Sunday, September 19, 2004

Mitch Berg interview

Like many other new blogs, Bogus Gold was (blogospherically) spawned by the work of the Northern Alliance. My conception of what blogs are, what they’re good for, why they’re fun, and why they’re important comes from watching the Northern Alliance blogs develop and grow over the past couple of years.

Something one is immediately struck by when exploring the Northern Alliance blogs is how distinct they are. There is no “Northern Alliance” mold. They’re all compelling and talented in (sometimes wildly) different ways. Something we locals take a bit of home-town pride in perhaps, but also a microcosm of the blogosphere in general.

This series attempts to offer (hopefully) new and personal insights into the people who are responsible for the Northern Alliance blogs. Beyond that, we’ll just see where the conversations lead us. That’s part of the fun of blogs themselves, isn’t it?

First up…

Mitch Berg




Mitch is the author of Shot in the Dark, and a host of the Northern Alliance Radio Network.

I met up with Mitch at Keegan’s Irish Pub, in Minneapolis on Saturday afternoon, following the Northern Alliance Radio Show.

Me: I thought we’d start with the basic biographical stuff.

Mitch: Oh Boy. Well this should be really, really dull. I was born in Rugby, North Dakota. I’m 41. Single parent. 2 kids, ages 11 and 13. Live in St Paul in a very, very old house with a dog and a cat and an extremely large mortgage.

Boy, what else is there? I play 10 musical instruments. In descending order of competence: guitar, cello, mandolin, harmonica, drums, (garbled) …., keyboards – I’m really bad at keyboards…. bagpipes.

Me: Where’d you go to school?

Mitch: Well, I graduated from high school in Jamestown, North Dakota. The same place that gave us Peggy Lee, Jim Ramstead, Dan Erstead(?), and Louis L’Amour. Oh… and Shadow Stevens. I went to college in Jamestown North Dakota. I went to college in my home town, a place I knew when I was 14 that I had to get the hell away from. It was basically – 80 percent free tuition, because my mother went there. It was either that or join the Army.

And so I went to Jamestown college. I got a degree in English, with minors in History, Computer Science, and German, and enough credits for minors in Music and Theater, but it was all performance stuff so it didn’t really count. I was kind of a stupid workaholic in college. I went to 23 credits a semester for four years. It was insane. I kind of got to the end of four years and thought I had spent so much time working so on college, I had no idea what I was going to do when I got out.

So I spent five months working construction. And working at a bookstore. All my friends came back for homecoming at home in October, or September… you know, for college homecoming, and came back from their difficult jobs and their big lives, and we got to talking. And we got about 6 beers into the evening. And they got around to me, sitting at the table, and they said, “Well, what are you going to do Mitch?”

And I said, “Well, I’m working construction now, but um…” I was a little more slurred by this point. And I said, “But I’m moving pretty soon.” And they said, “That’s great, where?” And I thought, “Christ! Okay, where can I afford to move to?” because I had maybe 500 bucks in the bank at this point... where can I afford to move.. “Uhh… The Twin Cities.”

They said, “Oh, really? That’s great. When?”

“Uh... Two weeks.”

And I thought, everybody’s so bombed here that they’ll have forgotten about it by the time we sober up. But in fact they did not. And so I was committed. And three weeks later, I in fact moved to Minneapolis.

And, you know I’ve been working in radio since I was 16, I figured… I wound up almost accidentally getting a job at KSTP… and before it had become a talk radio station…

Me: How did you get that job?

Mitch: I was with this friend of mine, and we went to this demonstration. I’d been crashing on this friend’s couch for like 10 days. And this person’s parents were ministers in the inner city. And they were going to go to this demonstration in the old Rialto Theater, a place on Chicago, which was an old porn theater. And they wanted to get it out of their neighborhood. And, as I said, I’d been crashing on their child’s couch for 10 days, I figured I owed them this much at least, so … here I am walking back and forth with this sign. I’m the only male there under the age of 50. I’m the only person there over 5’8” tall. So I got a little bit of attention, both negative, I had a few water balloons thrown at me, and positive. I had Alan Constantine from Channel 11 come over, and do an interview with me, so I got myself on TV.

And then another reporter came over, his name’s Paul Nyreh(?), and he asks if he could have an interview. He has this huge tape recorder. By this time I’d worked in radio for 6 years, so you can’t escape the obvious with me. I’m a master of the bleeding obvious. And I said, “You’re in radio aren’t you? I need a job really bad. I just got in from North Dakota. And, I’ll do the interview, but I’d appreciate if you’d take me to your leader.”

And he said, “Really, what part of North Dakota?”

And I said, “Jamestown.”

And he said, “Really? I’m from Casselton. I’ll set you up with an interview.”

So I got the job. And two week later I was working as a phone screener for Don Vogel. And two months after that… um.. three or four months after that they put me on the air on overnight weeknight graveyards, as a conservative talk-show host, and I was only 24.

