two posts worth considering for bloggers and readers alike. The first addresses what Moore defines as “content” blogs versus “controversy” blogs. Although he outlines these two archetypes, he doesn’t offer specific examples, and he concedes that various (unnamed) blogs do both. It seems to me that “controversy” is a loaded term, whereas “commentary” might well fit the bill as more descriptive. Some of the comments about “content” blogs by self-identified “content” bloggers seem primed to provoke controversy.  Supposedly “content” blogs provide a lasting service, whereas “controversy” blogs, however much attention (and traffic) they may attract, are ephemeral.  Moore even speculates that some “controversy” bloggers are withholding “the good stuff” … as he puts it:

Yet, in blogs that seem to be more controversial, do we see much “giving” or are controversial type bloggers holding back more, perhaps to put something into a book, an article, or something along that nature… something that will be of benefit in another way… monetarily or to advance a person’s place among fellow Civil War historians? 

I find that comment a bit snide. After all, if it was all about the profit motive, why blog, period? And goodness knows we’ve seen professional academics complain about blogging, so the results are not in on whether it is a plus or minus professionally. In short, seems we have something of a strawman here, one designed to elicit cheers among some “content” bloggers in the comments section. Mission accomplished.

It’s not the first time Moore’s engaged in this sort of introspection, which, after all, is one of the characteristics of blogger behavior. Readers will see that I responded in the comments section. I wrote about “content/controversy” some time ago, and I have nothing to add to those comments, aside from my suggestion that “commentary” is a less loaded term.

Moore addresses a more critical issue for “content” bloggers in particular (given the supposed timeless nature of their contributions) when he wonders what steps are being taken to preserve their findings.  Nor, he suggests, is it solely the responsibility of “content” bloggers to assure the preservation of their findings:

… consider, for example, print publications, published today, that cite Web sources… even blog posts. If those same posts vanish from the Web… what about those footnotes, in published books, that cited posts of the past? At that point, is it really the sole responsibility of individual bloggers to archive?

I would think that is an issue for bloggers in general (and others) to contemplate, although several blogs are in fact being archived. However, it stands to reason that if “content” bloggers are offering new information that transcends concerns of the moment, then it would be tragic if they did not take steps to make sure that their hard labors were not preserved in lasting form so that others would benefit from their labors.

Personally, I don’t know of any responsible Civil War era blogs that are “controversy” blogs. I see a great deal of content and meaningful commentary about issues of concern to Civil War historians across most blogs. That some blogs offer posts that cause controversy is obvious. I just don’t know why that should be important to someone else. I’m perfectly comfortable with what I do and I do my best to try not to judge why others blog … especially when supposed “content” blogs engage in controversy, especially by talking about “controversy” blogs (largely as a form of “othering”).  Ah, irony.

In truth, of course, this entire blog entry is a clever attempt to create controversy to drive up readership and initiate nasty exchanges, which will in turn shed much heat and little light, while I hold back the really good stuff to line my pockets and seek the glory I so ardently desire … like on C-SPAN3. In the process, “content” bloggers will be forced to betray their true selves by engaging in the very types of controversies they say they so dearly want to avoid (even if they are not always so successful in that effort). The result will be a good deal of navel-gazing.

Just watch.

UPDATE:  As I said, just watch. I love reading snarky replies weakly disguised as claims that one is being “misunderstood.” Must be a slow time of the year for some people, because we’ve been over this ground before.

I’m glad Moore’s entertained by his belief that he’s struck a nerve, although that appears to suggest that he’s not above the need for such gratification and thus should not accuse others from suffering from it. I find his continued “introspection” simply self-serving. I hope he feels good about it.

So what we have here is a self-professed “content” blogger engaging in “confrontation” with what are called “controversy” blogs … but who picked the fight, folks? At least have the integrity to name names.  Otherwise it’s a bit hard to pull off being so smug successfully.

As an old hockey player, I realize that it is often the retaliatory action that draws the attention of the officials. Others will on jump on the bandwagon, and off we go.  :)

For a different sort of exchange, catch Kevin Levin here.

