We have had quite a bit of argument about the diaries lately. It seems most of us think that (a) there are too many diaries, (b) that good diaries go by too quickly, and (c) that topics are repeated too often. I, for one, think those points are valid. But fixing them is hard; the Kos diaries are largely self-policing, so if we think they're not all they could be, we've only ourselves to blame.
The problem essentially boils down to how we think, as Kossacks, diaries should be used. In a perfect world, what would the list of diaries down the side of the page consist of? How many should there be each day? And when diaries are especially good, how can we keep them in the public eye long enough for most of the Kos community to get a chance to actually see them?
Diaries are also a windfall for those of us who do not have the time or inclination to start our own blog, but who are still quite able to contribute to the larger group effort of making sure good political information is available. Full-time blogging requires full-time work -- I have no idea how people do it, especially those full-time bloggers with real-world jobs -- but it is quite possible for many of us to sit down for an evening or two, research a topic, and present a 1500 or 2500 word report that the majority of the community would find entertaining and/or valuable.
The other side of the coin is this; diaries can, and are, also be used as a place to put open-thread style comments on things that are or aren't being discussed by front-page posts. If a diary topic is repeated five times in the course of a few hours, which some indeed have been, it's a pretty good indication that there is interest in that topic. Is that the best usage of diaries?
For the sake of discussion, I'm going to propose that it is not. First, because we already have open threads, which are by their nature open to any topic. Using the diary list as just a front-page open thread dilutes them to being no more valuable than true open-threads. Yes, there are comments to be made that are valuable. But a bare opinion is less valuable than a well-researched explanation, and a bare link is less valuable than a more complete explanation of surrounding facts.
Second, because we have all seen very, very well-written articles or essays get flushed down the diary list in less than an hour, much less a day, in favor of a stream of short, open-thread-comment style entries. Speaking as a writer myself, it is difficult to scrounge the time and effort to spend four or more hours researching links for a 2000+ word piece if you know that piece will be lucky to have even twenty minutes of visibility.
And third, because the sheer number of diaries per day breaks up the discourse into small, often repeated bites. It's difficult to explore or get much insight into a topic when the average comment thread is perhaps three to six entries long before a duplicate post moves the conversation off to somewhere else.
We cannot change the Scoop code that runs the Kos diaries. Well, we could, but none of us want to spend that time. Therefore, diaries must be self policing: we can make them into a forum of whatever form we choose, but we have to do it ourselves, through common agreement.
For the sake of discussion, I would like to propose the following voluntary "new rules" for diaries.
1. One diary maximum per day, not two. This is largely common sense. If we choose the one important thing we have to say, we will cut down the number of diaries significantly. And we can say the next important thing tomorrow. (And yes, I've broken this rule today with this diary. Bite me, I'm taking a do-over.)
2. If you're going to be posting diaries, you have the moral obligation to set your diary list to display at least twenty items. Thirty would be better. Setting the default number makes it much, much easier to research whether or not you're repeating a news item that has already been brought up.
3. If it takes you less than one full hour to research and write your diary entry, you probably shouldn't be posting it. Diaries are for "special" things. Merely having an opinion should not be license to put up a diary about that opinion, unless you bring something to the table that other people haven't. That something might be research, an unusual angle, an extended element of satire, whatever. But it has to be special.
4. If your diary does not make use of the extended copy box, you probably shouldn't be posting it. This is probably a corollary of 3, above: an entry that is comment-length, instead of diary-length, is by definition better suited to the open threads. Yes, we know you're interested in such-and-such a topic, but if you only have a few sentences to say, or a single link to share, you can share it with the people discussion that same topic in the current open thread.
5. Every diary should be written to be a candidate for front-paging. If diaries are supposed to be a place where community members can add something special, than every diary should be written with the goal in mind of having Kos front-page it as an actual story. No, that won't happen often. But think about it: that's the kind of content we want, I would argue. And after all, the diaries are front-paged, ten at a time.
6. Every diary author should put a tip jar as the first comment of their diary. If a diary is "worthwhile", that is, if it is a good example of what a diary should be, fits the set of rules we all agree on, etc., it should be rewarded with a "4". If a diary does not fit the criteria for being a true diary, a reader should feel free to mark it with a "2" or "3", depending, with no whining on the part of the diary author allowed. True abuses of the diaries should be marked with a "1". Perhaps making diaries more equitable in how mojo is dished out may convince people to use them only when the "specialness" criteria is truly met; therefore, tip jars must work both ways if they are to be useful. If people are writing multiple diaries a day in an effort to collect (pointedly useless) mojo, then those diary entries must be judged on their merits.
Our goal, in my opinion, should be to reduce diary turnover to manageable levels, and to reward truly special efforts by the community with a place where they can be seen. In an ideal world, no more than twenty diaries a day would be posted, so that someone visiting Daily Kos once a day would be reasonably able to peruse them all, and no individual poster would post more often than a few times a week, at maximum.
These proposals are merely that -- proposals. Are there other ideas out there? Do people disagree with the central premise of this essay, about how diaries should ideally be used?