Category Archives: Scholars and Rogues

A Toast to Scholars & Rogues

As my friends know I spent the last 13 years as Publisher of Scholars & Rogues, a team blog covering everything from politics to the arts to climate to sports to music to journalism to … well, whatever was on somebody’s mind. During that time we produced nearly 11,000 posts.

We were never big, but we were always smart, thoughtful and committed to some basic principles about fairness, empathy, human achievement and justice in our world. My colleagues were as amazing as any group of people you’ve ever been around.

I want to take a moment to say to thanks to all of them. I’ll never be on a better team.

To S&R:



Welcome to Scholars & Rogues v5 – we’ve entered the #fuckitzone

New look, and maybe more attitude. We do it because we just can’t help ourselves.

Back in April, as I marked the tenth anniversary of Scholars & Rogues, I noted the phases we’ve been through, and suggested that we were emerging from a v4 characterized by increasing frustration with the political state of the nation. I said we were very likely on the the cusp of the next iteration of the site.

Welcome to v5. How fitting that it happens in the wake of Charlottesville.

Things to note:

  • Obviously the new design, a magazine format which will help us shine a light on more things from our staff. It’s built for focusing and featuring and promoting visibility, and it will allow the reader to get a greater sense of what’s going on without having to do as much scrolling and searching.
  • The design doesn’t display the entire image from our photography staff, so you’ll have to click to see the whole pic. But hey, that’s okay. Denny and Dan and Greg and Cyndi are worth the effort, and I’m trying to keep up as best I can. Also, with luck we’ll be adding a shooter or two to the mix.
  • And visually it sure is brighter. S&R has always been heavy with the black templates, taking the “rogue” part as our cue, Now we have opted for a look at’s a tad more conventional. We like it. We think it works.

What else? Oh, right: it’s hard to say if you’ll detect an attitude, but we have completely stopped caring if anyone is watching.

I observed in the aforementioned anniversary piece that we have always wanted an audience – and once upon a time, when we were an aggressively political blog primarily, we had one. But that process was sucking the life out of us and we couldn’t keep putting ourselves through the pain and frustration. Since then, we haven’t been willing to do the kinds of things large audiences are attracted to. The result is now we seem to appeal to a smaller group of very thoughtful readers – quality vs quantity, and we’re okay with that.

We’ve talked, and have decided – unanimously – to just say fuck it. We do what we do because we want to, and in the case of some of us because we can’t help ourselves. We’d do it if we had a million readers a day and we’d do it if we had 10 a week. We understand the society we’re working with here. We have no illusions.

So here we are. We hope you like the new look. We hope you’ll read and react. We hope you’ll click on the photography and art. We hope you’ll be provoked, we hope you’ll think and learn, and if you’re so inclined we hope you’ll tell your friends about this interesting, unconventional little corner of the Internet.

We’ll be carrying on one way or the other.

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. Read more

S&R Honors: Edmund Blackadder

S&R Honors Edmund BlackadderScholars & Rogues has been around for seven and a half years or so, and during that time we have evolved. Early on we were a political blog with a culturalist bent. These days we’re a “journal of progressive culture” – in a nutshell, we’re a culture blog informed by a strong political foundation. Our writing wanders far and wide, as you may have noticed, but the pieces all seem to fit together.

We have had, through the years, a number of discussions about who we are and who we want to be. In corporate terminology, what is the Scholars & Rogues brand? And while these conversations have occasionally been nuanced and overrun with self-doubt – if you don’t have the occasional crisis of identity in seven years you’re not trying hard enough – I have always had an answer that served as a sort of starting point.

The S&R brand is Edmund Blackadder. Read more

A word about S&R’s comment policy

Periodically we find ourselves needing to remind everyone about our comment policy, which is quite a bit different from what you find on other sites. This isn’t a problem for a vast majority of those who visit us, but every once in awhile…

So, here’s the link to the policy, which not only lays out how we do it but also, in a good bit of detail, explains why. In general, I’d note the big difference in how we do it. Other places work off the assumption that all comments are accepted unless they cross a line and need to be removed. We don’t assume that any comment should be accepted automatically, and we don’t post anything without reading it and actively approving it. Read more

Better and betterer: the new and improved S&R

Hi folks. I wanted to take a moment to tell you about some changes here at S&R that we think you might like.

