How To Accidentally 'Invent Liveblogging'

Thomas Jefferson didn't look so great in 2000, because he had been dead for two centuries.
When Joe Biden and Zombie Ayn Rand Paul Ryan begin their televised debate Thursday night, hundreds of professional media employees will be “liveblogging” the proceedings for hundreds of topical websites, from the New York Times to (maybe?) PerezHilton.com. Millions of otherwise sane humans will turn on the television and then frantically reload the websites of their favorite bloggers while simultaneously making their own jokes on Twitter, Facebook and probably in the comments of the aforementioned websites. After digesting and processing thousands of one-liners and spot reactions and weird jokes about the candidates’ genitalia, the now-informed electorate will “pick the best candidate,” which is a fake Big Bird account on Twitter.

The founding fathers, obviously, had exactly this process in mind when they made slavery legal. But political liveblogging did not actually begin with Thomas Jefferson’s giant reptilian tongue lolling around his bound, metal-bikini-clad slave girls. It is a more recent invention—and if I can be believed, then liveblogging as we know it was my accidental invention, three presidential elections ago, all because my employer (a liberal media outlet published by a conservative tycoon’s namesake endowment) didn’t foresee a reason to procure press credentials for my coverage of the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. Credentials for the Democratic convention in Los Angeles should be enough, right? It wasn’t like George W. Bush was going to defeat Al Gore.

And so, on a terrible rainy evening in a motel at the very edge of Philadelphia, I had no choice but to use the new “Blogger” software on my personal website to write a frequently updated, timestamped collection of cheap jokes and ill-informed instant analysis and then post this disjointed mess on my own “web log,” because of course Annenberg’s Online Journalism Review published its web articles on a strict twice-a-week schedule.

These real Americans supported George W. Bush, and they were right!
Later, when it was “time to turn on the Internet offset printing press,” the strange and unsavory collection of sentences was posted to OJR.org, an important (forgotten) player in the early days of new media navel gazing. Maybe a hundred people actually read the piece. There were no comments; there was no commenting system. But Windows 2000 and Real Player 7 were going strong, meaning “not working.”

The compound word “liveblogging” had yet to be coined. According to the peer-reviewed entry on Wikipedia, liveblogging had “first been applied by websites such as Gizmodo, Engadget, Techcrunch and Macworld in 2003-2005 for coverage of technology-related events,” although “The Guardian had been publishing ‘minute-by-minute’ reports of local sports events since April 2001.” And just yesterday, Andrew Sullivan made the bold claim that only he and Matt Drudge had liveblogged the 2000 election:

Drudge is Drudge. He does sometimes link to me, and has had me on his blog-roll for years (we were roughly the only two people on the planet live-blogging the 2000 election campaign and are both unrepentant, obsessive Petheads)

Drudge maintains a web page of news and columnist links and has never blogged that I know of, and Sullivan started his blog in October 2000—well after the Republican and Democratic conventions that year. This is what is meant by “History is written by the victors and the cat-bloggers.”

Lacking an easy/dumb term to explain what I was attempting in the Philadelphia suburbs, far from the convention floor, this is the tortured construction I dredged up on that literally dark and stormy night at an Extended Stay America motel:

Let’s try an experiment here, which we’ll call Simultaneous Web/Television Monitoring. Will online journalism have an impact? Who will win?

Simultaneous Web/Television Monitoring … it really rolls off the tongue, the way Thomas Jefferson’s enormous reptilian tongue rolls over Princess Leia in a burnished bronze bikini.

Let's all pause to fondly remember Dennis Hastert, who was buried alive in 2006.
Next came what was apparently the first timestamped liveblog wise-ass remark by a lower-rung journalist about a nationally televised political event. This will probably make you feel kind of patriotic:

7:23 p.m. ET–There’s video of a fat guy dressed in olde 18th Century clothes, introducing the not-as-fat House Speaker Dennis Hastert, introducing the night’s nonsense via videotape or remote camera.

7:24 p.m. ET–Fruity GOP guys in wigs and costumes, via videotape.

7:25 p.m. ET–They found a black Republican (three, reports say) and he’s the first human speaker. He may be the last. CNN says this shows the GOP’s “new commitment to diversity.” There are no visible minorities among the delegates and guests on the floor.

You ever see those old clips of Johnny Carson or Al Jolson or whatever and think, “Meh, that’s not even funny”? Kind of the same thing with this stuff.

If I recall correctly, exactly two colleagues sent email remarking on the oddball blog post. One liked it, one didn’t understand it at all; both referred to the thing as an “article.” The time was not yet right. Four years later, when Kerry and Bush Junior had their conventions in New York and Boston, blogs were everywhere. A guy I knew from the Financial Times bureau in Silicon Valley had even started an actual publishing business with blogs. Everything was about to become wonderful, for everyone.

And tonight, Choire Sicha and I will COMPLETELY RE-INVENT LIVEBLOGGING FOREVER, so come back to The Awl at 6 p.m. Eastern, 9 p.m. Pacific. (JK, the other way around.) You will probably not regret this so much.