Reflections on The End of RBC, Part I: Mark Kleiman as Blogger

In preparing to say goodbye to RBC, I have been spending time digging through the archives. In the process I have come up with some closing reflections that I will share here in our final month of existence. The first part is dedicated to RBC Founder Mark Kleiman as a blogger (I have written about my friend more generally here, this post is just about him as an RBCer).

The oldest post in RBC’s archive is this one, written by Mark on August 30, 2002. Mark started in a place of political alienation: he positively loathed the George W. Bush Presidency. Some people want to write; other people have to. I think at that historical moment Mark had to. In a previous century, he might have stamped out hand bills protesting the actions of Parliament or The King, but in 2002, the Internet was here and blogging was exploding as a written form. Cometh the medium, cometh the man.

My main feeling in looking at the early years of RBC’s archive is admiration of Mark’s work ethic and bloody minded persistence. Day after day he turned out post after post for a tiny audience. RBC was not a group blog but Mark Kleiman’s blog, and he was 100% responsible to keep it going. He pushed that rock uphill and slowly built a loyal audience. Even when Steve Teles and Michael O’Hare signed on a few years in, Mark was still the workhouse content producer.

I feel good about the fact that I was a core writer here when the RBC reached its largest audience (At least 250,000 unique readers a month), but going from no audience to 10,000 regular readers is a way bigger lift that going from 150,000 to 250,000. There were a zillion blogs when Mark was starting out that never hit that initial threshold of a loyal readership base, but Mark got there and then some entirely on his own.

This also highlights what a generous person he was. Many people who had labored so hard to create a platform and a following would not have shared it. But Mark offered RBC slots to dozens of writers over the years, letting them start out with a much bigger audience for their work than they could have attained without years of effort.

Mark also deserves praise for the range of substantive areas about which he blogged about in a thoughtful fashion. He is of course most well known for leading the only widely read English language blog that did serious drug policy analysis, but he also wrote intelligently about crime, politics, poverty, education, and a variety of other topics. I eulogized Mark at the American Society of Criminology last year by noting that he was really a 19th century intellectual rather than a 21st century social scientist: he didn’t stay confined to a discipline and didn’t rely much on complex statistics. Instead he used his roving mind and keen observational skills to make his points, and, he had enough chutzpah to think (usually correctly) that he could say something intriguing on virtually any topic.

At the same time, Mark was sometimes too undisciplined in his blogging, and indulged himself in rants or political attacks that didn’t advance the argument (Not that that was his purpose in those posts, he was I think venting). I wonder if it might explain a mystery of Mark Kleiman as a blogger: Why was it that so many of his equally successful contemporaries were hired by magazines and newspapers to be an inhouse blogger but Mark never was? It may be that the only blog that could hold Mark’s eclectic intellect, temperament, and sensibilities, was the one that he himself founded and ran.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

2 thoughts on “Reflections on The End of RBC, Part I: Mark Kleiman as Blogger”

  1. The Golden Age of blogging is over. Eyeballs have shifted to Facebook and Twitter, which reward one-liners not reasoned paragraphs. We even have the absurd tweetstorm, in which a complex argument is broken up artificially into tweet-sized sentences. The vices of instant wit are well captured in the French film Ridicule, set in 18th-century Versailles. (There, I finally got in a film recommendation!)

    This is the opposite evolution to that of periodical journalism in the 18th century, which started outwith the blog-like immediacy of Addison and Steele and ended up with the ponderous essays of the Edinburgh Review.

    The contributions of us guests on Mark’s blog did add one thing he for some reason was not very interested in: images (charts and art from me, photos from Harold, videos from Keith).

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