"not well regarded"? only if to put it softly!The next day, in a new post, I tried a more rhetorical approach. That's when I got this comment:
"why" - I think is merely a rhetoric question, which we already know answer for!James Fallows recently blogged about the kind of problem I am encountering. Whereas the problem is not unique to bloggers, Fallows notes that online writers confront it with far more regularly than those writing for older forms of media:
Serious point: when writing for the mixed audience that comes to web sites -- much more thoroughly mixed by nationality, language skill, age range, and cultural reference points than is the case for most print publications -- it can be a challenge to figure out exactly how much to explain. Some parts of an audience will instantly get any quote or reference -- "Luke, I am your father" / Dave's "Top Ten" List / "Harmonious Society" / "I, for one, welcome.." Others won't. Explain too little, and you're being obscure; explain too much, and you risk sounding over-obvious or killing a joke -- with instant feedback either way.James Fallows is, of course, a famous American journalist. And his solution addresses one critical aspect of the problem. Nevertheless, I suspect many stylistic concerns that come up when you blog for a diverse audience will never go away. For purposes of clarification, writers and their readers will be jotting out comments and emails for a long time to come.
Anyone who has ever written or spoken via any medium in any age has faced the challenge of knowing the audience. But with newspapers, magazines, and books the problem it's not as tricky because like-minded audiences tend to self-select. That's true to a degree of web sites. But the worldwide reach, the scale, the speed, the unpredictable patterns of searching and linking, etc all make for a larger probability that a given posting may be seen by people outside its "natural" audience.
The solution is probably one that good written publications apply in any case, and that is also generally useful in life: finding unobtrusive ways to explain allusions when there's even a slight chance they may be missed. In conversation, I absolutely hate it when people say "Have you heard of Mr. X?" or "Does the name Y mean anything to you?" I prefer to say, "Mr X, who of course was Czar of all the Russias, ..." or "Mr. Y, the renowned pimp from Baltimore,..." If you say "of course" or "the famous" you can convey the information while implying that of course the other party already knows it.
Because, lest the future of writing be monochromatic, good solutions to this these problems will always be preferable to perfect ones.