Interviews

10 Years of Newsgrist: The Interview

by Hrag Vartanian on March 24, 2010

The header of Newsgrist, which includes its slogan “where spin is art.”

Ten years is a longtime for a web-based project and Newsgrist is celebrating a decade of existence this month.

Created by artist and online maven Joy Garnett, she considers Newsgrist as “a kind of artist’s journal. It happens online, and it predates blogs, and I imagine that it can and will adapt to whatever vehicles crop up.”

What is Newsgrist? It is a compilation of links and information of interest to those in the arts. In other words, before art blogs existed there was Newsgrist.

I spoke with Garnett about her online project and how it has evolved since its inception. She assured me that, “after all these years [it] remains as close to my heart as ever.”

*  *  *

Hrag Vartanian: A decade ago the blogosphere was a pretty lonely place, wasn’t it? Why the hell did you start?

Joy Garnett: Ah! Well, Newsgrist didn’t start as a blog. In fact, I didn’t convert it to a blog until I absolutely had to, in 2004. Before that, it was a subscriber-based email “newsletter” that went out irregularly several times a week. It was funky: plain text with links.

The whole thing started as a kind of irritated joke directed at my compatriots on various listservs, which were the dominant social networking form of the moment.

HV: What do you mean, “until I absolutely had to?” And when you did make it a blog, what blogging platform did you use?

Joy Garnett

JG: The context for social discourse was changing. From about 1998 I had been vocal on a number of listservs — from unfiltered, new media art lists such as ‘Rhizome RAW’ and Wolfgang Staehle’s thingist to theory-driven filtred lists such as nettime and Jordan Crandall’s eyebeam, which started operating in the late ’90s. I speak of the days when Wolfgang’s The Thing still had its original offices in the Starrett-Lehigh building, and before Rhizome regrouped under the aegis of The New Museum.

The web was still a wild and woolly place. There was a lively, art e-list culture, as yet unhampered by spam and the commercialization of the web. Newsgrist grew out of my relationship to that space of social interaction. Ironically, it was, at first, merely a statement of personal pique with people on the lists. (Ironic because now I feel nostalgia for the lists and those people. Well, almost.) Annoyed over something or other, I put together a fake newsletter and posted it to a list where I was embroiled, instead of responding as myself. It was probably on thingist now that I think of it.

Someone, an artist, then sent me an email with “subscribe” in the subject line. And then after I posted several more such “newsletters” a few more people sent me requests to subscribe. So I registered the domain name “Newsgrist,” created a logo and started an electronic newsletter. It was not that much different, content-wise, then it is today: basically, my idea at the time was that there was so much talk — so much hot air — already on the web, why add to it? I chose instead to aggregate excerpts of various articles and chatter, to ‘curate’ them into themed broadsheets. Each one had a slightly different theme.

Later I added links to photographs that I was then taking with my new digital camera and uploaded to my server. This was a digital camera with a floppy disk drive! Later I would post announcements to events or open calls, classifieds, etc. But by around 2003, email was becoming difficult. It was hampered first by spam, and then by spam filters, which in those days tended to be very blunt instruments. I wondered whether it was time to call it a day, but several people encouraged me to keep it going by moving it over to a blog format, which I did in may 2004. I chose Typepad.

…  I thought I might dig up a ‘typical’ newsgrist for you, from it’s first volume/year.

…  Wow — I didn’t even realize my original geocities site is still there — hilarious! Check it out for its proto-blogness: http://www.geocities.com/newsgrist/home.html

HV: Looking back, what were your most popular posts?

JG: Oh, oops, sorry, I don’t really know what were the most popular posts. I don’t really care or keep track of hits all that much anymore. I do remember a huge outcry some years ago over some museum censorship of an Emily Jacir show — I scooped the story, and followed up. But it’s gone now: I accidentally deleted the blog archives once, around 2005! Trigger finger …

The main thing is, I think, that I never let the email thing go, despite the over-zealous spam filter problem; the mailing list has always been worth keeping. Now, I cut and paste a week’s worth of blog posts into a loose format and email that off. A while back I automated the mailing list, and it’s grown gradually to a modest 1,000 subscribers who range from the truly digitally challenged, to busy art museum directors, to the young striving artist.

Some people shun aggregators and still like to get it directly in their inbox, apparently. The ‘mission,’ if there is one, is to bridge those disconnected communities, hierarchies and varied digi skills/habits, somehow, all the while while still functioning for me as my personal stash of interesting stuff … that I just happen to share.

HV: Which blogs, art or otherwise, do you read? How has the changed over the years?

JG: Lately, I just seem to read all kinds of new (to me) blogs and news solely and directly through Twitter.

The fact that I’m on the road a lot has changed the way I consume info. I no longer bother with my aggregator, which generates the absurdly long, categorically indexed blogroll on Newsgrist. It’s there if I need it I suppose. I am totally enamored of techdirt.com, have been for a while. For politics this year, no one rocks my boat like balloon-juice.com. I quite like The Awl. I used to spend a lot more time with Gawker, especially when Choire Sicha was editor, but not so much anymore. I think my attention shifted reluctantly at first from listservs to blogs, and now it’s shifting again somewhat with Twitter. I’m not sure exactly where my attention is headed, or what new software apps the next wave of info-consumption will entail. I figure I’ll just roll with it.

HV: Any predictions for the next 10 years?

JG: The future is overrated. (Lolz)

*   *   *

More about Joy Garnett on Wikipedia.

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  • http://twitter.com/_randomthoughts nina meledandri

    i have always loved receiving newsgrist in my inbox and for years assumed it was a collaborative effort because of the consistency and range of its coverage. during times when i have felt “disconnected” newsgrist has provided a little foothold into what’s interesting and vibrant in the artworld, thanks joy.

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