Scholars & Rogues marks its 10th anniversary

A brief history of S&R: It’s been a great decade. We hope you’ll stick around for another 10 years.

On April 16, 2007, a few of us (mostly immigrants from The 5th Estate on LiveJournal) opened shop at I suppose we hoped for a doorbusting response, as hordes of people, starving for our unique brand of irreverent wisdom, metaphorically trampled us with pageviews.

That initial team included myself, co-founder Mike Sheehan, Brian Angliss, Jim Booth, Denny Wilkins, Gavin Chait, Rori Black, Robert Silvey and Martin Bosworth. Robert retired, Martin left to start his own site (and then tragically died), Mike doesn’t write much anymore but he’s skulking around here somewhere and I’ve been trying to lure Rori back for years but she’s having none of it.

Along the way we picked up more stragglers, and hopefully you’ve had occasion to enjoy their insight into the contemporary condition as well. Cat’s quiet humanity, Wufnik’s passion for the arts, Frank’s tenacious, yet self-effacing rage at idiocy from all sides of the spectrum, Dan’s penetrating engagement with the life of the streets, Lisa’s sense of movement and color, Josh’s creative, offbeat grasp of what’s really going on in the world – the only thing wrong with their contributions is that there are never enough of them to suit me.

Old favorite Lex is still lurking behind the scenes (we have an active private email community and honestly, about half the time what goes on there is even more substantive than what actually gets published – something certain members of the team I’m sure get sick of hearing me rail about). I know we all wish Russ Wellen would come out of retirement, although we understand his need to step away and are grateful we had his knowledgable commentary on international affairs for so many years. Our boy Otherwise is never too far away, and as far as having a gift for agitation I’m not sure I’ve ever met his match. Hopefully he’ll find more hell to raise. A lot of people look forward to Jeff Tiedrich’s often wicked daily meditations, and we’re fortunate to be able to present the work of photography associates Greg Stene and Cyndi Goetcheus. As for the rest who came and went – Wendy, Terry, CeeJay, Alex, Dawn – the door is always open.

As Dan put it yesterday: “Scholars & Rogues: you will never find a more wretched hive of champions against scum and villainy.”

Where We’ve Been

On the occasion of our Aluminum Anniversary, I thought we’d look back at where we started and talk about the journey that brought us here. April 16 was a Monday and we had two posts that day. Gavin offered up “Unlearning helplessness: how donors reinforce poverty and dependency” and I reported back on the doin’s up at the Conference on World Affairs in Boulder, where Valerie Plame’s husband Joe Wilson took the stage and called Fred Thompson a member of the “treason faction of the Republican Party.” His speech also allowed us to place Dick Cheney two degrees of separation from the JonBenet Ramsey murder scene – a link that has never been investigated to my satisfaction.

Sadly, 4/16/07 was also the setting for one of our greatest tragedies – the Virginia Tech shootings. Over the next few days several S&R staffers weighed in with everything from pained reflections on the loss to outraged recriminations against celebrity commentators to analysis of how emerging mobile technology might have saved lives to – this is S&R, after all – a meditation on the consolations of poetry.

Since then we have collectively tallied more than 9,200 posts on politics, art and literature, music, sports, crime, international affairs, religion, racism, misogyny, anti-LGBT prejudice, humor, sex, journalism, climate science, economics, popular culture, business, digital and social media, and occasionally Tim Tebow.

That’s ballpark 2.5 posts a day, which isn’t bad for an all-volunteer force. We all work for a living and S&R is a time-sucking hobby. While we did take advertising for a while we never made enough to even cover the costs of maintaining a self-hosted site. So there’s no money in it, there sure aren’t any blogger groupies and I don’t think any of us are especially famous.

That can only mean one thing: we do it out of passion. We care about our society and our fellow citizens and we have dedicated untold thousands of hours to trying to make our corner of the world a little better place. Frankly, we sometimes despair. When we started George Bush was president and we didn’t think it could get a lot worse. Turns out we were wrong. On that front, at least, I think we can be forgiven for the occasional moment of self-doubt.

At the outset you’d have fairly characterized S&R v1.0 as a political blog with strong cultural leanings. Driven by the 2008 election cycle, we spent a lot of time on the campaign and were credentialed to cover the 2008 DNC (where we managed to get 10 or 11 of our staff into press row – and that was the hottest ticket in town – for the final night’s coronation of Barack Obama).

Shortly after Obama took office, though, disillusionment set in. Some of us had been hopeful about the man, others less so, but either way it was quickly apparent that we were not in the midst of a revolution aimed at genuinely fixing the problems afflicting us. There wasn’t going to be a lot of Change and Hope faded. I, for one, couldn’t take what the bile was doing to me personally, and I think others perhaps felt a similar need to step back.