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34 thoughts on “Content, Controversy, and Conservation

    • So what? Indeed, tell me exactly how these sorts of classifications of blogs … as opposed to posts … advance any sort of constructive discussion? With all due respect … when you comment on the movie Lincoln on your blog … or when you wag your finger at me … aren’t you participating in controversy? Bless your heart.

      • Hi Brooks. I never said I didn’t engage in a little controversy from time to time over at my blog or elsewhere. I think we all do. You just do it more than most other Civil War bloggers I know. And I’m not saying the heritage folks don’t deserve everything you say about them, but you go after them and others with great zest. Like you’re doing now with me. To each their own.

          • Hi Brooks. I never said I was above controversy, and sometimes I stir some up on purpose. I just don’t engage in controversy as much as you or seem to have quite the appetite you do for it. But thanks for your responses, as you have proved my original point. You love creating controversy more than I do. And I too have to get back to the paying customers.

        • “You just do it more than most other Civil War bloggers I know.” With all due respect, this suggests that you should get to know more bloggers. There are some very good Civil War blogsites which engage in “controversy” on a fairly regular basis. Try the excellent Civil War Bookshelf and Rantings of a Civil War Historian sites, for example. And, like Crossroads, both are deservedly well-regarded sites.

          • I am still trying to figure out the point of this argument, especially as it creates the heat/light ratio I thought it would. No one among the “content” crowd (whoever they are) has answered the “so what?” question … or the “who cares?” question.

            • And I guess that i’m not buying the notion some folks seem to have that a blog cannot be based on “content” if it generates “controversy”. Maybe I’m simply describing another route to the “so what” destination…..

              • John,

                I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone make that argument sppecifically. Robert himself in his original post said some blogs do both. I doubt anyone would make the argument that a “content” blog about Blacks in the Confederate army or “Why the South Seceded” wouldn’t generate controversy, for instance.

                • I think this discussion proceeds on shaky ground precisely because it is founded upon a problematic classification of blogs. Anyone arguing for the inherent durability (or superiority) of self-styled content blogs faces the fact that by the definitions offered Ann DeWitt’s a content blogger. So are Gary Adams and Michael Lucas. I could go on. :) As Moore has failed to name names or give examples, in the end we have no way to assess his definitions.

                  However, it’s clear that more was at work in Moore’s entry than a simple classification system. The entry (which was certainly not a content entry) went beyond that to speculate on the motives of others, followed by a bit of self-serving preening by participants in the comments section (including claims by one blogger who embraces controversy and confrontation as a way of life that he’s a “content” blogger). In a few cases I’ve had run-ins with the people who commented, and so it’s rather easy for me to find amusement in their commentary. So you’ll have to explain to me whether any constructive purpose was served by Moore’s post … especially as the next post expressed concern that those lasting contributions might not be so lasting after all. Wouldn’t it be smarter to address that concern than to engage in an exercise in public reassurance?

                  You’re wrong to assume that I took the post personally. Moore doesn’t name names. If, as he now declared, he could predict the result, then he drops his pretensions of innocent or inoffensive inquiry. I thought his argument foolish, and I’m not good at tolerating foolishness. If anything, he sounded a bit like some heritage commentators I know, especially in speculating about motives (hello Connie!). However, perhaps it’s time for self-styled “content” bloggers to address some serious questions that I have in mind.

                  • Brooks,

                    You already told me I was wrong to assume you took it personally yesterday. Why mention that again? I was wrong. End of discussion, for me at least.

                    I’ll bite. Who specifically are these “content bloggers” you are talking about? Robert I guess is obviously one. But who else? In looking over the commenters, Craig Swain and Harry Smeltzer identify themselves as content bloggers. Jim Miller’s a content blogger. If I had read Robert’s post I’d have identified myself as a content blogger for one of my two sites in the comments section there. If you don’t name names, aren’t you doing the exact same thing you have a problem with Robert doing?