Me: You were already a conservative at 24?

Mitch: I had just become a conservative within the previous 3 or 4 years. And new conservatives are the most obnoxious ones apparently. So, they put me on the air, 2-4 in the morning.

Me: You were Chris Krok. [reference to a young, right wing talk-show host currently at KSTP – ed].

Mitch: (chuckles) I was Chris Krok. Absolutely. I was… I made Chris look pretty good, all things considered. I was only a kid.

But I was amazed. In a way it was the perfect life for me, because I got paid to be juvenile, write comedy material, and do comedy bits five days a week. I got paid a little bit at least to argue politics with drunks at 3 in the morning. Both are things I’d gladly do for free, so it was really the life of Riley as long as it lasted.

Anyway that was sort of the… what lead to, indirectly, very indirectly… to me blogging. Because I did… although the talk-show I had only lasted maybe a year at the outside… I sort of got a taste for being kind of an amateur pundit. Er... semi-professionally at that point. I was only making maybe 8 bucks an hour. But it was a lot of fun I realized, just spouting off on things… whether I has any qualification or not… was kind of a blast. And, I mean, people would tune in and call in and argue with me and … pay me some attention. That was absolutely the bomb.

So I went and did it. And over several years I did many other things. I was a night-club disk-jockey… uh, became a technical writer, got into software design – that’s what I do now. Got married. Had two kids. Got divorced. Uh… kept on with my career in software design. And, um… gradually blogging came into the picture.

I mean I basically buried the part of me over the course of the.. I don’t know… 14, 15 years I spent out of talk radio... I sort of buried that part of me for a long time.

But... um... there were these mailing groups in town? One called Minnesota Politics. Run by a group called e-Democracy. And for a while there it was a pretty credible…. This was in the days before the web. It hosted a discussion forum, and people would post opinions about political discussions and there’d be a discussion. And um... it was… I mean I was brought because a couple of libertarian friends... were… okay, this was kind of a typical liberal... DFL... playground, where we need to bring some balance, Mitch why don’t you come in and do this? And I did. That was my main outlet for… um… for the next seven years. And actually that…. That sort of whetted my appetite for writing… for being sort of an amateur, written prose pundit, there. For a while, there.

And then blogs came. And that was kind of the next step.

Me: How did you discover blogging? I mean, what was the point where you realized what blogs were about?

Mitch: Wow. I have to think back for a little bit… In early ’02, late January or early February of ’02… I was reading in… I think it was Time magazine, I’m not positive, but it mentioned Andrew Sullivan. And it was the first piece I’d ever seen… may have been the first piece in the mainstream media about blogging. And... Andrew Sullivan, and kind of the... it was actually a piece... It wasn’t about blogging. It was about young, intellectual, conservative authors... writers. Like Andrew Sullivan, and Jonah Goldberg. And people like that. And it mentioned blogging very offhandedly. And there was maybe a paragraph describing what blogging was. As a sort of a do-it-yourself venue for uncensored, self-moderated opinion. And I thought, woah, this is so perfect.

And I went out to blogger.com that night, and set up my first blog, Shot In The Dark; the first edition of Shot in the Dark, out on Blogger.com. And, um… had the domain bought already at that time, so I had a place to put it. And I … I read that article in Time probably the first third of 2002. And I had the first episode of Shot in the Dark published the next day. And I’ve been writing more or less every day since.

Me: Why don’t you talk a little bit a bout the development of Shot in the Dark. I mean, you started writing, and then obviously… one of the things I assume… I don’t even remember when I started reading Shot in the Dark. It was a while ago. It was one of things that sort of happened one day, and just becomes part of your day, and it just kind of blends into everyday. So... what was your experience along that time? I mean, you started in February of ’02…

Mitch: I started in February of 2002. I... the only advertising was I would put a little reference to Shot in the Dark in the postings I was still doing on Minnesota Politics. And it was becoming ever more sporadic, and obviously biased toward the... I mean… more blinkered in its bias toward the left. It’s a long story, and a little bit of sour grapes on my part. Um… And it’s really okay. But, it was becoming an unsatisfying forum for me. And the blogs were just the right thing at the right time.

I started out with between… 4 to 8 visitors a day, from probably February ’02, until probably August of ’02. And gradually the traffic built up over the course of about six months. I went from 4 visitors a day… maybe… to maybe 15 or 20 over the course of six months. And… toward the elections… through word of mouth, I was maybe into the low 30’s a day … mid 30’s a day… by the time of the elections.

It was just basically… it was a wide variety of picks. It’s all still out there on my archives. I mean I wrote about… actually short little pieces about local politics, a little bit of national stuff, a little bit of defense, a little bit of music... some fairly grandiloquent looking music reviews… um… just a whole grab bag of things. Whatever crossed my mind I wrote about.

