dec 21

Blogs of the Year

Before anyone tries to talk you into uttering senseless historical inanities, let's just clear this up: 2004 was not "The Year of the Blog." This was not the year of Howard Dean's bold online campaign, nor was it the year of dismantling Trent Lott. It wasn't even the year of the Paris Hilton tape. That was all last year, and while we have plenty to celebrate about '04, it's best to approach the past 365 days wearing a new look: maturity. In other words, this was the year blogs grew up.

Don't mistake that assessment as a suggestion that blogs are slipping into a rheumatic slumber. To be sure, it was a good year, one in which we (may I use the royal first person?) booted a tiresome TV anchor, sparred with the FCC, pre-reported Ken Jennings' demise, and discovered an entire radical music movement. Excellent work, and that's not even counting the intrepid analysis of Tara Reid's nipple.

But this was a landmark year for independent publishers not so much because of Lewinsky-size scoops, but because the internet came into its own as a medium for experiencing news events. Think about it -- look how many events didn't necessarily happen first online, but seemed to exist because of the blogosphere. The moments that best defined culture in '04 -- the best political debate (Jon Stewart pouncing on Crossfire), the best sex media scandal (Bill O'Reilly raping a falafel), the best TV moment (Janet exposing a Super Bowl nipple), and the best music video (Ashlee Simpson lip synching on SNL) -- were all probably delivered to you via blogger keystrokes. These media events all somehow felt, if you will, "internety" -- somewhat like how Jon Stewart's Daily Show has that intangible quality that makes it feel like television's version of a blog.

In other words, 2004 was the year we became the medium that mattered.

Last year, while giving the numero uno slot to Howard Dean's Blog For America, I wrote a now-embarrassing blurb which said, "When Dean wins in November, Joe Trippi will take a post in the administration that completely alters the way communities and governments function." Mm-hm. In an attempt to correct that gaffe and atone for the mistakes of the past year (and to prove that blogs are more than a collection of celeb up-skirt shots), here are the Best Blogs of 2004:

1) Buzz Machine. It's almost a shame that Jeff Jarvis' blog had to become the most important read of the year. After Janet's nipple kicked off the revised culture wars in January, the tension seemed to build all year, right up to a foreboding red-blue November. All along the way, Jarvis was there warning us of what was coming. When the FCC started tossing around fines faster than Howard Stern's tongue can move, Jarvis (who was the creator of Entertainment Weekly and now heads Condé Nast's internet strategy) became suspicious of some claims and filed a Freedom of Information Act request (actual reporting! bloggers beware!), which revealed the number of complaints had been greatly exaggerated. One show (FOX's Married by America) turned out to have received considerably less than the 159 complaints that the FCC reported. "Considerably less," as in three. An indefatigable Jarvis went on to critique other FCC mistakes, all of which seemed like a prescient glimpse into the news that Howard Stern would move to Sirius radio. Deriding Michael Powell as the "National Nanny," Jarvis slipped onto the talk show circuit, regularly appearing on the cable news networks to denounce the direction American media control was headed. For being a spokesman against cultural censorship (and for helping spread the word into Iran and Iraq), Buzz Machine is my blog of the year.

2) Wonkette. Dear Wonkette, I am responding to your personal on Craigslist seeking a "submissive Jim McGreevey swallower willing to do an 'Anderson Cooper 360' on my puckered red-state ass." It took forever to write that faux-sentence, and it's not even funny. Wonkette could have spit out a better one faster than you can say "Joe Lockhart is drunk again." By the end of the year, our little foul-mouthed Dorothy-Parker-resurrect was appearing on Tina Brown's show, being invited to online news conventions, and getting handed a quarter-mill book advance -- yet Ana Marie Cox never shied from her role as Media Deprofessionalizer in Chief. For frisking the DC wonks, Wonkette is the #2 blog of the year.

