Blogging versus reporting

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi (right) introduces Pope Benedict XVI to journalists during a news conference aboard the Pope's plane prior to landing in Darwin July 2008. Photo: AFP

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi (right) introduces Pope Benedict XVI to journalists during a news conference aboard the Pope's plane prior to landing in Darwin July 2008. Photo: AFP

Two recent reports from the Guardian’s religious affairs correspondent Riazat Butt show the way mainstream journalists are using bogs and traditional reports to cover their beat. Butt filed two reports of the Vatican communication’s director Federico Lombardi’s defense of recent Vatican press gaffes. What is interesting is that her blog report and her news item contain pretty much the same information but vary greatly in tone. Her standard report begins:

The Vatican’s communications chief has defended his handling of the controversies surrounding Benedict XVI’s papacy by arguing that the furores have benefited the Holy See.

Father Federico Lombardi said that many of the scandals had led people to think deeply about topics such as inter-faith dialogue, anti-Semitism and Aids prevention.

The pope has aroused controversy on several issues. His quoted remarks about Islam being “evil and inhuman” prompted violent protests around the world. Catholic-Jewish relations were severely tested when he lifted the excommunication of Richard Willamson, a priest who was a Holocaust denier. Benedict also angered health campaigners, politicians and activists by claiming that condoms aggravated HIV/Aids.

The incidents meant the pope’s ability and judgment were questioned as never before.

Despite the episodes generating unprecedented hostility towards the Vatican, Lombardi said in a speech in London on Monday night he was “convinced” the question of Christian-Muslim relations had been addressed more frankly following the pope’s 2006 lecture at the University of Regensburg, in Germany, when he talked about Islam. He also said the “clamorous response” to Williamson’s declarations had allowed the Vatican to reinforce its position on anti-Semitism, and that the pope’s remarks on condoms had led to a “greater understanding” of “truly effective” HIV/Aids prevention strategies in Africa.

Her blog report relates to the same speech but is much more personal – and cynical – in tone:

Last night I had the pleasure of going to mass in search of Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s director of press, who was giving a lecture on communications. It doesn’t take a genius, never mind a religious affairs correspondent, to think that the head of Vatican PR pontificating (ha) on communications is akin to Norway giving masterclasses on getting a joke. Lombardi, an Italian priest who started his press career on La Civiltà Cattolica, working his way up before replacing the long-serving Joaquin Navarro Valls in 2006, has come under sustained fire since taking over at the helm of the Holy See press office.

First there was Regensburg. Then there was the lifting of the excommunication of the Holocaust-denying priest Richard Williamson. I know the decision was unconnected to the Holocaust denial, but it’s not that hard to Google, I do it before every date. Then there were unscripted remarks about condoms aggravating the spread of AIDS that were later edited to say something rather different. Bring in a bit of papal revisionism – he wasn’t a member of the Hitler Youth, oh hang on yes he was – and an almost unintelligible speech that angered gay rights campaigners and dominated news cycles for 48 hours with little or no clarification from the Vatican and we have all the makings of what Catholic and non-Catholic commentators called a PR failure, carnage, nightmare and train wreck. But wait! Apparently, we/I/you/they got it wrong. Citing not so much divine intervention as the law of unintended consequences Lombardi said that Muslim-Christian relations were better because of Regensburg, that the Williamson episode had allowed the church to clarify and strengthen its position on antisemitism and Holocaust denial and that the pope’s intervention on condoms was carefully crafted to allow deeper discussion and reflections on the topic.

Apart from the jokey tone the interesting thing about the blog report is that it links to details of all the previous reports such as stories about Regensburg and the Williamson fiasco. So the blog report is both more personal and potentially more personalised in the sense that it provides vertical history to the story which enables the reader to personalise the story for themselves.

Both reports use the same key quotes from Lombardi. The standard report is clear inverted pyramid style writing which quickly summarises the key points of the story while the blog report also introduces the key elements but does this in a less formal and many would argue a more engaging way. Given that the information is virtually identical in both reports it is interesting to compare the apparent objectivity in the standard report with the clearly cynical tone of the blog post. This is an easy case where the conventions of objective journalism – such as the judicious use of quoted phrases – allows a source like Lombardi to hang himself without any visible bias in the reporting.

Student blogs as uni promotion

Luke is a music major and is an official blogger at Ball State

Luke is a music major and is an official blogger at Ball State

A number of universities are using student blogs as a kind of “reality ad” for their courses and campus life. Here in Sydney UTS had an ill fated go at it that didn’t really take off but as I noted in another post last year Sydney Uni has a more vibrant project still going. Today I came across a really good example of it at Ball State, Indianna. These bloggers have remained committed over the course of the year and have produced an interesting take on campus life. The vodcasts by a com student adds an extra dimension as well.

What is even more impressive is all the other uses of blogging at Ball State. Everyone from Freshman advisors through to the alumni office are using blogs.

The communication and media students have a number of different blogging projects. Notes from the digital Frontier presents a range of comments from young people about technology, social networking and media – its opinionated and not very in-depth but it presents a really interesting way of getting students to begin to track their own interaction with the new digital environment. Ball Bearings is a neat multimedia site that the students produce with lots of good little info packages, games blogs and videos.

It’s a very impressive cross-campus cross-faculty commitment to blogging it would be interesting to see how blogging is being used at the subject level in different courses for assignments at a University like this – I will search around and see if I can find out more.

Possibleworldz redesign

I have redesigned this site again following on from last year’s attempt to integrate my different blogging worlds. I was never completely happy with my 2006 design and my attempts at regular blogging this year have been sporadic to say the least. I am hoping that having my key content areas up front will encourage me to write more across diverse areas.

It is interesting that in the last 12 months the notion of using WordPress as a CMS has evolved pretty dramatically. The mimbo theme that I have adapted here makes this very easy and there is also at least one “pro-theme” around as well.

When I searched tweleve months ago the commentary on WordPress as a CMS was scattered and unfocused. Now there is also a lot of very informed discussion and many helpful hints on taking WordPress beyond blog style sites. Miriam Schwab over at WordPress Garage now has a whole section on WP as a CMS.

One of my projects for next year is to take our student journalism website to WordPress and in many ways this redesign has been a test run for that.

The interesting thing about websites and blogging is that it is a constant process of adaptation and reinvention and in this way it becomes the perfect metaphor of life lived across a number of possible worlds.

Student blogs

I have just finished marking 75 student blogs and 75 reflective essays from this semester’s features course.I had the students posting three times a week in three categories: observations from life, analysing features and feature ideas. This seemed to me like a perfect vehicle to explore observational writing, strong structure and interesting ideas – the three cornerstones of good feature writing. The advantage of the blog over individual assignments in these areas is that, as an ongoing series of weekly exercises, students gain both an experience of writing to deadline and a sense of a developing set of ideas emerging over time.The work was, of course, variable but there was a strong emerging consensus in the reflective essays that the blogging exercise was a surprising but important learning experience. The following quotes are typical:

Student 1: At first I was reluctant to do some of these things (especially the descriptive writing exercises), but once I started to write more regularly, I became quite fond of my blog and was committed to building it up and making it look like a complete piece of work.Student 2: Perhaps one of the most rewarding parts of this course was – completely unexpectedly – the blogging exercise. At first, this seemed to be a useless adventure into time wasting, however, over time this became the most important part of the course. Working to a deadline, constantly thinking of new ideas, and pressuring myself to better each post. The blog assignment proved so useful to me personally, that I landed a job working as a paid blogger for a website. Its amazing that at the beginning of the session, I said that I wouldn’t want to blog, even if I was paid to do it. Three months later I am getting paid for it, but I’d gladly do it for free.Student 3: Despite some initial skepticism, I really enjoyed doing the blog assignment. I never saw myself doing something like that and, although I often forgot to post or ran out of time, I liked seeing its progression online. It taught me to think about writing constantly, for example every time I saw something interesting I’d think “oh I should do an observation piece on that!”

Nearly all of the reflections about the blogging exercise express initial reluctance/scepticism about the idea but then go on to say how this was overcome as they “got into” the task. The different way that different students “get into” blogging is interesting:

  • For some the “ah hah” moment comes as they begin to see the blog as a “thing” that they can tinker with, change, develop and create. They move from doing an assignment to “making it a complete piece of work”
  • For others it is noticing the influence of the blog on other aspects of their work or thinking as one student said: “I realised I was beginning to think like a journalist” because the blog became a focus for what might have just been passing ideas.
  • For others it is getting over the “geek” factor – “they” do that it’s not for me.

This confirms an old post of James McGee that I often quote when talking about blogging:

There are four hurdles to pass to move from willing volunteer to competent blogger: learning the technology environment, developing an initial view of blogging, plugging into the conversation, and developing a voice. These are not so much discrete phases as they are parallel tracks that can be managed. (McGee 2002)

There are other elements that emerged from this semester’s work that I will post about over the next few days.

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A new home

After days of fiddling this new version of my blog is up and running. I have brought together all the entries from my other blogs and reverted to the name I chose when I first started blogging in 2004 – but with a “z” because the other domain was taken. I thought it was about time that I grew up and started to manage my own blog, cut the Typepad apron strings and built my own WordPress home.

I am a bit unsure about bringing together my Ph.D blog and my blogging and teaching blog but I want to see how it goes. Eventually I would like to learn enough about WordPress to bring over some of my other projects to this site as well.

I get my students to blog because I tell them that it encourages the practice of writing so maybe this new space will encourage me to also practice new kinds of writing. The irony is that the research and construction of the site has well and truly kept me away from the writing I should be doing – not to mention the marking!

J Student blogs at NYT

In a fascinating experiment NYT columnist Nicholas D. Kristof has selected a J student Casey Parks to travel with him throughout Africa and write about their experiences on a blog. Unfortunately this great little experiment is behind the Times Select barrier and requires paid registration (you can get a 14 day free trial or its $50 a year for lots of goodies).

This is a great way to use a blog and Parks is writing an interesting reflective narrative as she comes to terms with the desperate poverty of Africa, meeting with leading politicians and trying to break through to street level in spite of language barriers. She makes a good attempt not just to describe what she sees but to relate this to what it means for her as a journalist:

We’ve met a few people in Africa so far who have complained about Africa never receiving any positive press.

“Why do people only write about the bad stuff?” they ask us.

I’ve had the same question for years about Mississippi. In fact, one of the reasons I want to be a national correspondent is to be able cover the South in a more accurate way. Journalists from New York or other northern cities often swoop in, researching but not understanding the state, then file stories that don’t reflect the complexities of Mississippi.