And I was doing it at work, secretly. I was doing, like, 10… 12 posts a day. And... just a variety of subjects. And two things happened almost simultaneously. The, uh... Well three things happened simultaneously in the fall of 2002. The elections. … The second was I discovered the form of the “Fisking.” It was a major revelation in my life. And, uh, third, Garrison Kellior published his little poisoned-pen piece on Norm Coleman in Slate magazine.. I believe that was November 8th. And the three things came together. It was my first fisking of Garrison Kellior, and his rant about Norm Coleman. And to this day I have no idea how this happened. But I got picked up on Instapundit. And it was... to this day it was probably the single biggest day I’ve ever had to my blog. I probably got 7,000 visitors that day.

Me: Not to interrupt you here. But I’m one of the very few who discovered Instapundit through people like you, rather than the other way around.

Mitch: I discovered Instapundit through Sullivan. I mean Sullivan was and it was the only blog I read. I didn’t know there were other blogs in the Twin Cities for the longest time. Which is a whole conversational thread right there.

In fact it was shortly before the election that I first discovered other bloggers in the Twin Cities, and that’s a story in and of itself, which lead me to the radio show eventually.

But um… no. I wrote this piece, and I got linked. I got probably 15,000 hits in three days. And… at the end of these three days I’m thinking, Oh man, because I was... where before I was averaging 30 visitors a day, I was averaging maybe 240 visitors a day after the election. So it was a big jump for me. Huge. I mean I jumped into a whole different league, and I met a whole lot of new bloggers, and lot of people decided to blogroll me.

And then... a week later Kellior wrote another piece, which I had an even more fun Fisking of. And some more traffic. And...

A big one was when the… the one that probably launched me locally actually… was a piece I wrote on the billboard of Norm Coleman’s, which had been defaced with Nazi propaganda over in Saint Paul. I wrote a piece... put the picture up... Instapundit linked… everybody. And it was…. It kind of put me on the map, and a lot of local people discovered me and uh… or rediscovered me in at least one case... and uh… met some old friends who kind of … it sort of re-exposed me to the real world finally. And that was kind of where it was where the blog started to grow.

And from there it’s been kind of a steady progression upwards, in terms of like traffic and exposure and uh… people on the blog. It’s really, unaccountably amazing to me that ... that’s the way it’s worked.

Me: What’s your traffic like now?

Mitch: I’m kind of amazed. I was averaging around… It’s gone in a couple of distinct stages. I was at about 200 a day back in 2002 – 2003. Last year, 2003, when I was unemployed, I had a lot – way too much – time to spend on the blog. I brokered that rather quickly to around 500 a day. And last March, about the time the show started, my domain hosting disappeared, and I wound up having to jump on this new hosting real quick. And fortunately just as I made that switch, Hugh Hewitt, Glenn Reynolds, and James Lileks who famously appeared on the Hewitt show, gave me a big shout out, and I got 10,000 hits in two days. And it kind of launched my new domain, shotinthedark.info. And I was up to... James Lileks said I was getting 300 hits a day, and I should be getting 10 times as much. Well I was actually getting 500 a day, but um… I’m up to about 1500 on a weekday, and maybe 8 or 9 hundred on weekends. Which was incomprehensible to me a year earlier. I mean that would have been an Instalanche for me. Right now, just kind of the trickle down I’ve been getting from the rest of the Northern Alliance it’s been roughly around 2200 on a weekday – visits, not visitors. Probably about 1600-1800 visitors and 2200 visits a day. And right around 800 visitors a day on weekends. Which is… I pinch myself sometimes…. This is stuff I’d given up ever aspiring to years ago.

Me: Well let’s go from there into what you think of your blog. How would you characterize it for someone who’d never heard of blogs before? Or maybe had heard of blogs, but not your blog?

Mitch: I don’t know. And the fact is, I don’t know why people read... I’m glad they do read my blog … I’m thankful for every single one of them. Why do people read my blog? I don’t know. I don’t have the time to do the reporting of people like Ed… Captain Ed, from Captain’s Quarters… or John Hinderaker here. I’ve done a little bit of it, but it’s not like I’ve devoted a lot of time to it. I think I’m probably a pretty fair ersatz editorial columnist. I can rant pretty well and fairly articulately, and I have a lot of fun taking apart articles that I disagree with. Every once in a while I can come up with the right source in the right situation where I can introduce some original reportage out there. But that’s a weird thing for me. I’m probably the opinion columnist of the Northern Alliance. I mean among the Northern Alliance crowd I’m probably the local opinion guy… Think of me as the Kim Ode of the Northern Alliance, maybe. With the occasional fisking thrown in for good measure, like the Garrison Kellior piece.