The first one you probably already noticed: we’ve tweaked our design a bit. We did so for a big reason. When we made our last design update we didn’t really understand how it was going to affect our ability to post and properly present photography. As a result, staff photographer Lisa Wright, one of our most talented staffers, got shoved to the side. For that, I want to apologize to her and to you. She’s a fantastic shooter and we’re a lot better when our audience gets to see her work regularly. Read more

S&R to open new Pacific Northwest Bureau

New York City. London. Oxford. Washington, DC. Western New York. Western North Carolina. Cleveland. The Upper Peninsula. Chicagoland/Indiana. Montana. Denver/Boulder.

Owing to the fact that a majority of the founders either live in Colorado now or did in the past there has been a certain 5280-centric identity here at Scholars & Rogues. Nonetheless, the S&R staff is and always has been fairly dispersed geographically. And we’re about to expand a little more.

In just over a week I’ll be relocating to Seattle to begin a new job in the Pioneer Square district, and if you know the Emerald City I don’t have to tell you how damned cool that is. I’ll be living just over the bridge in West Seattle, a neighborhood I only discovered this week, but which I came to like in a hurry. Of course, the new job is merely the means to an end, with the end being our uncompromising drive to provide our readers with the best, most comprehensive insight into the modern condition possible. That’s hard to do without a West Coast presence, huh?

In the past I’ve been known to write about the occasional local issue here in Colorado, and one might expect the same thing to happen re: my new home in the City of Rain.

The nasty part is that I now have to pack and move, which means I’ll be mostly off the radar for the next week or two. Wish me luck.

S&R makes major change to commenting policy

CATEGORY: ScholarsAndRoguesOnce upon a time I could be counted on to say something like “the comment thread is often the most important part of a blog post.” When you have an intelligent community of good-faith readers and commenters, the initial post need not be fully baked and comprehensive – it can instead be treated as a conversation-starter, a jumping-off point for something larger and organic. I have learned a great deal in comment threads, and I imagine many of our readers have, as well.

I not only participate in comment threads here at S&R, I have been aggressive in counseling my former employers and business clients with blogs to keep the comment section as open and free as possible because such a policy promotes clear, productive communications between the company and its customers. (It also serves an important canary-in-the-coalmine function – if you let your customers say what they want, a lot of times you’ll glean useful information and you’ll frequently get a clue of impending problems before you would through conventional channels.) In sum, comments good.

Lately my belief in the value of the comments sections has waned, and I’m not alone. Nearly everyone on the S&R staff feels some level of frustration at how unproductive our comment threads have been lately, and many other online publishers are encountering the same issues. How to respond? Some sites, including Xark, Dan Conover and Zen Habits, have gone so far as to completely shut comments off. (Some big names, including Seth Godin, The Dish, John Hawks and Talking Points Memo, never enabled comments in the first place.)

Fueling our individual and anecdotal suspicions that the train has jumped the tracks is a new study suggesting that the modern-day comment thread can actually damage the perceived credibility of the original post.

In an experiment mentioned in the Science paper and soon to be published elsewhere in greater detail, about 2,000 people were asked to read a balanced news report about nanotechnology followed by a group of invented comments. All saw the same report but some read a group of comments that were uncivil, including name-calling. Others saw more civil comments.

“Disturbingly, readers’ interpretations of potential risks associated with the technology described in the news article differed significantly depending only on the tone of the manipulated reader comments posted with the story,” wrote authors Dominique Brossard and Dietram A. Scheufele.

“In other words, just the tone of the comments . . . can significantly alter how audiences think about the technology itself.”

Researchers found that even knowledge of science did not seem to mediate the effects of the comments.

These findings are specifically concerned with scientific conversations, but I suspect a similar dynamic plays out around nearly any kind of expertise-oriented post. I know what I see in comment threads these days often follows the path suggested by the study, regardless of the topic.

Why Have Comment Threads Deteriorated?

So, once upon a time comment threads were great and now they’ve gone to hell. What has happened? I described what I called “Thinkworld vs. Shoutworld” for an op-ed in Editor & Publisher back in 2004, and I suspect what Brossard and Scheufele are finding is eight years of further deterioration around a couple of predictable variables.

First, the rise of social media is siphoning off discussions. There have been a number of times where an S&R post has spurred lengthy and lively comment threads…somewhere else. Like at Reddit or Current or, of course, Facebook. Perhaps the reason here is simple: blogs and online publications like Scholars & Rogues are perceived as “public” space. Anyone can wander in and say whatever.

Your social networks are controlled by you, however. If you want to discuss something we have written, you can port it over to FB and do so with your own circle of trusted friends. You have constructed those networks in a way that suits you – if you don’t like flaming and shouting, you have unfriended the people who are prone to that kind of behavior. Beyond that, these people are “friends,” not strangers. While you may not know them very well all the time, there exists a social contract between you.