3) DailyKos. Whereas Wonkette is one person's personality spread like mayo over the entire political scene, DailyKos is more like the perfect sandwich -- a whole community that is greater than the sum of its parts. Markos Moulitsas Zúniga didn't actually uncover too many political stories this year -- but he created a community that did. Just some of the little political stories created by DailyKos readers: 1) A famous Bush print ad containing additional military personnel Photoshopped into the background was discovered by DailyKos users, which led to a Bush administration apology. 2) During the vice-presidential debate, Dick Cheney claimed that he had never met his rival, John Edwards, but a DailyKos participant found TV footage to the contrary, which was eventually aired on cable news networks to much embarrassment to Cheney. 3) A boycott of Sinclair advertisers to protest the airing of an anti-Kerry documentary caused the broadcasting group's stock to tank, and forced the company to adjust the broadcast. Along the way, DailyKos also raised a half-million dollars for Democratic political candidates. For foreseeing how political campaigns will be run in the future, DailyKos is the #3 blog of the year.

4) Waxy proves that in the blogosphere, discovery trumps invention any day. Way back in February, Andy Baio posted the first links to DJ/Producer Danger Mouse's notorious Gray Album, which consisted completely of music sampled from Jay-Z's Black Album and the Beatles' White Album. Of course the cease-and-desist letters showed up immediately, but it was too late -- mirror sites popped up everywhere, Gray Tuesday was launched, and the word "mash-up" suddenly entered the lexicon of the Newsweek-reading crowd. Last year, discovered the Star Wars kid; this year his link to triggered a debate about the relationship of celebrity and blogging. Waxy for President! For forcing the nation to confront its archaic copyright laws, is the #4 blog of the year.

5) Power Line. Who the hell saw this one coming? Who could have predicted that a cadre of right-wing bloggers out in Apple Valley, MN, would drastically change the course of media history? It was so simple: download and analyze the documents that posted to support the 60 Minutes piece on George Bush's military record. That little act (along with some assistance from other blogger sleuths such as LGF) changed Dan Rather's life forever, and landed Power Line Time's first Blog of the Year award. For showing that truth in reporting matters more than any political ethos, Power Line is the #5 blog of the year.

6) BoingBoing. The subtitle, "A Directory of Wonderful Things," pretty much sums up BoingBoing's run of hits in '04. From Jack Chick tracts to rogue taxidermists, Japanese fetish objects to "I fucked Alec Baldwin in the ass" stickers, Asimov to Zelda -- BoingBoing collected every piece of esoterica you missed. Cory Doctorow, who toils by day as a Creative Commons activist and science fiction author, also somehow got invited to Microsoft HQ to talk about Digital Rights Management -- perhaps the best (and, given the audience, most difficult to imagine) speech of the year. For reminding us the best parts of the internet are still uncommercial weird shit, BoingBoing is the #6 blog of the year.

7) Plain Layne. C'mon, admit it, you like being fooled. For three years, Plain Layne was the online girl you wanted to know. Sexy, smart, irreverent, and willing to talk about expensive dildos and cheap wine, Layne Johnson told you all the naughty details -- in e-mail, on AIM, or on her website. When she turned out to be the fictional work of Odin Soli, a thirty-something dot-commer with a penis, the investigative effort (chronicled here) became the real story. In hindsight, the salacious details should probably have tipped off more people, but, as everything from The Passion of Christ to the Red Sox showed in 2004, people really want to believe in myths. Plain Layne pre-dated a number of conspicuous fake celeb blogs in 2004, a trend which included Quentin Tarantino, Nick Nolte, Bill Clinton, Julian Casablancas, and Adam Nagourney. For two reasons -- forcing us to think again about online identity and accidentally personifying the investigative power of digital communities -- the defunct Plain Layne is the #7 blog of the year.

8) Metafilter. Grandpa Metafilter, you know I would never let you fall out of the Top 10. I wish your participants had done some of the same unique investigative work we found on places like DailyKos and Power Line this year (your community is certainly smarter than theirs), but you were always there with the context that made the story resonate. For staying above the fray, Metafilter is the #8 blog of the year.

9) Gawker. Frankly, I think Gawker Stalker is dull. I don't really care that you saw James Lipton at a train stop. But I do care about that Condé Nast cafeteria! If blogs could have clipped teaser critic quotes like movies, I'd give Jessica Coen this one: "Best media snark this side of Vincent Gallo's cock! Two thumbs up [the Olsen Twins]!!" For redefining NSFW in 2004, Gawker is the #9 blog of the year.