Yes, it’s easy to report that the state is poor or repressive toward women. But where is the good coverage, the life that keeps people living there?

And I think many people in Africa feel the same way. Of course, I think many journalists writing about horrors in Africa are doing so in an attempt to help Africa, but there has to be some balance. As Prime Minister Mangue asked yesterday, “What about Africa’s progress?”

In thinking about Mississippi in the past, I’ve often thought of the William Blake quote, “Pity would be no more if we did not make somebody poor.” What would the other states do without Mississippi to pick on, to make them feel better about their own evolutions? Last night, looking out toward a very illuminated Yaounde, Cameroon, I asked Naka, “What will the world do once Africa really progresses?”

“They’ll work on Antarctica,” he replied.

Blogs on TV

Interesting post by Donna Bogatin about blogging taking a starring role in a new police investigation series USA networks Psych. What is think is even more interesting is the fact that Gus (played by West Wing’s Dule Hill) the sidekick of the starring psychic baddie catcher Shawn, blogs in character on the show’s website. The posts aren’t usually about incidents that occur on the show, the blog provides a back story including what Shawn and he did at school:

I’ll never forget the Bosseigh High alma mater, and not just because we had to sing it all time at school events. I mean, look at it. Have you ever heard of school song so sadistic and poorly punctuated? Excruciating pain? What’s up with that? And what’s that colon doing at the end of the sixth line? I swear it’s not a typo, that’s the way the song was written, and for four years, I had to look at it painted in big letters on the wall of the gym. I brought it up to administration at least half a dozen times, all they ever did was give me a form to fill out.

Ask Shawn to sing the song, and he’ll gladly oblige. He still knows it, too, and he’ll sing it for you the same way he did then – at the top of his lungs, changing the last line to “If we catch your underwear.” Some things never change.

The alma mater isn’t the only thing I remember from high school. I haven’t forgotten anything, and although it’s never fashionable to say it, I really had a pretty great time in high school. And yes, you could say I was involved, if by involved you mean ASB Cabinet, Mock Trial Team, Latin Club, Junior Kiwanis and the V8 Society (a club dedicated to muscle cars, not vegetable juice), I also filled the second half of my senior year for the guy that made the morning announcements, after he got fired for playing “Whoomp! (There it is) one too many times over the school PA.

Shawn was involved, too, but most of the clubs he was in were clubs that he started himself. He was the captain of the napping team, ran an underground newspaper (for which he was the gossip columnist), led an unsuccessful two-day boycott of the Pythagorean Theorem and subsequently founded the Quadrilateral Appreciation Society. Oh, and he somehow lettered in Track and Field even though he wasn’t even a member of the team.

Backstories of the characters are becoming increasingly important in building fan communities, 24 and anumber of other shows now post full CVs for their major characters on the show website. With 24 this has been taken a step further by fans who have developed long Wikipedia entries for the key characters.

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Blogs at Sydney Uni take off

Found an interesting article from the Australian’s Higher Education supplement about Sydney University’s embrace of blogging. It’s bizarre that the most traditional of universities would be the first university in Australia to set up a campus wide blogging project. In May the university set up a system open to all university staff.

“I don’t know of any other Australian universities who have set up a staff blog system like this,” says Charlie Forsyth, manager of Sydney’s web services. He says the idea is to make it easy for staff to blog, to collaborate with one another, to reach out to industry and the wider public, to share knowledge and engage in debate.

“The blogs will not be centrally moderated,” Forsyth says. But the standard university policy on computers applies; this forbids uses that are “illegal, unethical or inappropriate” or anything that would cause “embarrassment or loss of reputation” to the university.

The marketing arm of the university is also embracing blogging with a site called Sydney Life. Here they have employed a series of students to post on their experiences of life at the university

Like most blogs it has regular, journal-like entries with a comment thread. But the home page banner carries the university shield and Cohen, Sydney’s marketing information manager, vets every post before it’s uploaded.

Can big institutions tame the free-spirited blog format?

“I think it’s working because I don’t domesticate it too much,” says Cohen, who was fascinated by blogs before she came up with this official use for them.

At Sydney Life she doesn’t see a lot of room for posts about dating or wild nights. She says subjects more suited to the readers include how to make friends in first year, insider tips for enrolment day, study and procrastination, as well as immersion in campus clubs and societies.

Spencer, president of the Sydney University Dramatic Society, doesn’t regard Cohen’s editorial control as heavy-handed; in fact, he’s reassured she’s there. “Obviously we’re writing for a fairly specific audience and it is under the university name,” he says.

He’s found it fun, a totally different way of writing, and an inspiration to look into blogging more closely.

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Publish your homework

Doing a search for resources on e-portfolios I stumbled across this gem from Pete Hubbard

We do need to harness all of the creative energy that is now at the hands of our students (with access.) I say this in my presentations all the time, but how cool would it be for us to remind our kids to “publish your homework” instead of simply hand it in? We can do that now.

Glocer also says that “what we are seeing today is an almost continuing talent show,” and I really like that image. It reminds me of a quote from a book by Marc Rosenberg, Beyond E-Learning I’ve been working through where he says “don’t call them learners:”

“Thinking about e-learning in new ways has to start with existing paradigms that might be holding you back. Calling people what they really are is a good beginning, but if you must use a generic term, a better one might be performer (23).”

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Katie Couric to blog? and Fairfax to digicast?

USA Today’s Peter Johnson reports that Katie Couric’s new contract with CBS includes a commitment to a “daily, regular presence”. Current NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams already contributes a regular blog to NBC’s site and the ABC co-anchors do a fifteen minute daily webcast.

But exactly what form that’ll take has yet to be worked out, he says. “I don’t think she has decided exactly how she’s going to do it or what she’s going to do other than have a keen interest in figuring how we can use new media to extend our reach and make sure people who may not be seeing The Evening News get a chance to see the work she is doing in a new form and in a new way.”

This is something new for Couric, who has blogged selectively on various Today projects, such as this year’s Winter Olympics, but has never has a daily Web presence.

The Web “is something that Katie’s really interested in, and so are we,” Hartman says. “She shares an everyperson sensibility, which is: She loves what the Internet represents and loves the possibilities, whether it’s as a journalist, parent, or consumer. But she doesn’t claim to know the ins and outs or be a techie.”

With the deadline for submissions on Australia’s new crossmedia ownership rules looming SMH reports:

John Fairfax Holdings chief executive David Kirk said earlier this month the newspaper company would be interested in the new digital spectrum, which could allow companies to offer pay TV and mobile video services or provide content for specialist channels.

But Mr Kirk warned the Government not to set restrictive rules for the new services. He also said there should not be any “backdoor regulation of video services and content on broadband”.

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Katie Couric to blog?

USA Today’s Peter Johnson reports that Katie Couric’s new contract with CBS includes a commitment to a “daily, regular presence”. Current NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams already contributes a regular blog to NBC’s site and the ABC co-anchors do a fifteen minute daily webcast.

But exactly what form that’ll take has yet to be worked out, he says. “I don’t think she has decided exactly how she’s going to do it or what she’s going to do other than have a keen interest in figuring how we can use new media to extend our reach and make sure people who may not be seeing The Evening News get a chance to see the work she is doing in a new form and in a new way.”

This is something new for Couric, who has blogged selectively on various Today projects, such as this year’s Winter Olympics, but has never has a daily Web presence.

The Web “is something that Katie’s really interested in, and so are we,” Hartman says. “She shares an everyperson sensibility, which is: She loves what the Internet represents and loves the possibilities, whether it’s as a journalist, parent, or consumer. But she doesn’t claim to know the ins and outs or be a techie.”

Blogstats

Dave Sifry at Technorati has just posted their latest quarterly “State of the Blogsphere” report: In summary:

* Technorati now tracks over 35.3 Million blogs

* The blogosphere is doubling in size every 6 months

* It is now over 60 times bigger than it was 3 years ago

* On average, a new weblog is created every second of every day

* 19.4 million bloggers (55%) are still posting 3 months after their blogs are created

* Technorati tracks about 1.2 Million new blog posts each day, about 50,000 per hour

Sifry points out that not only has the number of blogs increased dramatically, so too has the volume of posts per day. Graphs also indicate that posting volume spikes in response to world events. Big news events are obvious, but what is interesting is that tech news – ipod video and mac intel announcements for example – also cause notable spikes.

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Urban Blogging

Interesting article in the NYT about urban activism around a Brooklyn real estate project that has found a focus in the blogsphere. The Atlantic Yards project, a vast residential, commercial and arena development near Downtown Brooklyn, has come in for some tough criticism:

But Atlantic Yards may well be the first large-scale urban real estate venture in New York City where opposition has coalesced most visibly in the blogosphere.

“If Jane Jacobs had the tools and technology back when she was fighting Robert Moses’ plans to bulldoze Lower Manhattan, I bet ‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities’ would have been a blog,” said Mr. Naparstek, 35, referring to Ms. Jacobs’s seminal 1963 book criticizing the urban renewal policies in vogue among city planners of that era.

About a dozen blogs follow Atlantic Yards closely. The authors are usually Brooklynites, some of them experts in fields like urban development. But even the amateurs among them have boned up on arcane zoning provisions and planning-law quirks that can induce headaches among the less devoted.

The result is an unusual ferment of community advocacy and opinion journalism, featuring everything from manipulated caricatures of Forest City Ratner executives to technical discussions of traffic flow.

As is typical of these blogging projects the blog critics include experts in the area (architects for example) who also blog and bloggers who quickly show their aptitude in the area by coming to terms with obscure planning law. While this has always been true of urban activism, I think the public nature of blogging pushes people into doing more and better research.

The response to this project highlights the fact that blogging is a multidimensional writing/research/communication modality.

This article is in the Time’s technology section not its media section although the implications for traditional media are perhaps more important than the mere fact of the technological delivery:

Mr. Oder said he spent up to 25 hours a week on atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com, a successor to his original blog, Times Ratner Report. Hardly a hearing, community meeting or news story relating to the project escapes scrutiny.

He started blogging last September, he said, because “Brooklyn would be one of the largest cities in the country if it were a separate city.”

“Then,” he added, “it would have its own daily newspaper, which would pay a lot more attention to the largest real estate development in its history.”

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Student’s grow-up with blogs

Dennis Jerz‘ blogging project at Seton Hill is the subject of a good profile in the Pitsburg Post Gazette, which he gleefully pointed out to Kairos readers.