Second, what’s left once the nice people are gone? We have known since the ’90s that online conversations can quickly get nasty. Online forums are impersonal and seem to foster appalling behavior of the sort we’d never exhibit in person. There have been any number of times when participants in online groups have hidden behind anonymity and said things to me that they wouldn’t say to my face, and if you have spent more than ten minutes online you have seen this happen. It has probably happened to you. Perhaps you have been the one exhibiting the anti-social behavior yourself, and if so, you may well have felt embarrassed later as you reflected on your actions and words.

The Internet also tends to be a very “male” environment – that is, it favors those who speak loudly and aggressively. Women have never participated as much as we’d like because many of them, if I might generalize a tad, don’t like being bullied by testosterone-soaked jerks. Further, loud debates are frequently not thoughtful ones, which has the effect of driving off a lot of smart folks, most of whom have better things to do than trade insults with people who are more reliant on attitude than intellect.

In other words, over time online environments self-select for the worst elements: the loud, the belligerent, the less informed, those with agendas and firmly closed minds. In other words, says Bora Zivkovic at Scientific American…

But there is another problem here – most of the good, nice, constructive commenters may have gone silent and taken their discussions of your blog elsewhere, but the remaining few commenters are essentially trolls.

This isn’t always the case, of course. We’ve been fortunate here at S&R to host some fantastic comment threads. Lisa Barnard’s recent online dating post, for instance, spurred a genuinely friendly response, and we heard from dozens of people who shared their own experiences in ways that reminded us all of what a comment section ought to be like.

What Can Be Done?

The staff has kicked the comments question around a good bit. We’ve discussed the good and the bad, we’ve offered up a variety of proposals (ranging from “leave it alone” to “kill them entirely”). In the end, we decided that as badly as we want to rid ourselves of the ignoramuses, the jackasses and the trolls, we don’t want to sacrifice those moments where our readers can be genuinely enlightened by smart input from other readers (nor do we want to deprive our thoughtful followers of the chance to engage in public discussions that interest them).

After some discussion, we think we’ve hit on a better model given the current environment: the old newspaper “letters to the editor” section. Our new policy, which is effective immediately, will operate like a cross between that and what we have now.

The New S&R Comment Policy

The comment section will remain at the bottom of each post, and we will encourage readers to craft thoughtful responses to what they’re seeing. Unlike a regular comment thread, which posts the comment unless it’s objectionable, our new approach will reverse the presumption: we will not post a comment unless we feel it legitimately furthers the conversation. This doesn’t mean we’ll require a fully sourced and cited thesis, but it does mean that we need to see evidence of thought and/or insight.

It also means that we won’t be green-lighting any of the “me, too” comments you find on most blogs. If your response is essentially “hey, I like this,” then please hit the “Like” button at the top of the page (and even better, click the links at the bottom of the post, which make it easy for you to share the article with your social networks).

We don’t want our new policy to come off as too intimidating. We do want to set the bar higher, though. If you read the site regularly, it’s obvious how much effort our writers put into S&R, and we can no longer abide those cases where our hard work is undermined by commenters who aren’t advancing the conversation or who are deliberately sabotaging it for their own narrow, cynical ends.

It goes without saying that hateful, ad hominem, substance-free submissions will be deleted and repeat offenders will be banned.

Welcome to the new Scholars & Rogues

You’re probably noticing that we’ve painted the place and put up some new drapes. The migration to our new host (actually, our old host – we’ve moved back to where we started in 2007) has been in the works for months. But it’s been a bit of a task, and I’d like to offer massive thanks to Brian Angliss for his work. You know Brian as our resident climate expert, but he’s also our IT guru, and there’s no telling how many hours he’s put in on the move and redesign. Also, many thanks to the rest of the crew – there was plenty of tedious detail work to go around, trust me.

Now, a few comments on the new site and what it means for the reader.