I mean... I know people read in numbers... and thrill me to this very day. But a lot of pieces I have… I have no idea ... to a large extent I have no idea why a lot of people have come here. I don’t have a lot of areas of deep expertise. Like Rocketman and Big Trunk have with the law. Or Ed’s ... uh… well Ed’s quite a polymath. He knows a lot of things. I’m more of a jack of all trades, and the master of none. I’m someone who can occasionally turn a pithy phrase, and it might help someone else encapsulate their feelings. Probably someone who thinks about things the same way I think. I use that a lot to help me focus my own energy here a little bit, perhaps. That’s the nearest I can come maybe to a reason anybody would read Shot In The Dark.

Me: Let’s move on from Shot in the Dark to the Northern Alliance. I don’t even think I know the full story of how it developed, and how you got involved.

Mitch: Well… around 2002 actually… uh.. Hugh Hewitt gets on the air and basically declared that some of his favorite blogs... his favorite conservative blogs... came from the middle of the wilds of liberal Minnesota. And since we were... at least to his point of view… a beleaguered faction in the middle of hostile territory, he suggested calling us... or, at this point it was them… the Northern Alliance of Blogs. And at this point they were just Fraters Libertas, Powerline, and James Lileks. And they stayed for a while. And the Fraters, who I’d become acquainted with the previous several months, right before the election… actually as it turned out they remembered me from the old Don Vogel show… wrote me an e-mail and it said, hey…. Actually they put up a very large flattering post of me and my history in radio on the old Don Vogel show. And they sent me an e-mail that said hey, I don’t know if you know this, but we wrote this post up about you. And I think that was for both of us the first time we realized that there were other bloggers in the Twin Cities other than Lileks, who everyone knows, and whom I know from waaay back when. Several years ago. Uh... in the Twin Cities...

Sometime after that… it would be January of ’03… the Fraters and the Powerline guys prevailed upon Hewitt to admit me and King Banyan from Scholars to the Northern Alliance. So it was a five member group for a while. And then, probably last winter… probably Decemberish or thereabouts… Hewitt added Captain Ed, and Spitbull to the group. So that rounded out the whole Northern Alliance.

Me: Ed has only been around that long? Seems like it’s been longer.

Mitch: He’s only been blogging for like 11 months now. He’s had the most meteoric rise of any blog that I’ve ever seen ever, anywhere. He’s gone from being ... from having a brand new blank page blog, to one of the top 20 blogs anywhere in the business within a year. Which is just amazing. He’s had this knack of getting several Instalanches a week, which certainly doesn’t hurt. And he’s a good blogger... so…

Anyway, the two were added to the list in December. And that was where the Northern Alliance was. We were, for a long time... for about a year...what we’d do is we would sometimes do some cooperative blogging. Hugh Hewitt... if he had a story that pertained to Minnesota, or pertained to some sort of issue that he thought we’d have some influence or interest in, he’d say, “Okay Northern Alliance what do you guys think about this?” And... at that point it flattered us with… or... whichever portion of the five of us heard the call… would do his blog... would write about it... and do weekly updates. And we had some fairly good exchanges on different subjects back in 2003. And if it had stayed just an alliance of blogs, it would have been a lot of fun. It was a lot of fun as far as it went. Um… but... it evolved from there, which is another whole story, which I will encapsulate in a whole separate piece of dialogue.

The birth of the radio show was a strange situation. It was… kind of cloaked in mystery even within the alliance itself. The show started… actually it’s tied in rather indirectly with one the ... well... one of my biggest stories I’ve had… which was the demise of Plain Layne. Which happened a few months ago. Everyone’s familiar with it.

Me: Not everyone.

Mitch: Well... even so... the hoaxter, Odin Soli, is an old friend of mine. But... writing under the cover of Layne, which I didn’t know he was for the longest time, I mentioned in this comment thread… you know there’s times I wish I could get back into talk radio. And Layne, quote unquote, writes back and says, you know you should stick with this blogging and maybe try that because you never know, because... as long as it’s something you love, it will come to you. And I thought, Hmm. There’s an interesting thought. It kind of cemented this blogging thing into a bigger place in my life. I should be pouring more of my emotional energy into things that I love unlike work…. Things like blogging and being an amateur pundit. And less into things that I don’t like as much... like… work.

And so we had kind of an exchange like in Our Gang, sort of a, “Hey gang, let’s do a show.” And I wrote… e-mailed the other guys from Fraters, and Powerline. And I said… this is before Ed and Spitbull became involved… and I said what would you guys feel about doing a radio show? And uh… they said… well we’re fine with that but… uh... you do the legwork. And I was fine with that.

Me: You didn’t mention Lileks, and he used to have a radio show.

Mitch: Oh I did. I forgot. But I did e-mail Lileks as well. And in fact we wound up having… about this time… oh a year ago I suppose I think the idea had, on some level, been passed around…. We passed some e-mails around. Everyone was interested, but no one knew where to start. I figured... well… about this time we started getting a lot of play on the Hugh Hewitt show, and getting mentioned a lot, and getting air time. And that’s a cool point on a talk radio show where you call in and always get put on the air. You get past the screeners on your name alone. It’s kind of heady stuff. And I pitched it to Lileks, Saint Paul, Elder, and… probably the Rocketman. And they all said… well sure. Make a pitch. So I did. About this time a year ago. And the idea bounced around in various forms… oh... for the first few months. It kind of sat there dormant for a little while, as we... basically... kind of tried to find a real focus for it.

