Mild-mannered Web designer by day, superblogger by night, Jason Kottke caused quite a stir in the blogosphere when he decided to turn pro a little more than a week ago. He quit his day job and asked his readers (25,000 daily by his estimates) to become "micropatrons" by contributing money to enable him to write, design and code kottke.org, his collection of links, insights, thoughts and observations. The site is not a one-subject blog, but rather a snapshot of the blogger's brain: he posts thoughtful curios on everything from design to social theory, from food and photography to funny stuff. Kottke himself inhabits that odd bit of Web real estate where he is a big-name blogger--his is one of the most-linked-to sites out there--but, let's face it, a no-name in the real world. Still in the echo-chambers of the blogosphere his decision to go full time set tongues wagging. What's he trying to prove? Kottke recently spoke with NEWSWEEK's Brian Braiker about why he went professional, his Web celebrity and taking heat for blogging about "Jeopardy." Excerpts:
NEWSWEEK: Would you say you're making a statement or a bet by deciding to blog full time?
Jason Kottke: It's part of it, but I don't think that's the main reason. The main reason is that I really enjoy doing the site over the years, and I was in a position to be able to make this move and to ask people for support and actually make a go of it. It just seemed like a good idea.
So a week or so in, does it still feel like it was a good idea?
I'm not doing too bad. The donations line is inching toward the comfort zone.
Are you taking the stance that you don't want to have ads on your site?
Not exactly. I could have put advertising on my site and probably made a fairly good living. My readers would really have had absolutely nothing to do with that decision at all. This way I am actually asking them if they think this site is worth supporting. I am involving them in the conversation about the worth of what I produce without introducing a third party. A lot of people don't like advertising, and I wouldn't want advertising to change what I write--you know, having to change a post because it offends an advertiser or writing posts in a certain way where it would make sure that certain Google ads appear on the page.
What was your take on the whole blogging-and-journalism debate toward the end of last year? Do you get the sense that the mainstream media has had a really hard time of getting what a blog is?
I haven't been paying a whole lot of attention to the last round. I've been doing this for almost seven years now, and the core of the blogosphere that I inhabit had the blogs-and-journalism conversation four years ago. So I've heard all of this before.
It doesn't seem like you see what you do as journalism. But at the same time it's also not not journalism.
I tend to think of lower-case-J journalism as someone who goes out in the world and goes on the Web to report what he or she sees. From that perspective, my site definitely fits in that category. Somewhere along the line journalism got institutionalized, and they put a capital letter in front of it. I think there's a feeling--and I'm not sure if this feeling is more from mainstream journalists or more from bloggers with a chip on their shoulder--that journalism is this institution that needs to be upheld or defended, and the bloggers think they're knocking down the gates.
Can you talk about blogging the details behind "Jeopardy" champion Ken Jennings's defeat before it actually aired?
I got an e-mail from someone with a two-minute audio clip of audio of him losing, four days before the show was supposed to air on TV. I posted that to my Web site along with a transcript. A couple days later I got an e-mail and phone calls from a lawyer from Sony who asked me to take the clip down and remove the transcript, which I did because I wasn't aware of my rights or what I could do and couldn't do. They sent me a cease and desist [order]; I ceased and desisted. They weren't happy with that and they continued to come after me. Eventually they went away, and I'm not really talking about it much more. I think they realized it created a stir, and it wasn't in their interest to keep poking the hornet's nest.
You're something of a Web celebrity, yet you're not famous. Is that a weird sensation?
Call it microcelebrity. I do get recognized when I'm out and about in New York, but it happens very infrequently. It's just not being like a movie star or a rock star. Maybe a book author would be a similar type of thing. I guess if I had Malcolm Gladwell's hair I might be recognized more often. For me it's an interesting way to explore fame because it's not crushing. It's occasional. You can dip in and out of it, but not when you want.
Someone called you the Matt Lauer of the blogosphere.
[Laughs.] I saw that. I haven't watched the "Today" show in a while, so I'm not sure what Matt's all about. It's been fun reading all this stuff online about this thing. Half the time you don't know if someone's complimenting you or if it's a backhanded compliment or if they're slamming you. I'm not sure how to take being called Matt Lauer.
The ladies love him.
[Laughs.] I'll take it then.