Stephen T asks:
Have the sorts of topics you write about on Whatever changed over the years since you first started your blog? And related, have you seen a change over the years in the comments you receive and has your approach to commenters changed (especially trolls)?
Sure, the topics have changed a bit. One reason for that is a function of how the purpose of Whatever has changed from when it started. Originally I wrote Whatever as a quasi newspaper column, because I had been a newspaper columnist in the past, wanted to be again, and wanted to stay sharp in the format. These days I write Whatever for itself and don’t really worry about whether I’ll be a newspaper columnist ever again — and if I ever am it seems far more likely the columns would be more like Whatever than anything else. There is some irony here.
Another reason is that some topics run their course, either because of events — I don’t write about George W. Bush that much anymore because the man’s no longer president, and therefore I don’t have to think about him much on a day to day basis — or because I’ve just said all I needed or wanted to say on the topic and I can’t be bothered with it anymore. As an example of that, a decade ago I wrote several pieces on the subject of the Confederate States of America and the Confederate flag, and whether both were inherently racist (spoiler: yes), and for about a year that subject bounced around Whatever. But after a while I didn’t really have anything new to say on the topic, and it became less topical as a conversation, and I let it drop. Ironically, Brad Paisley’s “Accidental Racist” song has briefly revived the topic, but my interest in commenting about it is not great; frankly, I got burned out on the subject.
Two other factors that make a difference in what goes up here: Time and Twitter. Time, because professionally I am busier than I used to be so I don’t do as many genuinely “random” posts here; Twitter because that’s where a lot of smaller, off-the-top-of-my-head bits go these days. I don’t think either of these things make the overall quality of Whatever better or worse; they’re just changes that have happened.
That said, I do occasionally remind myself the topic of the blog really is “whatever” — that it doesn’t just have to be about writing and pictures of cats and whatever cultural/political thing I’m obsessing on at the moment. The title of the blog reminds me to occasionally look up from my ruts, be they old or new.
In terms of the comments I receive: No, in general they’ve been pretty consistent. I installed commenting ability here five years after the site went up (in fact, ten years ago almost exactly) so it already had a core of regular readers who were invested in the site and felt inclined to add to its value, not detract, when they commented. Some of them comment here still. That base of good commenters behaving well together set the standard for the site, and it’s largely continued to this day.
There are occasional flare-ups of stupidity when someone gets a bug in their ass; I think we’re all aware of the recent spate of dumb and/or trollish comments inspired by the fellow with a mancrush, a bad case of professional envy, and the need to make himself look important to his coterie of excitable boys by punching upward at me. This spate will pass in time. Additionally, when a piece here gets wider circulation there’s often an influx of new commenters, which is generally good but also means a few trolls swinging by to see if this is the sort of place where they’ll thrive. It’s not. The policy on trolls has been consistent for years: Mallet.
But generally I don’t have to moderate nearly as much as people think I have to. That’s down to the commenters being mostly smart, civil and invested in the site. It’s been that way from the earliest days of commenting.