There's a protracted feud brewing between media old and new on a battlefield ruled by brevity—Twitter.
The reason evades me, but the terse blog site has now become sine qua non for mainstream journalists. Everyone at the New York Times, for instance, from Kristof to Krugman, is a Twit, though Gray Lady tweets often lack much substance beyond daily links to longer-form dispatches.
Patrick LaForge (aka palafo) has been a notable exception. The editor of the City Room blog is a prolific microblogger, with 4100+ updates and thousands of followers. But there's one notable absence from palafo's twitterie: nytpicker, in real life the anonymous editor (or editors) of the brilliant, design-challenged blog of the same name. Since late last year, nytpicker has made it his/her/their business to dissect—usually with more censure than adulation—the paper of record. The blog moans at defective leads and bad reporting, and now and then breaks some big, embarrassing blunder or another by the paper and its authors. Nytpick.com's commenters, meanwhile, revel in speculation into its obviously journalism-cognizant writer or writers. Disgruntled copy editors? Laid-off reporters? Randy Cohen?
So, shortly after the nytpicker arrived late to the twitter dance last weekend, palafo sent a direct message, enjoining his fellow tweeter to "stop being a coward and use your real name. :)" Unsurprisingly, nytpick.com has a snarky account of the ensuing fracas, but here's the digest: Nytpicker posts the message. LaForge calls the Twitter community's attention to a violation of (apparently unwritten) rules on posting direct messages. Nytpicker attacks LaForge some more. LaForge blocks—yes, blocks—nytpicker from his Twitter followers.
Blocking on Twitter has got to be a faux pas, in case any lazy Times writer is collecting them for a Styles piece. It's also about as ineffectual as adding an extra FBI warning to a pirated copy of Wolverine. Mr. or Mrs. Nytpicker can still read palafo's deathless tweets, provided he or she has access to Google. It does mean nytpick can't message palafo, but, c'mon, it's unlikely these two are going to start a private correspondence anytime soon.
1) The block indicates that the old media, even its bloggers, are antsy about entering into the kind of direct confrontation that keeps new media popular. If LaForge were Nick Denton, you could bet his response would not have been so passive-aggressive. It would also have gotten bigger play on RSS feeds. (One of Denton's blogs has taken LaForge to task for this kind of censoring pusillanimity.) If the Times wants to adapt and pick up impressions, it may have to get used to some good, new-fashioned food fights.
2) LaForge's instigating comment deserves serious consideration. The anonymity of someone like the nytpicker is at most a gray area in terms of cowardice. As he/she points out, a byline would imperil the very service of the site—you'd be reading the nytpicker through a lens of its pedigree and bias. Added to which it would probably compromise some of the big scoops the site occasionally gets. This sort of masked public ombudsman is certainly not one big media organs are used to. But maybe it's time to get used to them.
3) This is going to be a fun one to follow.