And then the big turning point for it came in January of ’04 when Hugh Hewitt came to town, and threw a lunch for the Northern Alliance at this restaurant out on... uh… Lake Minnetonka. And we all crowded into this room, and Hugh said, “So, you guys going to do the show?” And I said, well… you know… Lileks is kind of the marquee player, and he’s not really into doing a show for free. And Hugh’s like, forget Lileks, forget the marquee player, are you guys going to do the show? And I said, well okay, let’s call somebody. After Hugh Hewitt left the entire assembled Northern Alliance, James Lileks wasn’t there that day, but everyone else was, so I said, okay what do you think about doing this? Because... they gave us a start date, March 6th if we could have a show ready by then. What do you think? And everybody said, yeah, maybe we could give it a shot. See what happens.

So we got their answer back later that day. The next Monday they said, well yeah. Sure we’ll do this. And we knocked around a few ideas, and we settled on… since I was the only one besides Lileks who’d ever done radio before, I’d be the anchor, more or less. And we sort of sketched out a sort of very, very rough ad hoc format. And we went from there. And it was really interesting, because... except for Saint Paul and Lileks, I’d only met… never met anyone in the Northern Alliance before this meeting in January of ‘04. And we only had one more meeting before we had our first broadcast. I got everyone down in the basement studio so they all knew what earphones felt like and what microphones looked like. And to kind of hammer out a rough format for the show. And that was it. We sat there for 45 minutes. And everybody talked into a microphone and listened to their voices. And uh…. That was on the last Saturday in February of ’04. The next weekend we were on the air. We did our first show... and... It’s off to the races since there.

Me: Speaking of the radio show… the Northern Alliance consists of a number of blogs, and some of them aren’t represented in the show. How did that come about?

Mitch: Well it came about because … like a few of them… Spitbull… are just not especially interested in doing radio. I call them our covert operations arm of the Northern Alliance. They support us. Actually there have been times that Eloise has sent us… has called in and said hey, so and so has a link to such and such here, check this out, while we’re on the air. That’s been invaluable. Um… most everyone else who’s involved... there’s a total of 15 people involved in the Northern Alliance all told. If you leave out people who are out of town, like Whiskey from Captain’s Quarters, or Deacon from Powerline. And a few people, who are only peripherally involved, like three of King Banyan’s associates up at Saint Cloud State Scholars… and Lileks is an occasional player on the air. There’s really 8 people involved in the show. This is… a small… Those are the people who really, really want to be involved in the show on a daily basis. And it works out really well. People who aren’t involved pretty much made it clear from the beginning they just didn’t feel like going on the air very much. Atomizer tried it once. He helps out at remotes all the time. In fact, he was out at the [Minnesota] State Fair quite a bit... Atomizer from Fraters Libertas. He provides the signal service of... every time we have a live remote broadcast… of bringing his Martini kit out to the post-show. And uh… you know we went from there.

Basically it’s all volunteer. I mean the people who want to do the show do the show.

Me: This may be tough to answer. I got a hint of this from you the other night. But, where is the show going?

Mitch: Very good question. We don’t know. I mean, right now the sky is the limit. And also… I mean... right now the sky is the limit… the sky is not only the limit, it’s also the requirements document at this point.

We have um… we’ve had an insane amount of interest in the show from people we’d never expected. I mean, we’d been on the air for six weeks and we did our first national gig for Hugh Hewitt, on April 14th and 15th of ’04. Those were our 6th and 7th broadcasts respectively. And we did it again within the month. And then we filled in for Prager this last week. And we may be filling in for other radio personalities in the next few weeks. And… the possibilities are…. literally… imponderable at this point. We don’t know. I mean, there’s possibilities... there’s communication… without any concrete sense of what they are. The web-streaming has been a galloping success so far. I mean, we had a thousand people come to the Northern Alliance website last weekend... which is triple normal… largely because of the CBS memo-gate scandal. And in sense of like distribution… it’s hard to say exactly where it will go. Or even to kind of predict.

Because if you’d have told us seven months ago, when we first started the show, that we’d be filling in for Hewitt, and Prager, and on the Web… and getting calls from China and New Jersey, both… we would have said you were nuts. It was interesting. Going into the first show, some of the parties who were going into the show, who will not be named, said, yeah we’ll probably last three weeks and then they’ll kick us off the air. Um... and we…

Me: Any hint who those parties might be?

