4 and 20 blackbirds
by Jay Stevens
When I started 4 and 20 blackbirds — what? — nine years ago, I had a vision for the site. It was simple. I’d create a blog that would give a platform for progressive voices in a media environment that shut out all but the most saccharine of “conventional wisdom” and grating right-wing voices on cable television and talk-show radio. And it was in the context of some crazy times — we were in the middle of an ill-conceived, poorly planned, poorly run and unethical war in Iraq. Republicans ran Congress and beat down all opposition voices with the club of 9/11 and specter of terrorism.
The blog was also started, then, to tout the candidacy of Jon Tester for Senate.
How things have changed.
Jon Tester is a US Senator. We’re no longer in Iraq. We have a Democratic president. And there are still plenty of issues that should energize us, unite us.
One thing that’s changed is that there’s no shortage of voices in 2015. Everyone has access to blogging tools and social media, and can comment on forums like Reddit. Anybody with an opinion can voice it anywhere. If there’s a problem now, it’s that incivility and extremism drowns out good, productive conversation and information. You don’t need to look much further than Gamergate or the trollish response to Reddit’s decision to ban its “Fat People Hate” to understand that.
There’s still a need for a good progressive voice, though. Now, instead of having to cut through the bloc of mainstream media, it needs to rise above the cacophony of angry, irrational voices.
I’ve been away for awhile. I stopped writing for the Montana blogosphere in 2012. Recently, I’ve had my attention somewhat forcibly drawn back to this site. Imagine my surprise when I saw the discussion here — fantastic plots equating Bernie Sanders with Hilary Clinton’s conspiracy to….what? Well, it’s hard to say. Only that the international Jewish conspiracy is involved somehow. And Vladimir Putin is a hero.
Whatever. Maybe some of it is true. Who knows? What I do know is that whatever content that is on the site isn’t very popular. The readership has dropped 75 percent in the past year or so, from its high-water marks in 2011 and 2006. And it’s likely a majority of today’s hits are from a few obsessive readers and commenters who check in and post dozens of times a day. But, honestly, with Lee Enterprises cutting its state political bureau, now is the time for informative writing about state and local politics. Now is the time for reasoned views about the critical issues that affect everyday Montanans and Missoulians.
Which is why I put a lockdown on the site for now. It’s time for a reboot.
I don’t know what will happen to the site. I hope it will continue. I’ve asked jhwygirl to step up again, and I think she’s game. We’ll try to recruit new writers, and we’ll keep some of the old ones. But we’ll redirect the site to opinions and news that people need and like. Maybe there’ll be a redesign. Maybe not!
In any case, I think it’s time to get back to the site’s original vision. Thanks to all who have been a part of this site. I do appreciate it, despite my harsh words. I’ll leave the comments open for discussion. I’m sure not a few of you will simply call me names, but I’m hoping for some positive feedback and ideas for the future.