The anecdotal piece raises a number of key issues about blogging and higher education. The headline “Freedom of speech redefined by blogs: Words travel faster, stay around longer in the blogosphere” tells you that this isn’t going to be the standard media blog bust. The anecdotes in this article actually sum up some of the key points any introduction to blogging in higher education might like to make:

1. Student blogging can lead to dialogue with the wider academic sphere:

Jessica Prokop thought the textbook for her class at Seton Hill University was biased and that its author “seems like a bitter man.” In the annals of student rants, nothing extraordinary there.

Except she didn’t just blurt out those words in her journalism class. She blogged them. Soon, the author himself was responding all the way from England, pledging to re-examine an upcoming edition given her critique.

2. Students move from being users to being co-creators of the internet

Students find that their musings on topics from Plato to video games have been discovered by a parent back home who typed their name into a search engine such as Google. Or they’ll discover their homework was incorporated hundreds of miles away into a stranger’s Internet research.

“In another generation, these students would have simply been users of a computer,” Dr. Jerz said. “Now, they are co-creators of the Internet.”

That is both good and bad.

“I remind students that their blogs are public,” he said. “Someday, they’ll be in a job applicant pool, and a potential employer will run their name through Google, and the angry ranting Web log they wrote at age 17 will turn up.”

3. Problems can become “teachable moments” with real world grit, even though boundaries have to be found and enforced

The piece details a number of students who have been suspended at other universities for posting harmful or defamatory posts about staff, students or minority groups. But these instances can become “teachable moments”:

Those cases, and others like them, illustrate the importance of what some say is an emerging campus trend: Faculty are discussing with their students how the medium is transforming free speech.

“It’s a substantial change in how we engage in discourse, especially in this country,” said Alex Halavais, an official with the Association of Internet Researchers who teaches at the University at Buffalo, part of The State University of New York. “As such, I think universities have a duty in some ways to provide students with the tools they need to better participate in that discourse.”…

[Amy Eisman, director of writing programs with the school of communication at American University] said students were more likely to discover boundaries themselves, sometimes by a rough experience.

4. Students learn to be bloggers and this learning experience can help them position themselves as adults within the public sphere:

Jason Pugh, 20, a junior from West Mifflin, said he’d watched the level of discourse rise as freshmen come to campus and see how upperclassmen build reasoned arguments. “There’s a difference between just saying, ‘You’re wrong,’ and saying, ‘I disagree because of point one and point two,’ ” he said.

He views his own blogs as a far cry from the all-opinion rants of his freshman year. “I’ve learned to do better research, so I don’t sound like I’m someone angry at the world.”

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Blogging at the Washington Post

Harry Jaffe reports on new blogging developments at the Washington Post:

Chris Cillizza is the first person hired by Washingtonpost.com—based in Virginia—to spend most of his time in the downtown newsroom, accordin g to political editor John Harris. The Post may have found the crossover reporter to bridge the gap between its print newspaper and Internet site…..

He doesn’t mind being called a blogger: “Blogs can be news- and information-driven without opinion. I see it as real-time reporting with the ability for people to comment.” ….

In time, Cillizza’s brand of crossover reporting might be the norm at the Post. Says Harris: “Chris does represent a bridge between the Web newsroom in Arlington and the one here in DC. I have no doubt that the two operations will merge. It’s inevitable.”

Five years ago, Harris says, there was trepidation among reporters about the emergence of Washingtonpost.com: “Everybody’s gone through the stages of grief—from denial to acceptance to now when they’re competing for better play on the Web site.”

The debate here is still centered on “objectivity” with Cillizza noting he dosen’t vote and he wants to be “as objective as humanly possible.” As Jaffe comments: ” He’s got a politically monastic streak that must warm the heart of executive editor Len Downie”.

The welcome Cillizza has been given is in sharp contrast to the recent strife over web based Dan Froomkin’s White House briefing blog. WP Obudsman Deborah Howell ignited a controversy earlier this month when she wrote of “the two Washington Posts” – the paper and the web site:

Political reporters at The Post don’t like WPNI columnist Dan Froomkin’s “White House Briefing,” which is highly opinionated and liberal. They’re afraid that some readers think that Froomkin is a Post White House reporter.

John Harris, national political editor at the print Post, said, “The title invites confusion. It dilutes our only asset — our credibility” as objective news reporters. Froomkin writes the kind of column “that we would never allow a White House reporter to write. I wish it could be done with a different title and display.”

Harris is right; some readers do think Froomkin is a White House reporter. But Froomkin works only for the Web site and is very popular — and Brady is not going to fool with that, though he is considering changing the column title and supplementing it with a conservative blogger.

This is partly a territorial dispute, partly about new technology and partly about the nature of journalism. As Editor and Publisher reported WP politics editor John Harris and Froomkin have diferent interpretations of what is going on. Froomkin:

“My agenda, such as it is, is accountability and
transparency,” Froomkin wrote. “I believe that the president of the
United States, no matter what his party, should be subject to the most
intense journalistic scrutiny imaginable. And he should be able to
easily withstand that scrutiny. I was prepared to take the same
approach with John Kerry, had he become president.”

Froomkin, who does some original reporting himself, is
like a blogger in the way he points to other sources of news, offers
context to the day’s political reporting and points out themes in the
mainstream media’s reporting. “Regular readers know that my column is
first and foremost a daily anthology of works by other journalists and
bloggers,” Froomkin wrote on post.blog. “The omnipresent links make it
easy for readers to assess my credibility.

And Harris:

“The first issue is whether many readers believe
Dan’s column is written by one of the Washington Post’s three White
House reporters,” he wrote. “It seems to me–based on many, many
examples–beyond any doubt that a large share of readers do believe
that. No doubt there are some who enjoy the column for precisely this
reason. If I worked outside the paper, I might presume myself that a
feature titled ‘White House Briefing’ was written by one of the
newspaper’s White House reporters.

“Given that there is such confusion, the question is
whether this is a problem. For me it is a problem. I perceive a good
bit of his commentary on the news as coming through a liberal prism–or
at least not trying very hard to avoid such perceptions. Dan, as I
understand his position, says that his commentary is not ideologically
based, but he acknowledges it is written with a certain irreverence and
adversarial purpose. Dan does not address the main question in his
comments. He should. If he were a White House reporter for a major news
organization, would it be okay for him to write in the fashion he does?

“If the answer is yes, we have a legitimate
disagreement. If the answer is no, there is not really a debate:
washingtonpost.com should change the name of his column to more
accurately present the fact that this is Dan Froomkin’s take on the
news, not the observations of someone who is assigned by the paper to
cover the news.

The choice of words is interesting. Froomkin frames his work not in terms of objectivity but in terms of transparency – the term that Dan Gilmour suggest is a better contemporary motif for journalistic ideals.

Blog as place and genre

Excellent piece in Kairos on “Blogging Places”. Tim Lindgren explores a range of new place blogs that are primarily concerned with locality and ecology as distinct from the global or purely personal approach of much of the blogsphere.

Some unrepresentative cherry picks:

On blogging genres:

Carolyn Miller and Dawn Shepherd suggest, blogging is remarkable for its ability to adapt to particular rhetorical exigencies, such that “already it may no longer be accurate to think of the blog as a single genre.” In other words, it now may be less meaningful to discuss blogging in general than to examine distinct varieties of the genre such as war blogging, political blogging, academic blogging, or—for the purposes of this study—place blogging. Rather than treating place blogging as a genre of its own (or even as a subgenre), this study will primarily examine it as an adaptation, or perhaps more precisely, a localization of blogging with both generic and geographic qualities….

Anis Bawarshi’s manner of describing genre seems particularly apt in this context: in his words, a genre is “both a habit and a habitat—the conceptual habitat within which individuals perceive and experience a particular environment as well as the rhetorical habit by a through which they function within that environment” (84). In Genre and the Invention of the Writer, Bawarshi suggests that writing is by nature a form of inhabitation: “Writing takes place. It takes place socially and rhetorically. To write is to position oneself within genres–to assume and enact certain situated commitments, identities, relations, and practices” (14). Moreover, a genre possesses “ecological” qualities that enable it to “coordinate a symbiotic relationship between social habitats and rhetorical habitats” (82).

On Journalism and place blogging

The journalistic ancestry of blogging is apparent in local blogs like Simon’s Living in Dryden in which he documents the political and community life in his area of upstate New York: “At this point it’s clear that there’s more than enough going on in Dryden for stories every day. There is an incredible amount happening here, and only a fraction of it can make the paper” (“Six Months”). Simon provides an independent source of news to supplement the conventional print sources, and it is clear throughout that this role as an independent journalist is a local one—he writes as a local for a local audience. For this reason, his blog tends to serve as a growing archive of the local knowledge he considers important for responsible civic engagement in the community.

On blogging as rhetorical place

For Nicholas Burbules, the web is a “rhetorical place” rather than a “rhetorical space” because a place is “a socially or subjectively meaningful space.” In his formulation, this place has 1) “navigational and the semantic elements” such as an “objective, locational dimension: people can look for a place, find it, move within it” and a 2) “semantic dimension: it means something important to a person or group of people, and this latter dimension may or may not be communicable to others.” (78) In his mind, space “does not capture the distinctive way in which users try to make the Web familiar, to make it their space–to make it a place.” By contrast, “calling the Web a rhetorical place suggests…that it is where users come to find and make meanings, individual and collectively ” (78).

In his typification of “place blogs” Lindgren extends Miller and Shepherd’s genre analysis of blogs. Miller and Shepherd talk about the “ancestral genres” of blogs and a process they call “speciation”:

Because blogs appeared so suddenly and so recently, and because evidence about them and those who use them is so available, we have an unusual opportunity to study the evolution of a genre. In this case we can examine what the evolutionary biologist would call speciation, the development of a new genre, rather than the process of adaptative transformation,.. Jamieson’s work on early presidential oratory (1973, 1975) and Miller’s study of the Environmental Impact Statement (1984) did examine the creation of new genres, the first as precedent-setting responses to unprecedented situations, the second as a rhetorically unsuccessful but legally mandated response to a situation defined by“or brought into being by” Congress. One important way to study the rhetorical innovation of a new genre, Jamieson argued, is to look for the “chromosomal imprint of ancestral genres” (Jamieson, 1973); for example, the presidential inaugural can be fully understood as a genre only by seeing in it the imprint of the sermon (Jamieson, 1973), and the State of the Union address can be understood only by seeing it as a successor to the King’s Speech to Parliament (Jamieson, 1975). These ancestral genres should be considered part of the rhetorical situation to which the rhetor responds, constraining the perception and definition of the situation and its decorum for both the rhetor and the audience.