                    Since I would categorize my Siege of Petersburg site as “content blogging”, I’ll volunteer to answer whatever questions you might have, I suppose.

                    • Hi–

                      As you didn’t reply, I had no idea how you responded to my rejection of the notion that I took Robert Moore’s comments personally. Anyone who still says I took them personally are ducking the questions he and I have raised. He didn’t name names, and that’s that. He won’t answer questions about why he speculates on the motives of others, and that’s that.

                      I have no problem answering questions or offering specific support for my perspective.

                      Having pointed to Moore’s post and the comments section, I leave it to the reader to go there if one seeks to identify the comments/commenters and self-identified content bloggers I mentioned. You did exactly that. I thought it was obvious. My apologies.

                      Just to be painfully explicit, Craig Swain and Harry Smeltzer self-identify in Moore’s comments section as “content” bloggers (whatever that means). Andy Hall shrewdly (and correctly) says that in his blogging he does a number of things. I found most amusing Richard Williams’s insistence that he was dragged away from “content” blogging by someone else … anyone who reads Richard’s blog knows that however he caught this “disease,” it’s now part of who he is. Let’s not fool ourselves.

                      Here are some of the comments I found self-serving and invidious:

                      The publishing world has “pop” history which sells, and the “hard” history which usually doesn’t. Pop history is often derided for its watered down scholarship, while the “hard” history books fill the shelves of dedicated students of the topic. Perhaps similar comparisons can be made to Civil War blogging activity. Both types, as you say, have their place. Some folks will live and die by their hit counts. Personally, I’m ambivalent about that metric.

                      … Rather, this is about the thought process behind blogging, and why controversy gains more attention, though content may end up being the part that is more enduring.
                      Some content delivery bloggers who add original content to the Web might otherwise be making a little cash on the side by turning the same into an article or book… yet they demonstrate a passion for the art by giving freely of their time… in research and delivery
                      .

                      I don’t think we have to worry about picking which side works for us.,.. content OR controversy… but I just wonder what controversial posts really do besides feed a disagreement, make the hive come to a swarm, and draw and audience. I guess, for some, it’s the best way to get a message out there.

                      Let’s put it this way: I don’t question what Moore, Smeltzer, and Swain do. They do what interests them. One may well question their assertions about the timelessness or lasting value of something they now admit they are not sure how to preserve or disseminate.

                      You did not participate in the comments section of Moore’s post, and my comments were not about types of blogs, but about a bogus typology that allowed people to give voice to some barely-concealed personal sentiments. I take his more recent efforts at developing a typology more seriously, because it’s now posed as an open inquiry that allows people to speak for themselves.

                      However, you style yourself a content blogger. What does that term mean to you? How useful is a typology of blogs, blogging activity, and bloggers? Have you thought about some of the questions I have raised in more recent posts that move beyond this squabble? Are there other ones worth asking?

                    • Brooks,

                      Understood on the “taking it personally thing”. I guess I had just mentally nodded to myself and thought no more of it.

                      Let me try to answer your questions directly over at TOCWOC tomorrow morning. We are running out of room here and I’ve already got two posts over there today. I’ll also try to answer some of your questions on your latest entry on this topic as well.

                • Brett: I agree but I think that illustrates the problem Brooks is focused on, at least in part. To elaborate on one example I’ve mentioned, I regard Dimitri’s blog as containing a high degree of “content” but it certainly generates “controversy” in the way the “content” is provided. I would label it as a highly worthwhile and thought-provoking Civil War blogsite without resorting to either label. The ongoing series of posts at TOCWOC regarding the Peninsular Campaign could certainly generate “controversy” for the legions of McClellan-phobes (myself included) and McClellan-“let’s relook at things” group. No doubt that it’s high on “content”, however.

                  • John,

                    Understood. Agreed completely on Dimitri’s blog. It doesn’t neatly fit into either category, and I would venture to guess the vast majority of Civil War blogs, and all blogs for that matter, don’t. It hadn’t even occurred to me that Dan McConnell’s Peninsula Campaign series would be controversial, but you’re right. All things McClellan are. It can’t be helped because of the wide variety of views and in some cases agendas on the topic.