Mitch: Um... they may be a major trial lawyer, and a couple of them may be rather alcohol focused slacker members of the Fraters Libertas. I mean… I don’t remember who had... I remember having a lot of confidence in the idea initially. Because I figured, A, why not? You can’t go into these things half-assed. You have to dive into these things, or stay on the diving board. You can’t just wade in up to your knees. That was one of the big lessons I learned when I was in radio. It was, if you get a break, you go with it all the way or it goes to someone else... or someone else will do it for you. Um… And so we did. And then… in some ways… if you ask the experts in radio... Do you do a group show? And they’ll say no. Group shows never work. Which only proves experts are sometimes right about some things.

Me: Let’s go into that… We spoke about that a little bit earlier. One of the reasons I came up with the idea to do this interview was listening to you guys on the Prager show…

Mitch: (chuckles) Ok.

Me: And I realized… Oh my God. It seemed like you involved dozens of people at any one time. And I was familiar with the background information from the blogs. And I realized how much information there was. And here you guys were, just trying to get all these people involved for who’d been writing about this for days. And here you were kind of emceeing the thing, trying to pull from all these different people, and hit the commercial breaks. And it worked. It worked amazingly well. And I thought, I’ve got to interview Mitch to find out how he does that. What’s his secret?

Mitch: You know, that’s a great question. How do I do it? I see my role as being sort of the quarterback of the Northern Alliance. I mean, John Hinderaker is sort of the Randy Moss… he catches the long ball and spikes it in the endzone, and the crowd goes wild. And Captain Ed is probably the half-back…. He slips five tackles and gets 40 yards… and the crowd goes wild. And the Fraters are like the pulling guards.. the big, pudgy, lovable pulling guards that everyone loves. And I’m sort of like the quaterba…. Nahh… I don’t even want to call myself the quarterback. I call myself the middle linebacker… because I’m the one who reads the signals, and tries to get everyone to the right place at the right time.

And I spend more time on the air… Lileks has written various posts about appearing on the show... because he’s been with us when we were filling in for Hewitt and Prager both... and he seems to have captured my role in the show, which is… I’m hand signaling all the time off the air. I mean… not that it’s fancy, but when we’re on the air it’s like signaling, okay you’re up. And you’re up next. And then we’ll take calls. We have this little evolved… little… simple but effective sign language on the air… where we control who’s coming up, who’s got something to say, and who responds to a caller, or whatever. And I’m the one who has in my head, okay this is what’s coming up… what’s going to sort of be the narrative of this hour? If it can be said that hours have narratives. I try and give them something of a narrative. That’s sort of a… I sort of see myself as kind of a producer on the fly... and there is a narrative to be had… in the subject matter... and we could be talking with a guest, there has to be a beginning, a middle, and an end to any interview. If you have an hour… a week in review hour… which is how we start every show out... there’s got to be a beginning, a middle, and an end to every week in review. I try and pace things. And bring out the comments. And sequence the calls so there... sort of… it seems like some sort of narrative... which may or may not be discernable to the listener at all... as something we try to shoot for.

One of the things I try to do is sort of structuring this thing behind the scenes. And doing the scene with a lot of give and take. I mean the guys have their own point of views, and we try to bring those out on the air… and focus things on their efforts and so forth. That’s a big part of… the biggest part of my job. Of course… I’ve been on the radio, and I know a little bit about filling up air space with blather. So when a guest drops off the line in the middle of an interview I have a little bit of experience with being able to babble through until a producer brings the guest back up. It happened today with Jed Babbin. We lost him during the break. And I tap danced until Joe Hanson got him back on the line… That kind of thing, which is not so big in itself exactly, but it’s kind of a learned skill. And it’s... those kind of situations really that may be my one real qualification to be on the show. I can keep babbling when that stuff happens.

Me: What were the best moments in the show so far? Either because you liked them, or you thought they worked the best?

Mitch: Um… I have a soft spot in my heart for comedy radio. And so our broadcast at the fair… especially the first weekend… where we were doing live play by play from the fair because we couldn’t… you know... it was the only trick we had. Parades were going by. And Brian Ward, who was out doing his live play by play, and basically… heckling the Dairy Princess... uh... Princess Kay… and getting attacked by Goldie Gopher. That was some of my favorite stuff.

Um… live, off-the-cuff arguments about music with Captain Ed and J. B. Doubtless…

The interviews we’ve had with the likes of… um…well last week with John Fund was just a gas… oh, and Michele Malkin… When you’re just in the zone… and it comes so fast you don’t even know where the hour goes. And that’s all good. And it’s hard for me to pick those moments, because for the last 6 or 7 weeks everything is just clicking so very, very well, it’s like every show is a favorite moment probably.

Me: What are your thoughts on the blogosphere? Where is it going?

Mitch: Oh, I don’t know. Where is it going? I ... I... I knew that question was going to come. And I should probably have thought of an intelligent answer for it. But I don’t know that I have one. I’m not really a visionary. I’m more of a tactician when it comes to these sorts of things.

