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Oh hey it’s two weeks ago again! Apparently we’re not done talking about Matt Smith’s article about Kink.com. Yes, that! We didn’t bring it up this time; he did, in a new article.

Or wait. “Article”? Or maybe “post” would be the right word. We like to think we know a thing or two about blogging (short for “web logging”), and there’s a familiar bloggy whiff to Matt’s writing. Don’t you think? Yeah, yeah, it’s hard to tell. It can be hard to geolocate in the neutral zone between JOURNALISM and BLOGGING, unless you’re Edward R. Murrow or Choire Sicha. We ourselves often experience the existential crisis: “I got a quote from a government official, so I’m a reporter! But I’m also not getting paid, so hmm.” That’s why we tend to throw little cues into our writing like sarcasm and the word “fuck” — signals to reassure the reader that we are blog. And more importantly, to reassure ourselves.

But! Let’s get back to the asses and boobs and damp provocateurs. (By which we mean the stock and trade of Kink.com, not the employees of SF Weekly.) They’re sexy! And also kind of hilarious! This is how they describe one of their electrocution-themed product lines: “This site is shocking, literally. Our girls are put to the test when they are bound, gagged, and shocked over and over. It’s all in good fun of course!” Hee.

Come on! That’s funny! Even Kink.com put a little pun in the description. Who wouldn’t want to make a joke about “Wired Pussy”? Funny sex is FUNNY. Even the Appeal’s own Violet Blue recently referred to boytaurs as “the brainwash you never needed,” which is probably a bit more flippant than how its enthusiasts would phrase it.

Why, in order to resist joking about BDSM, you’d have to be some kind of dispassionate, impartial observer, committed to observation, fact-gathering, and reportage. Of course, this occupation would require an unrelenting self-control, the ability to mediate the breadth of one’s experience with unbiased communication, and the confidence to permit readers the freedom to draw appropriate conclusions rather than having conclusions pre-drawn for them.

It would also require a flippy notepad, a flashbulb, and a fedora with the word “PRESS” in the brim.

It’s hard to be dispassionate, especially about tee-hee sex. If you’re really a good observer of anything, you’ll have opinions about it. And it can be dissatisfying for a reporter to aspirate his own feelings from his writing. In so doing, he runs the risk that some readers may not be capable of following him to the direction in which he’s turned his facts to point. What if Matt Smith had simply quoted, as we did, from Kink.com’s site? Some people might not agree, “ah, yes, torture porn,” but might instead think, “what a neat sexy game.”

But we’ve found that it is ultimately more rewarding, even when merely blogging, to put readers on a path to a destination without telling them exactly how they’re going to get there.

For example, when we wrote about a BATSHIT CRAZY man who claimed to be building a rocketship in collaboration with Tippi Hedren, we didn’t call him crazy. We simply quoted his rantings: “What if a flock of birds attack me — how would I feel? How would I feel?” Most of our readers were able to read between our lines.

And when we reviewed a film about people who role-play as ponies — sometimes sexually, sometimes just for lulz — we struggled to permit readers to draw their own conclusions. Ultimately, we had to capture what what was universal and human about the pony-players: everyone has idiosyncrasies, and aren’t these people lucky to have found a way to fulfill theirs? …Without losing sight of the fact that they are “grown men and women running around and playing pretend like a bunch of weirdos.”

So, now we’re going to editorialize about Matt Smith, which we can do because even though we own a trench coat we are not actually a reporter right at this minute. Is what he did wrong? Yes!

Or, wait, actually it’s more nuanced than that. He did something that we wouldn’t have done: hung out in the cloudiest part of the JOURNALIST-OR-BLOGGER neutral zone. He’s in print, so he’s a journalist. He was sarcastic, so he’s a blogger. He quoted sources, so he’s a journalist. Some of his sources were not fully credible, so he’s a blogger. He irritated government officials, so he’s … human.

Ah, and that’s really the problem here, isn’t it? Humans. Even when the bounds of journalism were at their tightest, reporters fucked up now and then. And now here we are in the middle of a tumult, with William Randolph Hearst’s Examiner and Chronicle nearly done digging their own colossal graves. Who knows what the rules are these days, and more importantly how we’ll get paid for following them? Nobody. And the only way we’re going to figure it out is by trying shit out, doing things differently, stomping on the stage floor to see where it breaks.

Matt’s articles are rule-breakers. And if you measure the worthiness of an experiment by the volume of data produced, they’ve been wildly successful.

Thanks for reading, everyone. And keep it up with the feedback.

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  • Greg Dewar

    It really is funny to see how “print” journalist, and VVM in particular via Matt Smith, really freak out whenever anyone dares offer a differing opinion on what they’re doing. I mean, shit, apparently we in San Francisco are not capable of listening to multiple nuanced points of view and omg! how dare anyone suggest that they’re not supreme beings!

    I’d expect this kind of nonsense from the Chronicle, or the Guardian, but I always thought the VVM folks were a bit more cynical and would just wave off any critiques or dissenting thoughts with an “aw fuck ’em” wave and move on. How times have changed.

    I mean, heck, I get crap all the time for my li’l old blog, I even got hate mail from an anonymous sender I traced back to city hall…and yet I didn’t go crazy and write 1000000 blog posts about it..

  • Chris Lowrance

    So Matt’s a rule-breaker. That’s all fine and good, except:

    1. There really isn’t a gray area between “journalism” and “blogging.” You’re either writing an objective article wherein you interview all pertinent sources and do your research (and guess what? You can still be funny and sarcastic while doing it; alts do it all the time), or you’re just trying to make people believe what you believe. Two different things, serving two different purposes, and any good publication makes the difference very clear. Say, by calling the second one “opinion,” and I mean before publication, instead of after the fact when your reporter’s been called out as failing to interview or quote any of the women he’s writing about.

    2. Matt also managed to completely misidentify and misquote a writer in his second column, or article or defensive rant or whatever it was. Screencap’s here. Funny rule to break, right there.

    Unlike others, I don’t really blame him for costing Kink.com grant money. He could just as easily have written something legit and caused the same result – that’s the fault of backwards politicians.

    But I do blame him for writing a poorly-reported feature with an obvious agenda, masquerading it as a news piece, and then retreating under the shield of “opinion! blogs! new media!” when he was called on it. And I blame SFW for publishing it all, and essentially paying him to make them look bad. It makes me wish the AAN had an equivalent of the Razzies.

    I like to break rules, but I also don’t drive my car 120 in a 35 zone. I agree that it’s time to break some rules if journalism is going to survive. But we need to think about what we want journalism to look like after it has survived, and realize which rules were written for a reason.

  • Christine Borden

    But the real question still remains: are we human, or are we dancer?

  • generic

    Rhythm is a dancer.