              • Some people devise classification systems not to describe reality but to reassure themselves. That’s key to “othering,” for example, as Edward Said demonstrated in his work. That the classification system devised by Moore is problematic and flawed at best is rather evident. There’s a far more intelligent and insightful way to craft a typology based upon the functions (intended and otherwise) of individual posts as well as the mix of posts in a blog. As Kevin Levin has suggested, one can post on subjects that arouse controversy, and at times one never knows who will find what controversial (and how does one measure that controversy?).

                • As so often happens in this area, I also think that some people think “controversy” only when certain topics are brought up. Dimitri’s site, for example, could certainly be called “controversial” but because the ‘controversy” is nearly always about how Civil War history is written or communicated, it gets labeled as “content”. In other words, it doesn’t mention those topics which raise the, um, “emotions”.

                  • The chief problem with Dimitri’s site is that he doesn’t provide a comments section, leaving people to communicate with him privately or complain about him on other blogs. I get a lot of flak from some professional peers about him, and I think that’s in part because it’s a bit challenging to confront him directly in public.

                    • We are in full agreement on that one. For example, I’m still looking in the OR for those 9/5/62 orders from McClellan/Marcy to Pope. And I’d love to probe the significance of determining whether Little Mac’s “letters” to Ellen are really “letters” or something else. He does a great job of provoking thought but then effectively cuts it off from further development. The site would actually benefit IMHO from opening things up to comment. But then it’s his site, after all…….

      • Mr. Simpson, we engaged in a little controversy over at Missouri Tenth. An old friend of yours recently wrote us in regards to Northern vs. Southern historical views. You (and your readers) might like to take a look. I think this is a valuable perspective, and one that might be beneficial to engage in some fashion – as the perspectives over the war and the worldviews surrounding it continue to cause tension even today. http://missouritenth.com/2012/12/05/historians-divide-over-roots-of-american-north-and-south/

        • Actually, most of what you present as a “controversy” over at your blog was simply stripped from the comments section of this blog. Guess you found offering original material a bit challenging. As for what’s there, well, if one wants to characterize Mike Lamb as a historian, that simply proves that if everyone’s a historian, that doesn’t mean that everyone’s a good one. Nor do I see it as high quality content, which is why I let Mr. Lamb go off on his own and then shut him down. Glad to see that second hand and second rate content (and yes, I’m being generous) finds a home somewhere.

          • The content presented was written by mr. Michael Lamb, and was in his own words – which he approved of. True, not everyone may be a “good” historian. But, many followers does not equate greatness either. A great many wise men may have never had greatness or numerous followers, but that shouldn’t take away from the possible truths they present…

            • Again, the material was stripped from the comments section here. I note that much is said about what I said, but if they are Mr. Lamb’s words, as you say, then how could I be saying them? If you’re now disavowing responsibility for the content you post, fine by me.

  1. Bummer studies Cenantua, Civil War Memory, Crossroads, Dead Confederates and others on a daily basis. It never occurred that any of these sites were content, controversy, confrontational or commentary driven. All posts and comments were absorbed as individual scholarship on the Civil War and its causes and effects. This student appreciates the knowledge that is shared by all Blog Hosts and their differing perspectives. All of the varying angles and takes on Civil War History inspires Bummer’s comments and sparks memories and research for Civil War Bummer. Thanks for all the hard work.

    Bummer

    • Thanks. Recall that I didn’t pick this fight. Heck, I didn’t even think there was a fight to pick. It was a “content” blogger who instigated this “controversy” by creating self-styled constructs, with others chiming in. You’ll have to ask those folks why they felt the need to do so.

  2. Brooks,
    I think you’ve been offended personally by a post which was not meant to be personal. I’ve done the same too many times in the past. If you asked Robert to clearly define Crossroads based on the criteria set forth in his post, I’m sure he’d say it is one of the ones which provides a little of both.

    You definitely bait “the gift that keeps on giving” regularly, which I can only describe as confrontational, though those posts have entertainment value for me personally.