Thus emerged S&R 2.0, a more culturally focused blog with a progressive political undercurrent. We hated that our traffic slipped – political ranting was more popular than the kinds of thinking and writing we retreated into – but we were pleased with the work. Also, we have always preferred smarter, more thoughtful readers – quality over quantity in all things, including audience.

There came a point in the middle where I think we slipped into a malaise. Work and the aforementioned despair, plus some general burnout, led some of us further away from writing, and we found ourselves over-relying on guest content from writers who weren’t really reflections of the S&R culture.

We talked and recommitted and emerged from that S&R 3.0 swale just as I was taking up photography. Denny had been a kickass shooter back in the day and he rediscovered his passion for the camera at about the same time, and all of a sudden we began infusing S&R with our work and that of a few fellow lensmongers. (Denny, Greg Stene, Cyndi Goetcheus and I, along with a few other photographers we know, launched an S&R sister site, 5280 Lens Mafia.)

Jim caught fire with music and lit writing, and others on the team also found new inspiration and energy, sometimes in areas they hadn’t dealt with before.

Of course, this S&R 4.0 renaissance was all happening as Decision 2016 got uglier and uglier, and regular readers have no doubt noticed that we have been writing a great deal more on politics than we were a couple years ago. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to balance a desire for peace and beauty and enlightenment with any kind of focus at all on the mess we now find ourselves in.

I suspect the shift to S&R 5.0 will be like our first transition, with us slipping further from politics and indulging the artistic and cultural more and more. Self-preservation can be frustrating when you feel you have something to offer, but engagement can be hellishly draining.

We Almost Weren’t Scholars & Rogues

A lot went into settling on a name and brand. I brainstormed like crazy (I’m actually pretty good at branding) and had a million ideas. None were precisely right, but there were a few I could live with.

It wasn’t my decision, though. I was soliciting and vetting all kinds of other ideas from my colleagues in what was a typically collaborative effort. Still, nothing was setting off light bulbs. The moment approached, however, where a decision had to be made.

Then it happened. The team was kicking things back and forth and Jim, as I recall, tossed out the words “rogue” and “scholar.” “How about Rogue Scholars?” he said. From there it was a hop/skip/jump to the more elegant Scholars & Rogues, and here we are.

So the name – that was Jim, with an assist to the rest of the team.

If we hadn’t been S&R? Well, the name I had settled on, if nothing better presented itself, was S2NN: the Signal-to-Noise Network.

What About Those Masthead “Scrogues”?

A few days after we launched the site we posted our first masthead tribute, honoring George Gordon, Lord Byron, who stands as perhaps the grandest real-life blend of scholar and rogue we can think of. Since then we have celebrated the lives and legacies of 90+ artists, writers, scientists, musicians, politicians, athletes, journalists, social commentators, comedians, visionaries, and in one case cartoon characters. One, Muhammad Ali, has graced the mast twice. We already know who #100 is going to be (it’s a secret, although if you know us it’s probably something you could figure out), although we haven’t decided who’s up next yet.

(And yes, I did write that the S&R brand is Edmund Blackadder.)

In one respect these homages are just that – shout-outs to people whose work we respect and admire, people who we feel have made us better in one fashion or another.

Even more importantly, though, these figures are there to remind us of who we are and what we aspire to. If you’re a writer with ambitions toward social commentary and you see Mark Twain there in the right rail, you can’t help but try harder.

On this, our anniversary, we invite you to join us in looking back on those who have played such an important role in shaping our minds and our shared ethos.

Think – It ain’t Illegal Yet: What’s Next for Scholars & Rogues?

There’s a tendency to pronounce boldly on occasions like this, and I’m no different. I’d like to say something dramatic and strike a pose as we all stare meaningfully into the future, but the truth is that sort of thing doesn’t work with a ragtag assemblage of irregulars. We don’t really have a mission statement and since I can’t pay people I can’t order them to step to an agenda (even if that’s what I wanted).

S&R will continue to be what it always has been, then: an emergent, organic community of bright people who respect each other, share some core values, and write about whatever is on their minds when they find they have a few spare minutes on their hands.

I think we’re good with this. If I’m ever asked in an interview to detail my philosophy on leadership, I think I’ll say this.

  1. Round up smart people.
  2. Give them a way to communicate.
  3. Get out of the way.

I’m prouder of Scholars & Rogues than I am anything I’ve ever been part of in my life, and in our first decade we have established a legacy of excellence, of iconoclasty, and of fierce commitment to confronting challenging questions facing ourselves, our society and our communities.

We’ve never been the biggest, but few are better, brighter and more committed, and this has been the finest team of any sort I have ever had the privilege of being part of.

Happy birthday S&R. And many more.


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