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A Blogger's Farewell

One of Washington's most indispensable bloggers is returning (mostly) to the world of print. As of today, Marc Ambinder is giving up his regular blog at the Atlantic in order to join the staff of National Journal. It's not as big a move as it might sound: The two publications have the same owner and operate together; you'll still be able to navigate to Marc's work through the Atlantic site. But, as Marc focuses primarily on print journalism, we'll be seeing both less and more of his work--less, because he will write fewer things, and more, because what he does write will be longer and more in-depth.  

Marc was among the first traditional reporters to give up print altogether for publication online. (In fact, he may have been the first.) Now that he's going back to the world of print, he's written a typically smart essay about his ambivalences and the future of journalism:

Really good print journalism is ego-free. By that I do not mean that the writer has no skin in the game, or that the writer lacks a perspective, or even that the writer does not write from a perspective. What I mean is that the writer is able to let the story and the reporting process, to the highest possible extent, unfold without a reporter's insecurities or parochial concerns intervening. Blogging is an ego-intensive process. Even in straight news stories, the format always requires you to put yourself into narrative. You are expected to not only have a point a view and reveal it, but be confident that it is the correct point of view. There is nothing wrong with this. As much as a writer can fabricate a detachment, or a "view from nowhere," as Jay Rosen has put it, the writer can also also fabricate a view from somewhere. You can't really be a reporter without it. I don't care whether people know how I feel about particular political issues; it's no secret where I stand on gay marriage, or on the science of climate change, and I wouldn't have it any other way. What I hope I will find refreshing about the change of formats is that I will no longer be compelled to turn every piece of prose into a personal, conclusive argument, to try and fit it into a coherent framework that belongs to a web-based personality called "Marc Ambinder" that people read because it's "Marc Ambinder," rather than because it's good or interesting.
I would like nothing better than to spend a month at National Journal without a single byline. That will not happen, of course, but the more I spend contributing reporting to stories written by others, the less I spend think about how to distinguish myself (versus my reporting) from the rest of the pack, the better. A byline of course conveys authority and print journalists (and print journalists who write for the web and don't blog) have voices and identities. But they are not primarily known for their identities. They are primarily known for their work. And it's not work that flows predictability down one side of the mountain. It is a type of work that justifies itself because it tells you, the audience, something you did not know about something that is important.
I loved the freedom to write about whatever I wished, but I missed the discipline of learning to write about what needed to be written. I loved the light editorial touch of blogging , but I missed the heavy hand of an editor who tells you when something sucks and tells you to go back and rewrite it. I have gotten much more guidance in the past year from Bob Cohn and J.J. Gould, and, of course, my magazine articles are subjected to rigorous editing. James Bennet probably trusted my own instincts more than he should have early on, and I am forever grateful that he did. But now I'll have someone telling me on a daily basis what I'm doing right, and what I am doing wrong. This will be a wonderful opportunity for me to grow as a writer and a reporter.