Where do I think it’s going? I think… It think that there’s probably going to be a cycle that the blogosphere goes through that’s similar to the cycle that, say, punk rock went through. I think there’s parallels. And I say this perhaps because Johnny Ramone just died... you know... because he was one of my idols as a kid. But there’s a cycle that punk rock went through… where it was brand new, snotty, entertaining, fun, do-it-yourself garage-level phenomenon. Like the earliest inclination of the Ramones, and the Dead Boys and other people like that, where it sort of … it was new and it shook the roots of the establishment in ways nobody could have predicted. And then it grew up a little bit, it got serious, started getting some money thrown at it, it sort of went establishment to some extent. It became part of the establishment. You had the Ramones playing at bars where you didn’t have to unstick yourself from the seat when you got up. And I think I’d put bloggers right now at about the same place punk rock was when the Sex Pistols came to America. And… we’re kind of at the same fork in the road the Pistols were when they came to America. We can present a lot of credibility and… um... presence in the marketplace of ideas, if not quite the marketplace of finance. And where we go with it from here? Do we give into hubris? Do we say we don’t know what we’re going to do from here? Do we crater because we have no desire to do anything but crater, as the Sex Pistols did in 1977, ‘78? Or do we... Or does it evolve into an institution with its own sclerosis and its own traditions and institutions? I don’t know. I’m hoping that it’s a self renewing… I hate the term “revolution.” I’m hoping it’s a self-renewing uh… exfoliation (chuckles)… for lack of a better term. I’m hoping it’s a sort of exfoliation process. It renews itself and checks itself and keeps itself lean… and… and young and revolutionary. Rather than turn into… say… what broadcasting turned into between the 1920’s and the 1970’s.

Me: So you don’t want to see yourself being Dan Rather 20 years from now.

Mitch: Yeah, right. Exactly. I don’t want to turn into…um… A pundit’s more of a mainstream phenomenon. And I don’t want to see it get... “corrupted” is not quite the right word I’m looking for… But I don’t want to see blogs become… sort of a cash cow for… someone else. … another …. Instead of a cash cow maybe another paying phenomenon... like the Web became.

Yet overall I think that the blogosphere is living out a lot of... you know… the promise that the Web held. And um… you know twelve years ago. I think that’s kind of where we are right now in terms of like in terms of information. The blogosphere is there… and um... That’s kind of a very incoherent vision for where I’d like to see it go.

Me: What kind of blogs do you like to read?

Mitch: Oh gosh. Um… All the Northern Alliance, because I find myself getting all the facts that I need about the major pieces of the news of the day. I mean between Ed… and Powerline… and some of the other big news blogs. I mean, Instapundit I read daily. I read… The one’s that more than any I find myself reading daily besides the whole Northern Alliance lineup, and some of the Minnesota Organization of Blogs lineup, is uh… you know Lileks of course, daily, he’s an every day. Um… I find myself reading Sheila O’Malley every day. She’s fun. A polymath… writes about everything from news to... books to... just curious little obsessions she has. And she’s sort of… I called her a manic, female Lileks a little while ago and uh… it seemed to fit. So I like reading that one. I read uh... Phil Carter(?) .. uh… intel blog(?), he posts a couple times a day. Um... local bloggers… Jay Reding, from Mankato, I read him a lot.

Then I try to sort through some of the new blogs. I’ve been reading more opposition blogs lately. Um… there’s a group of lefty bloggers who’ve tried to form sort of an instant association. I guess I’ve heard through the grapevine that they’re trying this as sort of a leftwing answer to the Northern Alliance… called the New Patriots. They have a website. It’s a group of ten local lefty bloggers, with a variety of writing skill levels. And I find myself reading them. Not that I ... probably because I enjoy some of them. Some of them are interesting writers. Some of them are… um… are whackos. And, um… I’ll let the discerning reader tell who’s who. And I read them. And I’ll find myself going out on some of the lefty blogs… with the… to get ideas to write about. And some of them are interesting… some of them are… I went through a process, probably a month, month and a half ago. Trying to... as one of my posts said... trying to find a good lefty blog. And I found a few. I mean there’s a few left blogs that I enjoy reading around here now. I enjoy... uh... rphaedrus, Jason’s blog, who... I think you met Jason at one of the blogger get togethers here [I did. – ed.]. Great guy. Worked with him… He and I and “Plain Layne” used to work together. Let’s see... um... Chuck Olson. He’s just a personable guy, and he writes a presentable blog that I enjoy reading from time to time. I do read his blog. I do it fairly regularly. And all the other lefty blogs less so. There’s kind of just… this bitterness to a lot of the local lefty blogs … and I find it just sort of unbecoming. It’s kind of just off-putting.

Me: What non-political blogs do you read?

