Write Like The New Yorker’s Rick Hertzberg
Hertzberg wrote one of the simplest, and most elegant, blog posts (this form truly needs a new descriptive terminology) in response to President Obama’s speech on Libya. It was concise. It was humble. It was careful not to say too many things and so left readers remembering one thing clearly: that whatever the merits of the President’s current policy choices, we respect the tone he has taken in talking to us, Americans, in attempting to parse the issues. Words matter, but tone matters, too. Hertzberg knows this. He doesn’t pander to the blogosphere’s thirst for tacky drama.
“I confess I simply don’t know if Obama has forged the “right” policy—i.e., the policy that will yield the desired results, which include the end of the Qaddafi regime (without a long and bloody stalemate) and the further encouragement of constitutional democratic change throughout the region. I don’t know if there even is a “right” policy, in the sense of achieving everything one would wish to achieve. And no matter what we do or refrain from doing, there is certainly no course of action or inaction that will leave us with perfectly clean hands.”
“I confess I simply don’t know” is not a phrase you see a lot online; it is certainly not one popular in the, as the New Yorker might put it, Annals of Opinion. As with other things they have done in moving content online, the magazine has kept their blogs true to what has always been the central tenet of their editorial religion: intellect. Hertzberg exemplifies this. Whether or not you agree with his politics, he often has the most provocative analysis of what has just happened. His is a blog worth following because it sets the bar high. He also helps turn readers onto cool things we might not otherwise know about, like Professor Juan Cole’s Informed Comment.
Political activism may get people invested in politics, and affect urgently needed change, but it comes at the expense of tolerance and healthy democratic norms.