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Let’s Buy Both!

isn’t that great a novel, but there’s this one passage in it that speaks to an existential question about blogging: is it reporting or commentary? Gary, the lachrymose elder son of the Lambert family, is wrestling with his changing feelings for his wife, Caroline. For a reminder of what it is he needs from her, and an affirmation of why only she can deliver it, Gary mentally scrolls through a collection of his favorite musings from Caroline, "an All-Time Caroline Ten." Number six is particularly memorable for what it says about Gary’s needs: "Let’s buy both!"

It’s no great secret that for some people, blogging represents the devolution of journalism to the level of heh-indeed amplification. That’s not so surprising. Lots of bloggers — some busy with day jobs, others for whom blogging is a day job — would prefer to leave the gathering of information to others. And for a lot of journalists, blogging is what you do with notebook scraps that can’t make it into your main story — an afterthought, in other words, or a pleasant distraction. Like Gary and Caroline, bloggers and journalists have a vague sense that they need each other, but they’re not sure why they feel the way they do, nor have they come to any stable agreement about how they fit together.

"All-Time Caroline Number Six" offers a few answers. As everyone else has noted here, The Washington Independent’s mission can be boiled down to Buying Both. We’ve watched, with trepidation, how newspapers in financial difficulty jettisoned their investigative staffs, and we’ve viewed, with frustration, how rare it is for TV news to go beyond the superficial. But we’ve noticed with excitement how powerful and immediate blogging can be. It lets you build a story sequentially, combining the bricks of what’s already been reported with the mortar of thinking aloud about what’s yet to be known and what it all means. To that, we want to add the journalistic spadework of getting new data and synthesizing it in relevant ways. All of a sudden a relationship premised on vague attraction and mutual misunderstanding becomes a lot healthier.

That’s what I’ve tried to do for the last few years. By the way, hi: I’m Spencer Ackerman, and I’ll be writing about national security and foreign policy for The Independent. It’s what I’ve done for the past five years, ever since I came to Washington from college, but I’ve never been comfortable figuring out just one format for my work. I’ve done investigative reporting for opinion outlets, using both investigation and opinion to (hopefully) inform the other. Like my partner in crime Laura, I come to The Independent from , the pioneer in crossbreeding blogging and reporting, and I’m also a senior correspondent for The American Prospect, the gold standard in liberal opinion magazines that manipulate the Intertubes. Before that I was at The New Republic for a couple of years, and I’ve also written for The Nation, Salon, The Atlantic, Men’s Health, The Washington Monthly, Slate, and other places.

What I’ve tried to do is report and inform about the vast apparatus of national security in a way that’s free of euphemism, blandishments, unstated premises or easy answers. Here, I’ll take it all on: intelligence, the military, diplomacy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the broader war on terrorism, detentions, interrogations, contractors, arguments about the way this all works and should work. I don’t and won’t always succeed, and that’s why I need to argue back and forth with bloggers who take issue with my stuff. It’s curious when highly-trained professional journalists act as if their material is beyond reproach from online critics — after all, journalism’s essence is to explore the crevasse between what exists and what we’re told exists. That’s the impulse that animates me, and what animates this Web site, which will marry this format to that purpose. We’re interested at The Washington Independent in Buying Both, as it turns out to be a bargain.

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