Lindgren uses Bolter and Grusin’s term “remediation” to describe this process. He sumarises Miller and Shepherd’s ancestral forms:

  • genres of political journalism: pamphlet or broadside, the editorial, and the opinion column.
  • personal genres: journal and the diary, along with the newer electronic genres of the home page and the webcam
  • genres of collecting and organizing information: clipping service or media monitoring service, commonplace book

He then ads to this list the specific ancestral genres of place blogs:

Personal Essays

When Chris from Bowen Island Journal describes place blogs as “collections of stories of the writer’s engagement with a place, including the land and culture of a place,” he points to the influence of the essay tradition….

Travel Writing

Traveling often enables a writer to step outside of her routine and perceive a place with new eyes, to see what appears to be natural or inevitable as something constructed…..

Ethnography and Journalism

If place blogging exhibits ancestral ties to the nature writer’s log or the field notebook, it also shares affinities with the notebook of the ethnographer or journalist.

Such a classification is very useful for thinking about many different forms of blogs and provides a useful way of inviting students to do a range of different writing within the blogging environment.

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Bigger than Jesus

Any article that begins: “How big are blogs? Bigger than Jesus. Bigger than sex” sounds like it’s going to be yet another blogsploitation spiel. However Daniel Rubin’s article in the Philadelphia Inquirer is a pretty good summary of major blogging trends.

If 2004 was the year blogs entered the language (so says Merriam-Webster), then 2005 was the year they found their voice. Mainstream media embraced blogs, corporations embraced blogs, spammers embraced blogs.

It was a time of great convergence, with indie blogs joining together to capture audience and advertising, as brand-name media shed their institutional voices to go unfiltered where the readers were.

I think it is this friction between the institutional adoption of blogs and their original independent impulse that is one of the most interesting things about the current evolution of the blogsphere. Lee Rainie, director of the Pew internet project makes the point that we are in a key transitional moment:

“The mainstream media opened its arms to bloggers in crisis moments in all sorts of ways,” Rainie says. “We have entered this melding stage of thinking… . We’ve been through anger and fighting. Now we are in the wary-embrace stage. At some point, it will be wholesale endorsement.”

The question becomes will it be endorsement of the form or endorsement of the ethos of the blogsphere.

The Sydney Morning Herald produced one of the earliest mainstream experiments with Margo Kingston’s webdiary. It was a genuine evolving space with a commitment to diversity and discussion that became a community for negotiated discussion not just a bullitedn board. For reasons that still remain unclear Kingston was shafted and had to go independent. She has now retired from the blogsphere, even though others have continued her project.

The Herald has replaced her with The Contrarian which like many mainstream media blogs is a traditional column with a comments facility

The real change will come when mainstream media realise that blogging is a new way of relating to content not just a new way of disseminating it.

Gone Carnivalesque

I guess I’ve been buttoned down and not hanging in the blogsphere enough recently but I’ve just discovered the whole “carnival” thing (thanks Clancy here and here).

They are great peer produced collections of blog posts around a designated issue. There are some great postings in the recent Teaching Carnivals. Everything from New Kid on being the hearty professor to a great post by Scott Barnett on what he’s doing (or trying to do) when he asks students to blog:

When I finally decided to use blogs in a writing course, I did so from a position of advocate, of someone who sees great value in the act of writing as often as possible. Not to get too Dead Poets Society here, but I wanted my students to use blogging as a way to see the world differently, to walk around as I have in the past year with that strange and exhilarating Eye that not only finds in moments those ideal (and often unusual) blogging urgencies, but that takes pleasure as well in their all-around weirdness.

I too am getting my students to blog in a summer course I am taking and have been thinking about the many imperatives of blogging. It’s a media studies course for journalism students and the blog is meant to be a way of getting the students to become reflective media critics. But like Scott I am also very keen to simply get them to write. To my great delight some of them have taken to it like ducks to water and are slowly beginning to produce some wonderful stuff that has that great bloggy mix of personal tone, connectedness and insight.

I think it is in the mix of those three elements that blogging has a great role to play in education. It helps us move beyond rigid forms of academic writing which teach students to only value that which is complete and finished. I have been saying to my class that blogging is all about cumulative, linked meaning making not about conclusive arguments. It’s a form of research as well as a form of publication. It is writing as discovery.

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Blogs versus Discussion Boards

I’ve been thinking again about blogs versus discussion boards. I have always been very anti-discussion boards because personally I don’t like them as a reader or user. I find them aesthetically uninviting and their folded in structure always makes me want to give up. But last semester I had students who responded quite enthusiastically to an assigned online discussion group. The usual problems arose in many groups and much of the valuable content consisted of fairly isolated postings but in a couple of groups the dynamic really worked. I think this was helped by the fact that for part of the semester I used the same groups in tutorial discussions so the message board discussion became a continuation of the face to face work. A few students noted this in the evaluation session.

While thinking about this I stumbled across this posting by Lee Lefever (via Seblogging) which provides an interesting set of metaphoric differentiations that get passed some of the usual technical distinctions:

  • A blog post says "Here it is, dig it"
  • A message board post says "your turn"
  • Comment implies "if you want, not required"
  • Reply implies "I’m not done until you do."
  • A blog is my back yard
  • A message board is a park
  • A blog has readers
  • A message board has lurkers
  • A blog is all about ME
  • A message board is all about US
  • When things go quiet on a blog, the onus is on one person
  • When things go quite on a message board, the onus is on everyone

Sebastian Fielder goes on to make the comments:

Discussion forums and message boards require a consistent effort of a group to work. They fall apart if people sign off and go quiet or if somebody starts to get outright destructive.

Networks of Weblog authors are much more robust. If one goes quiet or produces rubbish nothing major happens to the collective or a single Weblog authoring project which can quite happily stand on its own and develop new connections… and cut off old ties that seem to have lost its value anymore.

None of this gets around the fact that in an educational setting facilitation and modelling is key to helping students get the most out of these types of projects. But I think that Fiedler and Lefever’s distinctions point to the fact that blogging is potentially more adapatable – although there is a definite me/us bias across the two technologies, blogging accomodates social networking more readily than message boards accommodate construction of individuated prescence.

This reminds me of the discussion at Blogtalk Downunder about comments: a number of people, but primarily Mark Bernstein, made the point that comments are not the real facilitator of dialogue, they can in fact be quite destructive and often are trivial. The real communicative element of the blogsphere – what Fiedler calls the "robust" nature of blog newtorks – lies in the linked communication that occurs between blogs.

Blog Talk: Sebastian Fieldler

Sebastian Fieldler in the final keynote contrasted two ideas: innovation/revolution and renaissance.

He noted Carl Bereiter’s work that innovations in education are often taken up with great enthusiasm but that most often they do not tgake root, they are not sustained because the resources and frameworks are not built or made available.

He contrasted this with Douglas Rushkoff’s notion of a renaissance as a “recontextualisation” Rushkoff writes:

I prefer to think of the proliferation of interactive media as an opportunity for renaissance: a moment when we have the opportunity to step out of the story, altogether. Renaissances are historical instances of widespread recontextualization. People in a variety of different arts, philosophies, and sciences have the ability to reframe their reality. Quite literally, renaissance means “rebirth.” It is the rebirth of old ideas in a new context. A renaissance is a dimensional leap, when our perspective shifts so dramatically that our understanding of the oldest, most fundamental elements of existence changes.

Blogs wikis web feeds are a “reconquista” of the web built over the static web. It is a reinvigoration of the early internet pioneers of the two way web. Now the prototypical tools are authoring or networking tools not just browsing tools.

But there are still problems in the educational domain:

  • We are focusing on introducing novices to blogs but not documenting onging long term usage
  • We are attempting to squeeze blogging into existing educational practices
  • Educational blogging rarely transcends temporal (semester) boundaries of educational institutions.

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BlogTalk Downudner: Conversation and reflection

Ian McColl from UQ gave a very interesting paper on blogging in their studio based IT design course.

Lots of interesting things about studio practice (the architecture model) that could have relevance to a journalism course.

The studio stream is the defining feature of the two degrees, and students complete a studio course each semester with similar characteristics to those outlined above for Kapor’s course. There are two temporal cycles that operate through our degrees: one within each year, and the other through the three years of the degrees. Generally speaking, first semester studios (Studios 1, 3 and 5) are more divergent, emphasising designing and conceptualising, while second semester studios (Studios 2, 4 and 6) tend to be more convergent, emphasising building and resolving. There is also a progression through the years of the degree: first-year studios tend to focus on single-machine, screen-based work, second-year studios focus on distributed non-screen-based work, and third-year studios focus on socially-based work with opportunities for student-generated and student-selected projects working with academic and/or industry advisors.

Good stuff on “converstaion” from Fiedler and Schon:

Fiedler is concerned with externalising the learner’s internal conversation, and formalising the learner’s external conversation with a learning coach. In the studio process, the conversations are between the participants in the process (Schön 1987), and also between individual and groups of participants and the materials of the design (Schön 1992).

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BlogTalk

Day two, I’m a bit more relaxed today as I presented yesterday.

Mark Bernstien led a very interesting discussion to start off the day on the value of comments. He essentially suggested that comments – which are often either brief or harshly negative or hit and run – are not all they are cracked up to be. He emphasised that commentary and dialogue can occur between weblogs and this is a slower more dispersed dialogue but just as valuable or even more valuable. This proved very contentious.

Other points:

At this moment of blog triumphalism we must begin to think about “saving” the blogsphere…we could wreck the blogsphere by accident by ways we didn’t even know were harmful

Its ok if only your mother reads your weblog…it’s a better way to write home!

Many blogs are in the tail of the graph that shows the spread of blogs against blog readership: a group of A-list bloggers with big readers and then a tailing off to a big group who have few readers.

Keep the tail healthy – the people who are only ready by 5 or six are critical to the health of the blogsphere

The notion of professional journalists versus amateur bloggers rests on a misconception that journalism is a profession. It is a craft/trade. (I’d of course disagree with this!!)

Help bloggers to write better notes and make better links: make it easy to do the right thing. We can’t help the tail by regulation

Things don’t start in order we don’t put them in order because we are changing all the time

Don’t blogroll A-list blogs, cycle your blogroll.

