February 2, 2006

Closing in on Klosterman

Gelf gets Meta-Journalistic with's newest blogger.

David Downs

The nut graph—the concise who, what, when, where, and why of a story—can be a combat zone. Newsworthy people go up against the forces of calamity and good fortune. Anything can happen.

News gatherers themselves live and die by their nut graphs, and a measure of their fame or infamy is the number of nuts that end up getting devoted to them.

Some famous reporters-turned-journalistic fodder:

George Orwell
Earnest Hemingway
Mark Twain
Tom Wolfe
Hunter Thompson
Bob Woodward

And lately: Stephen Glass, Jayson Blair, Judith Miller, Bob Woodward again, and Bob Woodruff, that ABC dude who just took an IED to the head outside of Baghdad; the latest in a long line of journalists to die or get maimed with more notoriety than the troops they cover.

It sort of makes sense. We knew that guy more than some faceless private, so he gets more ink. Imagine if Tucker Carlson got ripped in half by a tow truck, or if Anderson Cooper got instant flesh-eating disease of the face. It's news.

The phenomenon of newsworthy newsmen, and the fame that follows them, is sort of psyching me out tonight while I talk on the phone with Chuck Klosterman, writer for Spin and Esquire and author of, most recently, the very funny Killing Yourself to Live. Klosterman's a heavy hitter with serious readership, so when he joined the misanthrope-ridden blogosphere Monday morning on for the first time, it became news of the media criticism variety. Here's this good writer—funny, disingenuous, and fair—a member of the media elite, letting it all hang out online. (Klosterman has previously written a few columns for

The headline: Postmodern Lester Bangs Gets Jumped into Blogging at Super Bowl XL.

What will he do?

Now only three days into it, Chuck has a reporter from an online publication he's never heard of on the phone late at night, asking if he understands his ESPN audience. Does he know how many people are reading his posts?

"I have absolutely no idea."

"Ten thousand unique visitors? Fifty thousand?" I say on the phone.

"I don't know."

"Well, what has the reaction been?"

"I don't know. I guess, I've been getting a lot of emails, but I'm not sure if 14 emails equals 14 emails or if it's representative of hundred readers, or what. Who are you with again?"

"I'm with Gelf Magazine in San Francisco. Now, what type of editorial control are you under?"


Poor guy. He sounds a little put off. I feel like some incestuous paparazzo—taking quotes from a senior member of my own family. But, hey, it's news.

In addition to a plane ticket, a rental car with GPS, room and board at a shite hotel, and press passes to the game—Chuck has a fat pipe into thousands of readers who get back to him with questions and encouragement. "It's just so accelerated. I can see why people do this," he says.

Klosterman said his normal news cycle has been condensed from weeks to minutes, posting three 750-word pieces every day, instead of a thousand-word piece for Esquire once a month.

"When you sit down to hit the keys, are you more, or less, nervous without that safety net of extra time to revise?" I ask.

"Well, it's a different pace. With magazine writing, if it sucks, it's out there for a month. I used to work at newspapers, and if it sucked it was out there for only a day. Now I feel like the pressure's off. If one post isn't that good, it's not that big a deal.

Chuck Klosterman
"But I am trying to take a different approach with my posts than most bloggers. With blogs, the attraction is they're like soap operas—people come to watch because it's predicated on the idea that there was an episode before it and after it, and it's going to go on. I wanted my posts to sort of stand on their own, so someone who never read the one before or after could still enjoy one."

(As Deadspin points out, Klosterman also skimps on links.)

Loose editorial guidelines at limit only two things:

1) Profanity: "I have an editor out there and there have been a couple things we can't publish. At one point I linked to a blog called I Hate Horses about a guy who really fucking hates horses. But the language, I guess, was the one thing ... I mean, a kid could see it ..."

And 2) Meta-Journalism, which is at the heart of his best posts to date, and at the heart of my current telephone call. Here's how he blogged around it on Wednesday:

ESPN sort of has a policy about reporters reporting on other reporters (their policy being, "Don't do it," which strikes me as wholly reasonable). But I will say this: I have been shocked by how many of these guys appear to act exactly the same way as they do on television. It's semi-spooky: Many of them speak with the exact same cadence and syntax. They make the same kind of obvious jokes, and they deliver the same type of clichés ... And I suppose this is a positive thing, because it proves that those particular individuals are authentic. But it still strikes me as alien; it would be no different than if I spoke in precisely the same manner that I write.
Klosterman doesn't. His speaking voice is slightly different—less polished, more nasal. My conversation with him ends as abruptly as it starts, partly because the self reflexivity of what's going on is hurting my head. There's a reporter (me) reporting on a reporter (Chuck) reporting on reporters (TV news) reporting on the Super Bowl.

"What can people look forward for the rest of the week? Do you have any plan of attack for reportage?"

"I have no absolutely no idea what I'm going to do."

"Can fans expect more blogging endeavors in the future?"

"No. Probably not. I guess not, unless they pay well."

"Does ESPN pay well?"



We hang up and probably both go back to writing. It's a strange moment. Newsmen have always run the risk of becoming the news. But with blogs and the echo chamber of online journalism—the whole thing has been ratcheted up to new levels.

The nut graph is a battlefield, and it's getting harder and harder to stay above the fray.

David Downs is a full time freelancer with Wired magazine and the East Bay Express. He's based in San Francisco and can be reached at

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