10) I Want Media and Romenesko. Sure, it's cheap to give them a tie, but they're inextricably linked. For finding the needles in that big fat media haystack, I Want Media and Romenesko are the #10 blogs of the year.

11) Lucid, informed, reasoned, simple but never simplistic -- these are the qualities that make a good blogger, and Jason Kottke personifies all of them. Kottke's big scoop this year was reporting Ken Jennings' Jeopardy loss before anyone else, and he managed to do it in a completely internet-centric way (you had to highlight the text in your browser to see the spoiler). For keeping the bar high, is the #11 blog of the year.

12) Lost Remote. When Lost Remote held a tagline contest a couple months ago, one of the winners was "The future of media is stuck between the cushions of your couch." For chronicling in real time the shift of power to the user, Lost Remote is the #12 blogger of the year.

13) Whatevs. Uncle Grambo used to speak his own language, but now everyone else speaks it. The blogosphere is littered with good pop culture sites (Amy's Robot, Golden Fiddle, Lindsayism, Stereogum, Zulkey, Information Leafblower,, Defamer and The Superficial -- to name just a few), but Whatevs won the most snark hearts by talking in some sort of futuristic jive-speak, inventing names for celebs like Brit Brit and The Thighmaster and Gawky Bird and M. Daytime Shamalamadingdong. This dude from Detroit probably doesn't even know that half the NYC mag publishing world is combing his site for lingo to steal. Whatevs. For grokking the epithet, Whatevs is the #13 blog of the year.

14) Engadget. In the mock-battle between Calacanis and Denton, I'm cheering for the guy who thinks less is more. But Peter Rojas at Engadget out-scooped his former digs, Gizmodo, on nearly every gadgety moment this year. For making us want more, Engadget is the #14 blog of the year.

15) PaidContent. Every morning, after the inbox got its cleansing and the Cocoa Puffs were finished, was the first site that I visited. A bit of a misnomer, PaidContent actually covers everything you might call "digital media." For scouring a wide range of topics between business and technology, PaidContent is the #15 blog of the year.

16) Drudge Report. What did Drudge do this year? The only thing I really remember was hitting refresh constantly on election night (damn those exit polls!). For just being Drudge, Drudge Report is the #16 blog of the year.

17) Low Culture. As far as dichotomies go, "grave" and "shallow" pretty much cover all the ground. For eschewing the happy medium, Low Culture is the #17 blog of the year.

18) Largehearted Boy. I hear this MP3 Blog thing is quite the fad! A lot of press went to Fluxblog this year, but Largehearted Boy was the most comprehensive independent music blogger out there. For pre-dating podcasting, Largehearted Boy is the #18 blog of the year.

19) Bookslut. Choosing a favorite book blog is hard work (GalleyCat is the most recent addition to biblio blogs), but Bookslut seemed the most rapaciously slutty of them all. For reminding me to read more, Bookslut is the #19 blog of the year.

20) The Smoking Gun and Pitchfork. For defying the category blog, The Smoking Gun and Pitchfork are the #20 blogs of the year.

21) Blogumentary. For creating the first great celluloid (well, digi video) document of the blogosphere, Blogumentary is the #22 blog of the year.

22) I Love Music. For being the largest collection of music nerds ever assembled, ILM is the #22 blog of the year.

23) Best Week Ever. For finally doing a tv-blog combo, Best Week Ever is the #23 blog of the year.

24) Green Cine. For obsessing about every possible film-related link on the internet, Green Cine is the #24 blog of the year.

25) Dan Gillmor's eJournal. For publishing the book that defined citizen journalism in 2004, Dan Gillmor's eJournal is the #25 blog of the year.

26) Slashdot. Do I gotta? The discussions on Slashdot are as bulimic as an Olsen Twin -- lots to intake, lots of purging, a gross and skinny final product. You probably had a better chance getting juicy tech commentary on places like SearchEngineWatch and Many-To-Many and John Battelle. Nonetheless, the hatahs at Slashdot also seemed to reliably provide context to tech news events. For making you wish you could run more of your life from a command prompt, Slashdot is the #26 blog of the year.

See also:

A Small Selection of Blogs that I Read.

30 Best Blogs of 2003

23 Best Blogs of 2002

2004 Lists

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