Blogger Controversy in Memphis Reverberates Across the State


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Tuesday was a strange day in the Tennessee blogosphere. In the morning came this tweet 
announcing that Vibinc blogger Steve Ross had been nominated to the Memphis Charter Committee. But by evening, Memphis Council members seemed poised to come to fisticuffs over Ross, and his nomination was withdrawn. By Wednesday, the blogosphere was atwitter (get it?) with outrage.

Bloggers had two bones of contention. First was the colorful inappropriateness of council member Joe Brown's opposition to Steve Ross's nomination. While addressing council member Shea Flinn (who nominated Ross), Brown said, "I'm a real man. I'm a real black man. I hope you are a real white man." The racial and gender aspects of the comment weren't lost on Mike Byrd and Christian Grantham, who both wondered what Brown was getting at.

But most people focused on how Brown seemed convinced that Ross's being a blogger somehow meant he wasn't fit to serve on the committee.

"This is about what Steve Ross brought to the table for all of us," wrote Memphis blogger Steve Steffens, "Now, he won't have a chance to help shape what this community will be in the future, and it's a damn shame."

Trace Sharp was just as angry.

His nomination to the Charter Commission in Memphis was a great thing. A progressive blogger who doesn't go after people with pitchforks, who backs up his arguments with hard stats that he is diligent to make sure are accurate. And he can remember everything politically after many of us have gone on to something else. This is not a defeat, quite frankly, because someone with sense is going to see his value and he's going to get a bigger and better gig in the future.

What completely infuriates me is that Joe Brown, and others, just don't get that Steve Ross is not just a "blogger." He's a businessman who is participating in the state of his city. His traffic, according to him, is basically comprised a great deal of community leaders reading his research (stuff they could have done themselves quite frankly).

So when Brown decides to say the word blogger as a slur, it pisses me off.

Steve Ross, of course, also had his say on his blog. He expressed disappointment in not getting the position, but not shock. "On a certain level, I'm not really that surprised by the result," he wrote. "I'm not particularly politically connected, and I don't have a great resume. I'm a guy that works a 'blue collar' job for a living that just happens to be really interested in politics."

Why did this resonate so much with bloggers across the state? Sure, it's in part because Ross is a great guy who knows his stuff and who is widely respected. And yes, in part, it's because whenever anyone throws a bizarre fit of pique like Brown's, people are going to take sides over it.

But it's also because what happened to Ross is not unique for bloggers. It may have played out in a more spectacular fashion for him, but it plays out for us all--being told over and over in many different ways that we are unwelcome interlopers. We don't do things how they're "supposed" to be done, so it seems people in power would rather we not do it at all.

I asked Ross what he thinks the deal with politicians and bloggers is. 

Ross says:

First, I don't think ALL politicians have a problem with bloggers.  The ones that do, seem to be from a school of thought that ALL MEDIA is bad, unless it meets some purpose that suits them politically.  When you throw the wild and woolly "blogosphere" into the mix, all of the sudden they don't have an editor that they can call and complain to.  They don't have a corporation that they can rail against, it's you vs. them, and while it may be convenient to do so, many are reluctant to point out any one blogger individually for fear of giving them MORE CREDIBILITY, so most of the time they just complain about "the blogs."

Ultimately, to my way of thinking, "the blogs" are another check on the power of politicians, the way newspapers once were before local coverage began a serious decline back in the days of the newspaper wars of the 80's.  As more people engage in this new media, either by reading, or joining the fray, I think we'll see more attacks like this, until politicians learn to operate in a more open and communicative fashion.

This is the new normal.

To me, it seems like just when you're at a point where you kind of believe your enthusiasm and passion are not going to be held against you, some politician uses the fact that your friend is a blogger against him in order to deny him a chance to serve his community.

And even if it happened this time in Memphis, that hits close to home.


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