Don’t stop linking to the tail because its easier to link to the NYT. If you link to a weblog that no one has heard of it’s a better service to your reader.

Ten tips for writing the living web

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New survey: blogs and journalism

A new survey (another report here) of journalists and members of the public just released by University of Connecticut Department of Public Policy shows a wide divergence of views between journos and the GP on a range of key issues about freedom of the press and trust in the media.

On blogging:

Perhaps the widest gap of all: 8 in 10 journalists said they read blogs, while less than 1 in 10 others do so. Still, a majority of the news pros do not believe bloggers deserve to be called journalists….

Blogs showed their growing influence among those polled, as 83% of journalists reported the use of blogs, with four out of 10 saying they use them at least once a week. Among those who use them, 55% said they do so to support their news-gathering work. And even though 85% believe bloggers should enjoy First Amendment protections, 75% say bloggers are not real journalists because they don’t adhere to “commonly held ethical standards.”

Overall, 61% of the news pros say that the emergence of the Internet has made journalism better.

I think this set of contradictions is indicative of the fragile emergence of blogging into the journalism field as a part of standard practice. There is a lag here between belief/rhetoric and practice. Usage seems to indicate that journalists are accepting blogs as apart of a standard repertoire of tools, they acknowledge First Amendment rights but still can’t bring themselves to say outright that bloggers are journalists. Part of this problem is the refusal to accept that there are in fact a range of journalisms with a range of ethical practices and that “the journalist” is no longer a monolithic category.

The debate over adherence to ethical standards needs to be seen in the light of the general public’s views about bias and accuracy in news media:

While 72 percent of the journalists said their profession did a good or excellent job of reporting information accurately, only 39 percent of the public felt the same way. At the same time, 61 percent of the citizen respondents said they disagreed with the statement that ”the news media tries to report the news without bias.“

The journalists’ refusal to accept bloggers as journalists is part of boundary control/paradigm repair. It is a process of ”othering“ ethical lapses and rhetorically affirming the high-minded standards of traditional journalism. It is a new version of the tabloidisation debates or the attempts to draw distinctions between television and print journalism.

Blogtalk Downunder

For various reasons I haven’t posted here for a while but I have been busy preparing a paper for Blogtalk Downunder our first homegrown blogger confest. My abstract is below, readers of this blog will recognise some of the thoughts from previous postings!

Much of the published discussion and research on blogs and teaching and learning in higher education focuses on evaluation of blogging as a communicative technique. This type of discussion largely assumes that successful integration of blogging into course delivery should be judged against a pre-existing and unchallenged pedagogical model. This paper argues that to leverage its full educational potential blogging must be understood not just as an isolated phenomena, but as part of a broad palette of “cybercultural” practices which provide us with both new ways of doing and new ways of thinking. The paper looks at the ways broader theoretical models associated with the development of the blogsphere might challenge or enhance current theories of teaching and learning. Spatial metaphors inherent in network models of blogging will be contrasted with the surface/depth model of student learning. The paper will argue that blogs should not be seen merely as a technological tool for teaching and learning but as a situated practice that must be brought into appropriate alignment with particular pedagogical and disciplinary practices. A model of blogging as a networked approach to learning suggests that blogging might achieve best results across the curriculum not through isolated use in individual units.

I draw on lots of wonderful work by other people but I found Martin Jacobsen’s notion of “cyberdiscursivity very useful as a way of drawing out some of the new dimensions of blogging as a practice situated within a wider cyberculture. Here’s the key quote from Jacobsen:

Where oral rhetoric is embodied and literacy is disembodied, a cyberdiscursive rhetoric is virtual, characterized by remotely centred interactivity and instantaneousness…the concrete rhetoric of orality and abstract rhetoric of literacy become dynamic in cyberdiscursivity via the continuous, productive nature created by virtuality and user agency…oral rhetoric’s aggregative structure and literacy’s hierarchical structure give way to an emergent structure in CMC, pieced together by a user who does not recognize a structure until it develops before her through a random choice of fragments which seldom, if ever, remain cohesive, and which usually become impossible to trace…the communal nature of oral rhetoric and the individual nature of literacy move toward an idiosyncratic rhetoric in which reader/user agency transforms the textual experience into an epistemologically challenging game which shatters rules as basic to print texts as one word following another.

I was led to Jacobsen from Ulises A. Mejias’ excelent paper on online discourse

If you are interested in reading the whole paper download this pdf

Bloggers and the First Amendment

San Francsico Chronicle reports on the Apple versus bloggers case currently before a local court: Net buzzing on bloggers’ status / First Amendment issues become hot topic in chat rooms.

The case could affect the future of bloggers and Web site publishers because lawyers defending the sites have asked Judge James Kleinberg to rule that the sites should be granted the same First Amendment protections afforded to traditional journalists. Kleinberg has told lawyers for both sides he was leaning toward ruling in Apple’s favor.

"Boy, if Apple wins this case, rumors will dry up faster than a puddle in the Mojave,” said one comment posted anonymously on MacDailyNews.com.

One blogger named "LoomisBoy” found Kleinberg’s tentative ruling "a troubling development, but most likely only a temporary setback for First Amendment rights.”

"Every new form of media in the last 200 years has gone through a similar rite of passage. Blogs (like mine) are as valid a form of ‘press’ as the pamphlet was during the American Revolution," the blogger continued.

"Citizen journalism via Web logs is every bit as protected by the First Amendment as the work of the New York Times and CBS. If the current judge in the Apple Computer case doesn’t recognize that, someone higher up the appeal chain will.

"If Apple is upset that someone within its organization leaked confidential information, they should peruse internal means to stop the leaks and to deal with the offenders. But, in attacking the college student who writes PowerPage (and others), they exhibit a sad lack of appreciation for a free press.”

All sorts of illustrious precedents are being evoked including the Pentagon papers. It’s an interesting case. The general question about blogger’s first ammendment status is pretty much a slam dunk from my perspective but I think there are also complex issues which complicate this particular case.

In what sense is revealing Apple’s latest plans "in the public interest" and in what sense does it hurt its commercial interests? In what sense are these techno rumour sites any different to Drudge and his political/celebrity rumours? Does Drudge or any of these sites really come under the auspice of "citizen journalism"? Drudge is constrained by defamation and privacy laws, what laws should or do protect commercial information. Do these laws over-ride source protection claims?

I think we are comming to a really interesting stage in the evolution of blogger journalism. Blogging can certainly be a form of journalism but in claiming to be a form – even a new form – of journalism there must be some questions about standards of practice. Citizen journalist bloggers may actually develop their own code of practice that is different in some ways to the ethical constraints of mainstream journalists. But there must be a framework for the everyday decision making that goes on in the practice of blogging, a framework that goes beyond I am doing this because I can.

It appears that this case is inspiring this debate to take place. Even in the blogging community there are different perspectives on whether this information should have been published and whether Apple has the right to demand the identity of the source. These are of course two slightly different questions that could well have different answers.

Pew Finds Surge for Web as Source of Political News, As Newspapers Sink

Link: Editor and Publisher report on pew survey

NEW YORK A Pew Center study released today found that using the Internet to get news of politics during the 2004 presidential contest grew sixfold from 1996, while the influence of newspapers sank.

In 1996, only 3% of those surveyed called the Web one of their two leading sources of campaign news. In 2004, the figure was 18%. Reliance on TV rose slightly from 72% to 78% but prime use of newspapers plunged from 60% to 39%.

Four in ten of the heavy Web said they found it an important tool in helping them make a voting choice.

The telephone-based survey of more than 2,000 Americans was conducted for the Pew Research Center for The People and the Press and the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

For full report: Pew internet & American Life Project

Blogging as disseminator

CJR Daily has an interesting example of the way blogs can take an ignored mainstream news story and create a buzz. Peter G. Gosselin, who covers the economy for the Los Angeles Times, wrote three articles examining “an American paradox”: Why do so many families report less financial security than ever, even as many benchmarks indicate a nation grown more prosperous?

In spite of Gosselin’s extensive research and the extensive readership of LA Times the story seemed to sink pretty quickly. Enter stage left the bloggers:

Gosselin, who works in the Times‘ Washington bureau, spent a year gathering data and speaking with economists, statisticians, benefits experts, and workers and their families who unexpectedly had the financial rug pulled out from under them. Their stories provided a starkly different picture of an “ownership society” than the portrait drawn by President Bush.

By Gosselin’s own account, despite the Los Angeles Times‘ daily circulation of over one million, the stories generated almost no response for months. That is, until he recently sent out a link to them to a handful of liberal bloggers, including Kevin Drum, who writes the widely read “Political Animal” blog on WashingtonMonthly.com. Drum’s post, in turn, generated several other blog mentions, including one from J. Bradford DeLong.

I got wind of this from Howard Kurtz column in the Washington Post. So I guess in a sense the information has come full circle. Its a fascinating example of the way that blogs and MSM can work in synergy and helps take us beyond the hype over blogger led reporting.

Blogs and the post-press era

The controversy over “Jeff Gannon’s” access to the White House press room (catch up here and here) has raised yet more interesting questions about alternative versus mainstream media and the role of blogs.

Gannon it turns out is really James Dale Guckert and gained his press pass under a false name. He was known for lobbing “softball” questions and he wrote for a small GOP supporter funded web mag Talon News (which this week announced it was closing for renovations!). Bloggers started investigating him when he asked President Bush how he could work with Democrats who had “divorced themselves from reality”. Turns out the false name wasn’t the only controversy lurking behind the facade. Bloggers quickly revealed that he had registered a number of websites that appear to offer his services as a “military style” gay prostitute. At first glance it all seems pretty juicy and pretty clear cut.

But the Nation’s David Corn raises some very interesting questions in a recent analysis of the story. His first point is bloggers need to be careful about critiquing standards for awarding White House press passes. It might come back to bite them:

Let me stipulate that how Gannon/Guckert came to be permitted into the White House press room is a worthy topic of inquiry. But his pursuers ought to be careful on this point. Talon News was a fly-by-night (or phony) news operation with a political agenda. But White House daily briefings should be open to as diverse a group as possible. There is a need for professional accreditation; space is limited. Yet there is nothing inherently wrong with allowing journalists with identifiable biases to pose questions to the White House press secretary and even the president. And if such a reporter asks a dumb question–as did Gannon/Guckert (which triggered this scandal)–the best response is scorn and further debate. Bloggers should think hard when they complain about standards for passes for White House press briefings. Last year, political bloggers–many of whom have their own biases and sometimes function as activists–sought credentials to the Democratic and Republican conventions. That was a good thing. Why shouldn’t Josh Marshall, Glenn Reynolds, John Aravosis, or Markos Moulitsas (DailyKos) be allowed to question Scott McClellan or George W. Bush? Do we want only the MSMers to have this privilege?

