Wonking Off

Ana Marie Cox dishes about scandal, sex, journalism, and leaving her popular blog for the literary life. A Reason interview.

Self described "pretend journalist" Ana Marie Cox is no stranger to the media world she regularly savages, having put in time at publications like Suck, Mother Jones, and The American Prospect. Nor is she unfamiliar with journalistic backbiting, having been fired from or asked to leave most of them. But as Wonkette—her sex-obsessed, hard-drinking, foul-mouthed internet persona—Cox managed to turn the ready sarcasm that made her unpopular in the office into a skill that has earned her notoriety on and off the Web. With the launch of Wonkette, Cox found a loyal following of readers who like their political coverage superficial, mean, and gratuitously profane. No less impressively, she managed to place herself at the center of a D.C. sex scandal without being a politician or having to sleep with one. �

It was that scandal—the unmasking of one-time Hill staffer Jessica Cutler as sex-diarist and blogger Washingtonienne—that inspired Cox' new novel, Dog Days, in which a fictional blogosphere spawns a scandal-inducing site by the name of Capitolette. Having fictionalized the strange truths at the intersection of web logs, DC politics, and sex, Cox is now planning a work of non-fiction—a feat, as she explains on her blog, that will require her to both "leave the house" (though she promises to leave a trail of breadcrumbs) and leave the site in other hands. Assistant Editor Kerry Howley spoke with Cox in January. �

reason: You've called yourself a pretend journalist. Are there any real journalists?

Ana Marie Cox: I often speak mockingly of the difference between real journalists and pretend journalists. Journalism is what you do; it's not what you are. And anyone can produce a piece of journalism. It's on the page that the distinction is made.

reason: Along those lines, is there an "alternative media" and a "mainstream media"? Does that distinction make sense?

Cox: I suppose that there has to be a way to distinguish those of us that don't get paid very much from those that do. So I do think that there is an alternative media. There is media that is produced independently from the mechanisms that existed for a long time. Big companies and such.

In a way I think, to the extent that there is an alternative media, there is definitely more than there was before. I'm not a big fan of blogs myself, and I look forward to not having to keep up with them so much. Most of the writing sucks. But I am for the idea of blogs. I think more voices are always better, even if some of those voices are whiny and irritating.

reason: How have blogs evolved since you started?

Cox: It's become a more mature medium. And as it gets more mature it begins to get more like what we would call mainstream media. It begins to get more cliquish and jealous; it becomes easier to game the system. And as a social class becomes established the meritocracy diminishes.

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