Writing a blog is a very different form of journalism than writing a newspaper column. Paul Krugman does both. In Sunday’s Times, the Nobel Prize–winning economist published a column on the existential threat facing the euro. It was persuasively argued, tightly edited, and about as provocative as an essay on global monetary policy can be. Yet the column received but a sliver of attention when compared to a 181-word post he published that morning on his blog. Krugman wrote that, thanks to the actions of George W. Bush and Co. following 9/11, the memory has “been irrevocably poisoned; it has become an occasion for shame. And in its heart, the nation knows it.” He closed comments on the blog “for obvious reasons,” but that didn’t stop angry responses on both the left and the right, including Donald Rumsfeld’s Twitter announcement that the “piece” was the last straw for his Times subscription.
There is no doubt that Krugman’s post (at least those key couple lines) was ill-considered. Yet it was also just the latest example of Krugman’s knack for webbiness: After all, what’s more native to blogging, especially of the partisan sort, than ginning up a controversy? Consider, too, the form of the post. It’s short and conversational — Krugman opens with, “Is it just me, or are the 9/11 commemorations oddly subdued? Actually, I don’t think it’s me, and it’s not really that odd.” The efficient bombast of the statement that follows is also characteristic of a certain kind of blogging; Krugman assumes that his readers are nodding along, not demanding a careful example-by-example defense of the statement that not just Bush but “[a] lot of other people behaved badly.” Of course, Krugman is also keen on wonky, detailed, economic-policy posts, but it’s clear that he’s perfectly comfortable inciting a flame war or two with a quick gut reaction when he feels so moved.
The Conscience of a Liberal is, by at least one recent measure, the most popular single-author blog on the Internet. Part of that is because Krugman is a big name — but so is, say, David Brooks, whose blog is somehow far more ponderous than his print column.
Krugman, meanwhile, has embraced the form: He loves using graphics. He tends to write short. He loves lists. He’s been known to post pictures of his cats. He takes personal offense when people make fun of him on the Internet, and has no qualms writing about it. He’s tried to get a blog-to-TV deal. Sometimes he expresses his thoughts about a piece of legislation by linking to a music video. (The New Pornographers appear to be on heavy rotation of late.) He writes jokey headlines. He doesn’t appear to waste much time trying to craft beautiful, writerly sentences. He uses “kind of” far more than we expect from people who have won Nobel Prizes for their facility with numbers might. Also, he starts sentences with things like “Also, …” — that most classic blog style.
In short, he adds more than a bit of insight to the public discourse in an easily digestible and occasionally entertaining way. As anyone who’s tried to do so can tell you, this is not as easy as some people make it look. Show me a blogger who hasn’t written something he regrets or might re-phrase with the luxury of more time, and I will congratulate him on his brand new job. Krugman hasn’t said he regrets the 9/11 post — quite the opposite, in fact — but perhaps that’s still more proof of his bloggy DNA: Public apologies don’t get you as many page views as controversy, after all.