The other slightly more complex issue is the newsworthiness of his sexuality and his sex sites. There is a pretty straight up assumption in some reports that someone who has worked as a hooker is simply an unworthy recipient of a White House press pass. Many of the liberal bloggers of course framed it differently. Outing him as gay and a male prostitute was relevant under the “hypocrisy” rule because of his negative reporting on gay marriage. But Corn and his assistant have shown pretty convincingly that although Gannon’s reports – written for a conservative audience – primarily quote the views of Republican same sex marriage opponents, they fall a long way short of gay baiting.

Gannon/Guckert clearly was writing for a conservative audience. But he was hardly a flame-thrower on gay issues. His observation about Kerry was clumsy but not homophobic. Sure, he worked for an organization that supported an administration and party opposed to gay rights, and he was a Bush-backer. But does that automatically qualify him for outing? Should a lesbian reporter who works at the Wall Street Journal or at any metropolitan daily that editorializes against gay marriage be outed? Reporters are not elected officials. They do not legislate the behavior of others. Once Gannon/Guckert became an issue, his past–or present–as a male hooker was newsworthy, at least in a descriptive sense. But as a line of attack against him, it may be too much. I recognize this distinction might be hard to draw. But he has been hounded for being a gay male hooker. Should we even care if a reporter is moonlighting on the side in this fashion? I don’t–let Helen Thomas be a professional dominatrix in her free time–unless that reporter explicitly claims to be a person of family values or publicly decries homosexuality or prostitution. I have not seen evidence that Gannon/Guckert struck such a stance.

The other interesting perspective on this whole affair comes from Jay Rosen who contextualises the story under his rubric of the “post-press” era. If the Bush administration was deliberately using Gannon to seed easy questions, or even if they just credentialed him with too little care, it reflects their broader view on the role of the press in the political process.

Rosen shows that Bush and his associates have made their views crystal clear in recent statements. He quotes Bush’s chief of staff on the role of the press:

“They don’t represent the public any more than other people do. In our democracy, the people who represent the public stood for election,” said Card. “I don’t believe you have a check-and-balance function.”

Rosen calls “Gannon” a “replacement press, a fake journalist with a fake name working for a fake news organization, asking fake questions at a real press event.”

Creating “Jeff Gannon” as a credible White House correspondent, and creating radical doubt about the intentions of mainstream journalists (in order to de-certify the traditional press) are two parts of the same effort, which stretches beyond the Bush team itself to allies in Republican Party politics, and new actors like Sinclair Broadcasting, or FreeRepublic.com…

It is this larger picture that accounts for a professional tribe of journalists who, as Lemann said, “collectively felt both more harshly attacked and less important” in 2004. The more harshly attacked part comes from the Culture War rumbling below, while the message “you’re unimportant” is sent directly from the top.

There are some interesting contradictions in this. Rosen is right to point out that the Bush team are seeking to undermine the press through a series of overt and covert methods. However the destablising of the mainstream press is a process that started long before Bush took office and many would argue that the press itself must share a large part of the blame.

I re-watched Absence of Malice last night. Made in 1981 it clearly articulates the perceived problems with press power. “You don’t print the truth,” the Paul Newman character says, ” you print what other people say. You print what you overhear. The truth isn’t that easy to come by.”

If All the President’s Men was the standard bearer for journalists as triumphant fourth estate warriors, Absence of Malice, made only five years later, shows how tenuously that view sits in the public imagination.

The other side of all this is the very movement, that Rosen himself has been behind, which calls for a democratic grassroots media that reinvents fourth estate theory. Blogs are one part of this movement but the movement will never flower if blogs themselves simply become addicted to blogger identified political scandal. I don’t know how many more “gates” I can stand.

Aggregation

James Farmer posts an interesting comment about Steve Krause’s When Blogging Goes Bad: A Cautionary Tale About Blogs, Emailing Lists, Discussion, and Interaction. Krause concludes that email lists were a more efficient and direct way of encouraging discussion in his class. This was largely the product of the directness of the “in-box” contact. Farmer makes the critical point:

Blogs can be like email too though (and much more effective in many ways) through aggregation and I think that had, for example, a combination of the public aggregator facility in Drupal been used alongside individual aggregators like Bloglines then things might have turned out very differently.

Of course, people might not have used them (aggregators are hardly ubiquitous) but had they been used, even in very small numbers, I think that the results of his experiment might have been quite different. Blogging without aggregation is pointless (and I might also say that aggregation without blogging is equally lost…)

I’ve been having some discussions about using blogs at UTS and the usual advice is use Blogger. But it seems to me this is using about 30% of the potential of blogs. Firstly Blogger doesn’t easily accommodate categories and so you loose part of the knowledge management function. Secondly they do not easily aggregate (you could use Bloglines but I think this is clumsy) so you loose the community of practice aspect of blogging.

As Lilia Efimova and Aldo de Moor have recently pointed out in a very interesting analysis of weblog conversations:

Unlike other tools that support conversations, weblogs provide their authors with a personal space simultaneously with a community space. As a result, at any given time a blogger is involved in two types of conversations: (1) conversations with self and (2) conversations with others.

In the simplest case, a weblog post is fully and only embedded into “a conversation with self”, a personal narrative used to articulate and to organise one’s own thinking. A single blogger could have several of such conversations simultaneously, returning to ideas over time. Next, each of the posts can trigger a conversation with others that can take several rounds of discussions as well.

While in an active blogging community this communal conversation flows backwards and forwards between individual blogs in a course context, particularly with students using blogs for the first time, a series of individual blogs which aggregate to a common front page would assist the development of both conversations.

This also points to the advantage that blogs have over Blackboard threaded discussion. It could be argued that this facilitates better communal conversation. However there is really no sense of a developing personal publication in a series of scattered discussion posts.

Blogs and the tsunami

I thought John Schwartz’s article in the NYT: “Myths Run Wild in Blog Tsunami Debate” was going to be the inevitable snow job following on from some fairly positive coverage of the role of bogs in the disaster. And it certainly starts that way.

But the blogosphere’s tendency toward crackpot theorizing and political smack down could not be suppressed for long.

“It’s so much of what they feed on, so much of what they are,” said James Surowiecki, the author of “The Wisdom of Crowds.”

However Schwartz then moves into a really interesting discussion about the “self correcting” nature of blogs through the direct comments and feedback to posts.

Online discussion can evolve toward truth, said Clay Shirky, an adjunct professor in the interactive telecommunications program at New York University and a blogger. One result is a process that can be more reliable than many new media, where corrections are often late and small, if they appear at all.

Dr. Shirky said the key to reasonable discussion was to get beyond flames and the “echo chamber” effect of like-minded people simply reinforcing the opinions of one another and to let the self-correcting mechanisms do their job in a civil way. “You hope the echo chamber effect and the fact-checking effect will balance out into a better and more nuanced set of narratives, and a more rigorously checked set of facts,” he said. But in such a sharply contentious world, “The risk is it will largely divide itself into competing narratives where what even constitutes a fact is different in different camps.”

On a completely different level and left unanalysed are the “myths” of Schwartz’s title. He quotes from posts on www.democraticunderground.com:

“Since we know that the atmosphere has become contaminated by all the atomic testing, space stuff, electronic stuff, earth pollutants, etc., is it logical to wonder if: Perhaps the ‘bones’ of our earth where this earthquake spawned have also been affected?”

The cause of the earthquake and resulting killer wave, the writer said, could be the war in Iraq. “You know, we’ve exploded many millions of tons of ordnance upon this poor planet,” the writer said. “All that ‘shock and awe’ stuff we’ve just dumped onto the Asian part of this earth – could we have fractured something? Perhaps the earth was just reacting to something that man has done to injure it. The earth is organic, you know. It can be hurt.”

While Schwartz and his commentators are interested in the truth or otherwise of these comments it would be more interesting to ask what the comments actually reveal. I think the posts are indicative of several prevalent myths – and here I use the term not as Schwartz does as a synonym for misconception but as meaning ritual story or narrative belief.

Just as many of the news stories about the disaster have emphasised the connectedness of the world in a time of tragedy these posts arise out of a similar metaphysics of connectedness. However they simultaneously appeal to a range of apocalyptic beliefs about the environment, the destructiveness of “man” and the covert or irresponsible actions of “government”. They are indicative of what Timothy Melley has called “agency panic” in the face of seemingly expanding conspiratorial actors (I have posted about this on my other blog).

It is interesting to note also that the post is a series of questions and tentative propositions (“could we have fractured something? Perhaps the earth was just reacting”). Although it seems that the current disaster is unrelated to any of the events mentioned in the democratic underground post, the tentatively expressed underlying belief system, that human actions have environmental consequences and that we are all connected through this consequential chain, is by no means a misconception even in scientific terms.

Year of the blog

A basic, but interesting, article on the evolution of blog influence over the last year on BBC Online.

Andrew Nachison, Director of the Media Center, a US-based “nonprofit think tank committed to building a better-informed society in a connected world,” points to the US presidential election as a turning point for the blogsphere:

“You could look at that as a moment when audiences exercised a new form of power, to choose among many more sources of information than they have never had before,” he says.

“And blogs were a key part of that transformation.”

Among them were blogs carrying picture messages, saying “we are sorry” for George W Bush’s victory and the responses from his supporters.

Mr Nachison argues blogs have become independent sources for images and ideas that circumvent traditional sources of news and information such as newspapers, TV and radio.

“We have to acknowledge that in all of these cases, mainstream media actually plays a role in the discussion and the distribution of these ideas,” he told the BBC News website.

“But they followed the story, they didn’t lead it.”

The example of the “we are sorry” picture blog is a very interesting example because it represents an entirely new form of symbolic politics. It may seem to lack any real political clout, certainly it will not change the way the new Bush administration implements its agenda, but at another level it is an important healing gesture that gives witness to another public sphere.