  • New Design: Our old look was a little stale, and this new design strikes us as cleaner and more contemporary. The news/magazine layout also better reflects S&R’s identity as an online journal. Frankly, we were never sure the old design visually or functionally told the whole truth about who we are. And finally, we’re making great use of our new logo (which I absolutely love – many thanks to Laura Manthey Design for helping us nail it).
  • Quicker Access to Content: With our old site’s one-column news hole structure, the top screen only let you see the most recent story or two. Now, between the featured post slider at the top and the top of the two-column news hole below, you’re seeing (depending on your monitor settings) at least six stories. And, as you scroll down, you’re seeing two stories at a time instead of one. The overall effect: a far better at-a-glance take on what’s happening at any given moment.
  • Improved Signal-to-Noise Ratio: Before, there was a lot going on in the sidebars – advertising, promotional widgets and the like – and you may not have really cared about most of it. The new site has stripped all of that away – no more advertising, and the sidebar content is more relevant to the core S&R mission and hopefully to your reasons for visiting.
  • Enhanced Notifications: WordPress makes it easy for you to follow S&R. Click that link at the top of the page and you’ll receive notifications when we post something new.
  • Better Treatment of S&R Honorees: We’ve always honored a “scrogue” in our masthead – someone whose work and career we respect, someone whose story we wanted to share with you. We have moved that to the sidebar now, just below the logo, and unlike in the past, you can click the image to go directly to the story from any page or story on the site. Up first: William Gibson, whom I have called the most important writer of the past 30 years.

Finally, we’ve recently conducted some soul-searching sessions and we concluded that we have drifted away, over the past year or two, from what we think sets us apart from other sites on the Net. For instance, our need to attract eyeballs for our advertisers (which was essential if we going to pay our hosting and maintenance bills) caused us to occasionally lose touch with our commitment to quality over quantity, resulting in content that was sometimes developed because, well, we needed something new up. Also, we had come to over-rely on guest posters, especially where political opinion was concerned. We’re not denigrating those folks – they were talented writers – but that driving S&R message, the site’s defining identity, wasn’t coming from us.

In essence, we had outsourced our mission and had ceded to others the responsibility for speaking in our name.

Since this move frees us from the corrupting need for ad revenue, you won’t be seeing any more of that. Our staff is evolving, as always, and we will use guest content in the right context, but we pledge to our readers that we’re refocusing on the kind of insightful, reflective writing that helped us establish our reputation when we first launched.

We’re excited. You know when you move into a new house and there’s that great evening, when everything is finally put away and you can finally relax and enjoy the place? Yeah, that’s us right now, with our legs kicked up in front of a roaring fire with a pint of premium micro.

We hope you like the new digs as much as we do. If you have any comments, we’d love to hear them.

Quick note on the Aurora shooting

As some of our readers are aware, several S&R staffers live in the Denver area, and Managing Editor Mike Sheehan in particular lives very close to the site of the theater shootings in Aurora. I’m guessing most of my colleagues here have been hearing from friends and family around the country wanting to make sure everyone is okay, and we’ve heard from some in our audience, as well.

The good news is that, as best we can tell so far, the S&R family has been spared from this horror. The bad news is that once again, our community finds itself in the news for tragic reasons.

Our thoughts and best wishes go out to those in our community who were not so fortunate.

Instant analysis: Amendment One passage in North Carolina is the battle that lost the war for conservatives

Let’s go ahead and call it. It’s 9:47 on the east coast, and with 54% of precincts reporting, North Carolina’s anti-LGBT Amendment One is passing by better than a 60-40 margin. “Pro-marriage” social conservatives are undoubtedly hailing this as a major victory for the “family” and the “sanctity of marriage,” but from where I sit the state’s reactionary forces have done little more than win the battle that loses the war. If I’m Mitt Romney’s advisors (and, despite ample evidence to the contrary, I’m assuming he actually has some), this is one I’d much rather have lost. Read more

Scholars & Rogues turns five: thanks for joining us

On April 16, 2007, Scholars & Rogues went live, featuring a post by Gavin Chait (Unlearning helplessness: how donors reinforce poverty and dependency) and one by me on Joe Wilson’s speech at the Conference on World Affairs (where he said that Fred Thompson belonged to the “treason faction of the Republican Party”).

Some highlights:

S&R and the marketplace of ideas: yes, Dorothy, sometimes people disagree…in public, even!

Earlier this morning Chris offered up a post entitled “Why are environmentalists missing a mild-weather opportunity?” It raises a pragmatic point about how the climate “debate” plays out in the public sphere and is well worth a read. Go ahead – I’ll wait.

Predictably – and by “predictably,” I mean that last night I e-mailed our climate guru, Brian Angliss, and said “when Chris’s post lands, here’s what’s going to happen,” and it has played out as though I had scripted it; the denialists have jumped on the post in an attempt to cast Chris and the rest of the S&R staff as “hypocrites.” One prominent anti-science type wants you to believe that the message is “we know weather isn’t climate, but let’s lie to people anyway!”

Like I say, as predicted.

The truth is that Chris’s post is part of a larger context. Read more

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