From Blogger to Byline

Professional journalism says s-salam-u alaikum.


A collective "I told you so" has raced through the never-contented community of bloggers with the Guardian's announcement that Iraqi blogger Salam Pax is a real person (and no Ba'ath loyalist, he insists; expect Salam's enemies—the bitterest of whom always seem to be former fans—to turn about and try to reveal that the Guardian itself is run by the Ba'ath nomenklatura).

Salam Pax is now going from being an anonymous blogger to being a bi-weekly anonymous contributor to the British newspaper. In his own words (carefully excised when the Guardian, ever fearful of letting its true patron become known, reprinted the passage), "I sold my soul to the devil."

It's all very exciting. I look forward to Salam's work for the "devil" and will be the first to buy the book and movie that I hope will be forthcoming. For Salam's biggest fans, I doubt overexposure is at issue. But his sarcastic self-eulogy—and even more so, the embarrassing Guardian edit—are a reminder that what made his blog, Dear Raed, so completely compelling was necessarily ephemeral.

Salam was a mysterious poet from a mysterious place, living under a dictatorship, awaiting the destruction of the society he lived in—and somehow able to communicate that experience to a global audience, drawing on raw detail, wit, and the wealth of conflicting emotions that define human experience. For a brief moment, the idea of "authenticity" seemed to have rescued itself from thumb-sucking self-parody. He wrote so real, in fact, that people spent hours, even days, trying to figure out whether he was a fake. (They still do.)

The months of Dear Raed were a reminder, on a grand, mainstream scale, of the power of an individual voice, one amplified by technology and the sheer audacity of its author. Now, with a formal byline and the attention of the world upon Salam—and the merciful end of the war—the blog's dramatic spontaneity will likely be dulled. And though Dear Raed was a phenomenon worth celebrating, it's also worth celebrating its end. Now Salam now has the same privilege as the rest of us: to be just another journo.