The term blogsphere is bandied about very freely but I don’t think we have even begun to come to terms with what it actually is and what it actually means. I am not only interested in the way blogging produces independent or alternative space, although this is vital, I am even more interested in what will eventually happen as the blogsphere begins to interact and transform other spheres of public discourse. This has certainly begun but it is an interaction that is still evolving in surprising and unpredictable ways. And I think it is the emergence of a preliminary understanding about this process that is the big news of blogging in 2004.

Talking about the conflicted relationship between blogging and journalism Nachison talks of transition rather than threat.

“I don’t think the mission and role of journalism is threatened. It is in transition, as society itself is in transition,” says Mr Nachison.

However, he agrees with other experts like the linguist and political analyst Noam Chomsky, that mainstream media has lost the traditional role of news gatekeeper.

“The one-to-many road of traditional journalism, yes, it is threatened. And professional journalists need to acclimate themselves to an environment in which there are many more contributors to the discourse,” says Mr Nachison.

“The notion of a gatekeeper who filters and decides what’s acceptable for public consumption and what isn’t, that’s gone forever.”

“With people now walking around with information devices in their pockets, like camera or video phones, we are going to see more instances of ordinary citizens breaking stories.”

Bloggers get book contracts

NYT article on bloggers getting book contracts. What is interesting is that the article shows that publishers have begun to actively search out bloggers and commission them to do books. Everyone from Belle d’Jour, a high class British call-girl blogger, to Julie Powell, a Queens secretary who blogged about trying to make every recipe in Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” during the course of a year, to Gordon Atkinson, a minister and blogger known as Real Live Preacher, are being handed book contracts.

Kate Lee, an assistant at International Creative Management talent agency in New York, has become a kind of one-woman blog boutique, surfing for the best writers online and suggesting they work with her to develop and sell a book….

Ms. Lee now represents Elizabeth Spiers, who founded Gawker.com, the media- and entertainment-oriented blog, and is now writing a satirical novel about Wall Street. Ms. Lee also represents, among others, Glenn Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor and political blogger known as Instapundit.

Several factors make bloggers’ books attractive to agents and editors. “Word-of-mouth buzz is much more valuable than paid advertising,” Ms. Lee said. “I think if there’s a reason people come to your site, there’s a built-in audience.”

Publishers were always happy to have authors who already have a platform, said Mr. Hornfischer, who also has started contacting other bloggers he enjoys. That built-in blog audience is growing; because the Web has no boundaries, it is international. The Perseus Development Corporation, a research-and-development firm that studies online trends, estimates there will be roughly 10 million hosted Web logs by the end of the year. Nearly 90 percent of blogs, Perseus says, are created by people under 30.

I wonder if this phenomenon will one day extend to academics, with search committees scanning academic blogs for professorial talent!!

Blogging conversation

The Big Blog Company is a British outfit that is spreading the word on blogging. They have a business focus but interestingly they are also working with journalists. Niel McIntosh (Guardian journo and blogger) gives them a big wrap and suggests that London journalists go to their introductory seminars.

One of the interesting things about tBBC is that they approach business blogging with a similar philosophical framework to that of Dan Gilmour and others in their work on journalism and blogging. Here’s an excerpt from tBBC’s “manifesto”:

The Big Blog Company builds on the philosophy of the Cluetrain Manifesto, whose authors have urged companies to regard markets as conversations. The central message is that far from aiding such exchanges between companies and customers, formulaic corporate PR is an obstruction to the process in an era in which sophisticated, internet-savvy and information-rich customers regard slick marketing-speak as something to be filtered out….

Companies that do not join the conversation will soon have no customers to talk to. The internet enables customers to talk about the company amongst themselves, by-passing corporate messages, if they wish to. Allowing employees, the true repository of the company’s value, to join these conversations and communicate directly with customers enhances the company’s credibility and increases its presence in the marketplace.

Weblogs offer a way for companies to reclaim a place in the marketplace conversations using their employees’ credible voices. Blogging helps the company to build a community around it and provide an informal focus for customer loyalty. Blogging is individualistic, customised, and scalable. It originated in individual conversations and is a ground-up, grassroots phenomenon. Technology is changing the modern corporation.

We are at the end of the command and control business world. We are at the beginning of the coordinate and cultivate business world.

And speaking of Dan Gilmour McIntosh points to this interview Gilmour gave to a Korean citizen journalism project about future plans:

“I also want to bring…the understanding that professional journalists have actually learned a few things over the years — things that actually work and we shouldn’t just throw out those things that work as we go into this new era of citizen journalism. We should apply the best lessons from professional journalism — which is not to say replicate it – but to combine the best of the old with that wonderful energy and excitement out there in the grassroots. I think that would be wonderful if I could pull that off.”

Blogging keeps on keeping on

Blogging is continuing to evolve in all sorts of directions. From citizen journalism to business blogging.

Dan Gilmour is leaving his full time journalism gig to explore a new unspecified “citizen-journalism project.”:

I hope to pull together something useful that helps enable — and demonstrates — the emerging grassroots journalism that I wrote about in my recent book. Something powerful is happening, it’s in the early stages and I have a chance to help figure this out.

I’m not ready to discuss the specifics yet, mainly because I have many more ideas than I could possibly try to put into practice at this point — and we’re early in the process of working out the venture’s actual form.

And at the other end of the spectrum Jeremy Wright and Darren Barefoot successfully auctioned themselves on EBay as bloggers for hire and have now set up a professional blogging consultancy for businesses.

Paul Chaney is doing much the same and is also proposing the formation of a professional bloggers association.

Thanks to Amy Gahran, whose latest PR and Marketing Grab Bag List set me off on this trail.

Academic blogging

Two very interesting posts, each with lots of comments, over at Crooked Timber (here and here) on academic blogging and its relationship to tenure processes, publications etc.

Eszter began the discussion with a post pointing to similarities with traditional academic journal publishing:

one extremely important component of the journal publishing process is very much present on blogs (or can be): the peer review process (this claim is in direct contrast with Brian Leiter’s assertion a while back). Blogs that allow comments make it possible for others to discuss the posted material. In many ways this is much more conducive to intellectual exchange and the advancement of knowledge than publishing articles in journals that no one will ever read. Not only is the original post available to all subsequent readers but so are the reactions of others.

John Quiggin and others prefer the analogy to op-ed pieces and small magazines:

Posts are like short versions of opinion pieces or contributions to magazines like The New Republic or, in Australia, Quadrant and Eureka Street. As was noted by some earlier commentators, blogs have pretty much captured the territory occupied by these magazines, to the extent that quite a few have responded by establishing their own blogs.

In the numerous comments in both posts (aside: in posts like these with lots of detailed comments it is not possible to hyperlink directly to comments as the comments don’t have permalinks, interesting point for future programers) a range of other analogies are evoked:

- personal blogs should be considered as a whole in the same way that new “courses” rather than individual “lectures” are counted as academic development.

- blogs should be counted as service to the academic and wider community

- blogs are more similar and often more related to teaching than to research

- blogs are similar to the discussions that have been happening for 20 years on email lists and usenet

- blogs are similar to conference panels or participation in academic seminars

- blogs are similar to the London coffee house phenomenon or American pamphleteering (interestingly no one directly invoked Habermas)

Both posts and all the comments are very interesting and worth a read. They point to the fact that we are currently at a critical transitional point in the emergence of academic blogging. Several commentators make the point that blogging will gain more academic credibility once more senior academics become involved in blogging or alternatively once more bloggers become senior academics.

David Tuft, a business academic (commenting in Eszter’s thread) makes a fascinating point on the idea of institutional “readiness” for the blogging revolution:

I know that my blog is academically useful. Microsoft (and others) have announced that they know that the blogs written inside their organizations are important. Universities need to figure this out. This will happen eventually, but probably not until there are more bloggers on tenure committees, and applicants with blogs.

Jonathan Dresner (in the Quiggin thread) also makes an interesting point about blogging as an indication of technological competence and engagement:

One more thought on why it matters now that blogging be listed on c.v.’s: the incessant calls for scholars and teachers to use “technology” as a teaching tool. The ability to write a post with hyperlinks is not a terribly significant one in itself, but it signifies an awareness and engagement with innovative (ok, fashionable) technology with educational implications.

Perhaps most interestingly of all, John Holbo, (in Eszter’s thread) begins a discussion of using blogs as a part of academic journal websites:

Having an academic journal with its own blog has obvious functional prospects, it seems to me. Especially if it is a journal that nobody notices right now. Also, you can sponsor discussions of all the articles in each issue as it comes out. And it would be easier to claim a kind of ‘service’ credit (I agree with Brian that we can use that label, if we must use one of the old ones). Being the blogger for a journal would be like being an editor for a journal. Worth something. And if you did long pieces, helped people find their way to the good stuff, you could plausibly claim to be more than an editor, and eventually everyone would get used to that.

Holbo also suggests that this kind of blog could assist in redefining academic discussion and even move the “reputational economy” in fields or sub-fields which are new or in some kind of crisis/transition.

He also rightly suggests that blogs are not just like papers/service/lectures etc they are something specific in their own right:

But the fact is: blogs are not really equivalent to anything but themselves. And we should avoid falling into the trap of looking like we are sureptitiously equating them what they are not when really we are saying: hey, they are good. So they should count.

NYT quotes blog as “expert source”

Radosh notes another move of blogging into the mainstream. The NYT’s Edward Wong reports from Bagdad on Sunni disquiet over the US assault on Falluja and quotes an academic blog as an expert source:

“After the attack on Falluja, we decided to withdraw from the government because our presence in the government will be judged by history,” Mr. Abdul Hameed, an interim National Assembly member, said Tuesday in a telephone interview.

The move so alarmed Prime Minister Ayad Allawi that he met privately with Mr. Abdul Hameed hours later. But the party stuck to its position, and an aide said in the afternoon that it was not clear that the group would take part in the elections.

“We haven’t decided to withdraw from the elections; we’re still going forward with the process,” the aide, Ayad al-Samarrai, said. “But it will all depend on the general situation in Iraq.”

Juan Cole, a Middle East historian at the University of Michigan, wrote on his Web log that Mr. Abdul Hameed’s move “raises the question of whether a mass Sunni Arab boycott of the elections is in the offing, thus fatally weakening the legitimacy of any new government.”

Radosh calls it lazy reporting. I wouldn’t go that far but I don’t think in this instance the expert quote adds much to what the reporter could have said himself from Baghdad. It is none the less an interesting milestone in the acceptance of academic blogging as a legitimate source of information and opinion.

However there are much more interesting stories on Cole’s web site that will probably never be followed up by the NYT such as his speculation about Dan Senor and the neocon influence on Bremer’s Iraq administration.