    At the same time, you provide plenty of content as well, from your News and Notes to a lot of thought-provoking questions which people think they already knew the complete and only answer to. I could go one, as yours is one of the few Civil War blogs I check every single day through Google Reader.

    I believe Robert when he says he doesn’t care about traffic. It makes sense when you, as he says, consider the angle he’s coming from in researching how web content is delivered and consumed. Cenantua is also a blog I check for updates on daily.

    My take is that this is much ado about nothing. As for my two sites, TOCWOC has tried to be a little bit of both over the years. Jim Durney’s take on Black Confederates or blogging about Political Correctness is the most controversial thing I can think of. The Siege of Petersburg Online is solely content driven, unless you count Bryce Suderow’s scathing indictments of Grant of course. ;-)

    • I can’t take personally a blog entry which doesn’t name names. I have no idea who Moore’s talking about: he’s invented the classification of blogs in order to advance his analysis. It is precisely in that invention of “the other” (“controversy” or “confrontational” blogs) that Moore ends up making his case for “content” blogs. I find the logic flawed and I wonder whether his blog and the replies that followed were exercises in reassurance, although I find it hard to believe that if one took him seriously that one would not find his comments controversial. However, as he fails to name names, I don’t know which blogs he has in mind.

      Rather, I file this under blogger navel-gazing. It seems entirely unnecessary. However, I did detect the resurgence of a theme of jealously I’ve seen before when it comes to mention of Civil War conferences holding panels on blogging (including one televised on C-SPAN3). I received several messages from rather irritated “content” bloggers when the session at Gettysburg College’s 2012 Civil War Institute was announced. They complained that they had not been invited (as if I had anything to do with that). So there are several agendas circulating in these discussions, and some people are being less than candid about their own feelings.

      Like a solar flare, this will subside in due course, much like the “who’s a historian?” discussions we have every once in a while. To each their own. But I didn’t start the fire. :)

  3. I find this attempt to classify blogs as unnecessary and not productive. I’m not sure what it is designed to do. As far as so called baiting, Brooks produces blog entries almost daily and attempts to find topics of interest. You take your news as you find it.

    • I agree with the assessment that the effort to classify blogs is pointless. I thought John Hennessy offered a much different take on this issue at the conclusion of the CWI session on blogging, and, as John deals with the public all the time while producing an excellent and thoughtful blog, I value his input.

  4. As a postscript, today I came across an interesting exchange on Paul Lukas’s fine Uni Watch blog (once in a while I forward something to him):

    Q: You have taken very definitive stances on things that could be deemed political or controversial. What’s your goal on taking these positions? Are you trying to spur on debate or are you trying to change hearts and minds?

    PL: Before I address your question, I want to point out that “controversial” is a very subjective and elastic term. For the most part, we find something to be “controversial” only if we disagree with it. Labeling something as “controversial” is a handy way of diminishing it before you’ve even dealt with its substance. It’s worth remembering that some people find the very existence of Uni Watch to be “controversial,” because they think it’s ridiculous for anyone to care about uniforms. Just something to think about.

    Now then: Whether I’m arguing in favor of stirrups or in opposition to camouflage uniforms, my goals are the same: to get people to think a bit harder, to encourage dialogue, and to persuade.

    Nicely said.

  5. Touche. By that way of thinking about it you try a bit harder than most “to get people to think a bit harder, to encourage dialogue, and to persuade.” That, I think, was my point. No real criticism involved, just an observation. I do the same, perhaps in not quite so feisty a manner, which is a difference of style rather than purpose. And to believe John Foskett, which I have no problem doing, some Civil War bloggers try even harder than you or I to do that. Now that we hopefully understand each other, back to our regularly scheduled programming. And remember Pearl Harbor. ;-)

    • So that I’m clear, the blogs to which I referred are extremely high on “content” but also routinely generate “controversy”. Therein lies the classification problem.

  6. Pingback: What Is a Content Blogger? — TOCWOC - A Civil War Blog

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