Mitch: Well let’s see. Politics covers a lot of the business. Um... Sheila O’Malley, that’s a big one. Um… For non-political stuff I find myself looking a lot. And so… I find myself going down Sheila O’Malley’s blogroll... she covers so much stuff. Uh… I was reading a lot of Blind Cave Fish for a time. She’s a girl from New York who writes kind of a very entertaining blog. Um... there was a local woman… uh... she wrote a fascinating blog. It was called Pussyranch.com, which was recently retired in the past two weeks. It was a blog written by a woman who worked in the local sex industry. She was a stripper basically. And it was a fascinating, wonderfully written blog. And I’m really bummed that she has shut down her blog to write part time, on a free lance basis, for City Pages.

Because the stuff she writes for City Pages is the standard, homogenized… sort of mushy-left City Pages kind of fare. Whereas the stuff she wrote for her blog was wonderful stuff. Wrong choice. I mean I feel for her. She made some money obviously. You want to go for… whatever it is they pay these days. I think it was 50 bucks when I was free-lancing. And I’m sure it hasn’t gone up much. Um... as opposed to the blog that she pretty much did for free. But… um… I miss that blog badly actually. I think you can say okay, blogger works for the sex industry, whoo-hoo-hoo! But no, it was actually very well written. A very insightful blog that I think I miss badly already.

Me: I know what you mean. Once you get past the titillation factor, there has to be something that keeps you there... What sort of things keep you going back to a blog? What draws you in?

Mitch: Someone who has some insights. I mean... some insights I wouldn’t have thought of. And who states these insights well and artfully… and has some mastery… whether typical or back-door… for writing the English language. Or German language for some blogs... I read both languages. Um… Someone who has insights on things I’m not familiar with who states them in interesting and fascinating ways. And those are the ones… other than… outside the world of politics… that I find myself going back to more and more. And um… I’m aware there’s over 3 million blogs out there. And I... I ... sometimes I’ll just go on these little journeys…. Surf from one blogroll to another to another… blogs at random. And sometimes… my God, there’s an absolute wasteland out there. But it... there’s times I find blogs I’ve never seen before, who have perspectives on things that I’ve never seen before. And sometimes they grab you for some length of time, and sometimes I agree and sometimes I enjoy that. And sometimes I disagree and I never go back again. And sometimes I like them so much I blogroll them… so... anything can happen.

Me: I have to transcribe this. So I’m not going to let this go too much longer.

Mitch: (chuckles) Ok.

Me: What are your top five blogs… not in the Northern Alliance?

Mitch: Not in the Northern Alliance? That’s a good one. Um… Sheila O’Malley. Um… let’s see… there’s Phil Carter… I uh… find myself going back to Hugh Hewitt… a lot. I mean he digests an awful lot of the moderate right blogosphere. Um… I mean I read Lileks every day, but he’s Northern Alliance, so I can’t mention him. Uh... let’s see. Belmont Club… an absolute must-read for everyone. Um… and I find myself going back to Blackfive. A lot. Uh... I guess that’s six.

Me: Ok... top bands. I don’t care what style. Rock bands, Punk Bands .. Bagpipe bands…

Mitch: Uh... ok… alright. Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band. Iron City House Rockers. Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. Uh… Big Country in their golden years... and uh... Richard Thompson.

Me: Top five books.

Mitch: Boy, that’s a good one. I don’t know if I can even remember the top five. Um... Crime and Punishment… War and Peace… it sounds like name dropping but it’s not. Both books had a profound impact on me, as a young liberal who was about to emerge into conservatism. It had… a deep impact on my conversion. Um… Republican Party Reptile, by P. J. O’Rourke. That’s another that had a deep impact on me. Um... number four… Modern Times, by Paul Johnson. Yet another of the books that converted me to conservatism back in the day. Um… number five… Dakota, A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris. Uh... a book about the spiritual, psychological, emotional... inner - life of the people of the Great Plains. It’s a fascinating book. It brought a tear to my eye. It’s an autobiography written by someone else, if you will. I just love that book. Very much worth a read for anyone who ever lived west of (garbled).

Me: Any closing comments?

Mitch: Gosh. Read your local blogs. Support them. Come out to the Minnesota Association of blogs party, which should be coming up here at Keegans, sometime before the election. Um… read and support your local blogs. Slip them a couple of bucks through their uh… PayPal links… and uh… If you’ve ever even thought about writing a blog yourself, just do it. I mean it’s the easiest thing in the world to do. Just like falling off a log. And… who knows? Maybe you might find it’s ready to become part of your life... a part you’ve never discovered, or maybe... oh… a part you’d given up on 10 or 15 years earlier.

Me: Thank you very much.

Mitch: My pleasure.

1 Comments:

Blogger Chuck Olsen said...

Dang, I shoulda been videotaping this interview for Blogumentary!

By the way Mitch, I've been meaning to tell you I love the RAWK you cue up for NA radio breaks. I bang my head every time. Then when you guys start talking, I bang my head against a wall. ;-)

1:57 PM  

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