People keep asking: What is Sucka Free City? This, to me, is a dumb question. It's like asking what your infant kid's going to be when he grows up — too early to say. I would prefer, for now, to tell you what Sucka Free City is not: Sucka Free City is not an “in-paper blog.”
On March 18 The San Francisco Chronicle debuted its latest contribution to the modern mediascape: the in-paper blog. The contents of this item described a music festival in Austin, and I will ignore them (which requires a certain amount of restraint, what with said festival being more than 20 years old and thus hardly necessitating the kind of “looky what we have here” slant the Chron gave it). What we will not ignore is the Chronicle's aforementioned branding of said contents.
To state the obvious: The term is an oxymoron. An in-paper blog is more commonly recognized as an article, and indeed there was nothing at all different from the item in question that distinguished it from the texts that have appeared in papers around the globe for centuries, save the Chron's insistence that it was different: not an article, but an in-paper blog. This coinage is yet another sad spasm by Old Media in response to the imminent threat of New. Not to get all Wired on you, but we are indeed heading toward a day when newspapers as we've come to understand them will be no more, having been replaced by handheld devices and other technologies that will deliver information quicker and better. This usurpation is already underway, and promises to be both sad and funny, as evidenced by a quick examination of the Chron's romance with the blog. To wit:
The Chronicle first acknowledges the blog on Monday, June 19, 2000, in a story that appears on the first page of the business section. Referring to a group of links on a Web site, the author notes the inclusion of “individual 'blogs' — a new Net contraction for personal e-zines, or 'Web logs,' that offer comment on everything from TV shows to cars to love.” With that sentence the term enters the paper's lexicon, only to walk straight out the back door.
Eight months later it resurfaces, this time earning a nice 1,200 word explication, which begins “When Hans Friedrich gets up in the morning, he does what lots of folks do: He grabs a cup of coffee and reads the news. But Friedrich isn't at the breakfast table. He's sitting at his computer reading other people's blogs.” (Reading this passage years later, one feels a kind of tense glee akin to watching a horror movie wherein the cheerleader unwittingly opens the wrong door.)
Having acknowledged blogs' existence, the paper nevertheless remains coy toward them. The headline of a May 2001 Jon Carroll column reads “Pseudo-blog drifting, but, like, focused,” although the accompanying story is such a confusing experiment that it's possible that Carroll isn't talking about blogs at all; could be his cat. More than a year later, a columnist reintroduces the blog to tell us she's starting one. Then the word disappears again until 2004, which is apparently a kind of Tipping Point because after that its appearances grow exponentially. “Blogs Alter Political Landscape,” proclaims a prescient November 2004 headline.
Today, with the assortment of blogs that litter www.sfgate.com, the Chron and the blog are joined in holy matrimony. As for the in-paper blog, well, it's the kind of deformed Halfling you'd expect from a marriage of cousins.
To address the elephant in the room, finally: Yes, I realize that Sucka Free City is part of Old Media. But this, I would argue, is what will make it cool. Because those of us here at SFC are not planning on adopting an If-You-Can't-Beat-'Em-Join-'Em attitude. No sir. We're the string quartet on the Titanic, performing the collected works of Iron Maiden.