I have it from a source I consider reliable that the order for the arrest of Muqtada al-Sadr in early April, 2004, which came as such a surprise and threw the country into chaos for two months, came from Dan Senor. Senor is said to have acted on instructions from Neoconservatives in the Pentagon, and to have kept Paul Bremer, his putative boss, out of the loop. Bremer was presented with a fait accompli.

I speculated at the time that the Neocons came after Muqtada because he had objected so loudly to Sharon’s murder of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, the clerical leader of the Hamas Party (the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood). …In other words, his position was completely intolerable to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Likud Party, and their American fellow-travelers among the Neocons.

The CPA had been tempted to go after Muqtada on more than one previous occasion, but it appears that cooler heads, like Gen. John Abizaid, had prevailed.

If this story about Senor’s perfidy is correct, it would shed light on a hitherto unknown fissure in the American administration of Iraq. We have long known that it was dominated by Neoconservatives, especially young persons who had applied to be interns at the American Enterprise Institute, which was apparently the recruitment pool. But I hadn’t earlier heard that there may have been a difference of opinion between Bremer and his Neocon employees, many of whom had contacts inside the Pentagon that they could use to make an end-run around Bremer.

This provides a really instructive example of the differences between blogs and mainstream journalism. Cole can quite legitimately post this story on his blog, while the NYT would have to verify from a number of sources and get appropriate denials from the players. However this is a really good feature waiting to happen and could provide the first source for an enterprising reporter to go out and round up the whole story about Bremer’s time in Iraq.

BloggerCon: Blog Values

Interesting article by Staci D Kramer in OJR about BloggerCon III. She reflects on her own experience of blogging the conference:

It also was my debut as an everyday blogger, someone responsible for the care and feeding of a news blog. The result was a tilt in my blogging worldview. Instead of exploring issues as a journalist and a user, I was adding in the concerns of a blogger and the energy that comes with being part of creating something.

I think this “energy that comes with creating something” is one of the overlooked aspects of blogging. And although in this context Kramer is talking primarily of creating news content, it is a much broader process: the creativity of blogs as a personal publication tool encompasses the link bars, the blog roll, the book and music sections, the furl list etc as well as an emerging sense of “blogger identity”. These elements can be viewed as part method and part embodiment of blogging values. Kramer goes onto consider these different aspects of blogging:

For most of the bloggers gathered at Stanford Law School Nov. 6 and for untold others, blogging is a culture with all the trappings including evolving standards (even if some don’t like the word), ethics, rituals and language. It is a community, or more precisely a cluster of communities threaded together. It was no surprise to me that a session on core values by Napsterization’s Mary Hodder overflowed an 80-seat room.

But blogging is also a tool, and for some, only a tool. It is a way of sharing news and information, a form of writing and publishing. It is not a way of life nor is it life-altering. While some bloggers may perceive blogging as a commitment, for others it is a method.

Kramer links to a range of other blogger participants from the conference. Trevor Cook an Australian blogger and PR consultant makes an interesting comment about mainstream journalism and blogs:

I think the blogging versus MSM [mainstream media] conflict is no good for anyone. Someone pointed out that blogging’s triumphs so far (those that are well-known at least) tend to be negative like the Trent Lott resignation and the Dan Rather ‘kerning’ episode. The big league is in generating new content not just criticising existing ‘content generators’ (previously known as writers). To this end, there was a lot of comments on the importance of bloggers as local journalists or specialist reporters rather than competing with the NY Times.

Another very interesting link is to Salon’s Scott Rosenberg who prepared a series of discussion starters for the blogging and journalism session and has now posted them online. He links to a fascinating NYT article by John Schwartz which is one of the best journalistic attempts I’ve seen recently to address some of the wider issues underlying of the journalism/blogging debate:

Increasingly, these smallest indivisible chunks of information are being subjected to microscopic scrutiny and high-energy attacks in the realm of public discourse, which has made things look a little less solid and more malleable than they might once have seemed.

Facts, for better or worse, have been stripped of the meaning that authority figures, like politicians and news anchors, once imposed on them, said Clay Shirky, an adjunct professor in the interactive telecommunications program at New York University.

That might not be an altogether bad thing. Authority figures have often abused the facts, and they are now held more accountable for what they say. But the flip side of all this truth-squadding in what Mr. Shirky calls “postauthority culture” is that facts themselves becomes more open to interpretation. “It’s much more difficult to get people to agree on what a fact is, or whether it’s important,” he said.

Political campaigns and their supporters tend to treat the atoms of reality as something to be molded, cracked and spun. Meanwhile, volunteer armies of nitpickers are taking facts down to the subatomic level where they can become as meaningless as a nose-to-canvas perspective on a pointillist painting.

Blogging has emerged onto the scene at a time of increasingly fractious politics and into a media environment where many of the fundamental cornerstones of traditional Anglo-American journalism are both under partisan attack and open to philosophical questioning. I think some of the debates about blogging have helped to bring some of these broader issues to the surface in mainstream media discussion. But the danger is that the debates get focused as debates about blogging rather than debates about journalism.

The other contribution that the blogsphere has made is to provide a utopian model for what a public sphere might look like. It is as flawed as any other utopian model but also has the essential power of utopias to inspire a movement of resistance and change.

Encouraging Discussion On Blogs

Another good practical tip from Charlie Lowe

Try blog discussion leaders. I do a lot of group work, so one approach has been to have each group responsible for posting to the class blog at a different time. Perhaps in response to an assigned reading, or a reading of their choosing. If class is on Wednesday, I would have each group member post a blog by noon on Tuesday. Then everyone, including those that posted originally, is repsonsible for posting so many comments by class time. This begins the conversation outside of class. As the teacher, I respond with just a few comments. Some directly to the original weblog. Some in response to a comment.

This is a similar model to what I have done with discussion boards, but I think blogs may facilitate this more because someone can scan the different posts, rather than just forum topics, and choose which to respond to.

Grab-bag

An interesting grab bag of links and thoughts from a morning of blog surfing:Interesting quote about authorship as the “unfolding action of a discourse” posted by Clancy Ratliff in an abstract she’s submitting to a conference:

Lunsford (1999) takes up these critiques of authorship and calls for new ways of thinking “a view of agency as residing in what Susan West defines as the “unfolding action of a discourse; in the knowing and telling of the attentive rhetor/responder rather than in static original ideas” (as cited in Lunsford, 1999, p. 185-186). Lunsford argues for “owning up” rather than owning, agency in “answerability,” and a view of self as always in relation to others.This presenter will bring these ideas to bear on weblogging communities and practices.

Dana Boyd posts about a young Live Journal user being visited by the secret service after posting a satirical anti-Bush post. anniesj, the LJ user posts a very detailed a thoughtful description of the incident on her journal page.It appears that she was dobbed into the FBI by another Live Journal user. So much for the solidarity of the blogsphere.Boyd goes on to note the difficulties in notions such as sousveillance (surveillance from below):

People often ask me why i’m opposed to sousveillance. I believe that giving everyone the right to surveillance will not challenge those in power who have such ability. I believe that it will legitimize them. Furthermore, i believe that people will use the power of surveillance to maintain the status quo. Worse, i believe that it will be used to create more hate, distrust and fear. Sousveillance in the hands of the masses will not be used to challenge authority because most people believe in the legitimacy of that authority, whether it be corporations or the government.

Good post on the need for “conceptual clarification” in fields like education by Sebastian Fiedler at seblogging:

In my humble opinion fields that deal with human affairs like education, often benefit more from thorough conceptual analysis than empirical studies, especially if the latter are simply trying to simulate natural science methodology.

The push for empirical evaluation of teaching and learning seems to be matched by what Fiedler would call foggy concepts. The classic case is the deep versus surface learning model that is supposedly validated by years of study. Yet I think if you analyse a lot of the stuff based on this concept it translates to nothing more than foggy good versus foggy bad learning.If you look at the basic attributes of the model as presented in tables like this one you will see that it is a model which is neither conceptually cohesive or pedagogically useful. The attributes on both sides of the table move dramatically from strategic learning choices (memorisation of facts/looking for patterns) to underlying attitudes (see little relevance in course/becoming interested in course). It’s a psychological model that has no material basis and doesn’t stop to ask what else might be going on in student’s lives that cause them to see/look for relevance/interest in their courses (for example!)Stephen Downes points to this brilliant journalism education project. I-elect is an integrated web/print/broadcast election coverage project put together by the journalism students at University of Illinois. What makes it particularly interesting is that the election is covered from the point of view of college students and it includes a survey commissioned by the team.

I-ELECT is a multimedia political reporting project in conjunction with the University of Illinois College of Communications. The project was undertaken by students in a journalism class and has been overseen by Department of Journalism faculty.The group of students organized in a newsroom to produce print, online and broadcast products. The group also conducted a scientific survey to drive its reporting. The idea behind the project for students practicing journalism convergence, a skill that is becoming more necessary by the day. The Daily Illini, WPGU-FM 107.1, WILL-AM 580 and others have assisted with the project.

This seems to me to be a really interesting journalism education project because it involves- practical implementation of skills learned- it is student self directed- the reporting is to a specific audience- it is produced through multimedia- it uses a range of different journalism tools from poll data to human interest stories- it aims to have real-time impact through distribution in the university community- it could then become a model for reflective self evaluation and theory/practice discussions

Blogging as associative thinking

Clancy Ratliff makes a succinct response to some of the issues raised in the Kairosnews discussion I mentioned yesterday:

If your objective is to create a learning community, weblogs can help you achieve it by giving students a space to share their writing with other students in the class, who have the opportunity to leave comments under their classmates’ posts. Weblogs are also a powerful tool for teaching students about writing for an audience, as they are public, and they reach an audience of not only the teacher and the other students in the class, but also readers outside the class who leave comments.

If your objective is to help students synthesize information and make connections through writing, weblogs can help you meet this objective by allowing students to take advantage of the Web. Weblog software makes it easy for students to create content for the Web without knowing much HTML, find online articles related to topics discussed in class, and share them easily with other students. In my experience, blogging encourages associative thinking.

She also has a good list of resource papers and some questions for further discussion such as the relative advantages of having students keep individual blogs v. one community blog for the class, issues of privacy and issues of forced (assessed) versus optional blogging.

Blogs as process not solution

I’ve been following the interesting comments on a post over at kairosnews about “falling out of love with blogging“.

I have discovered that my honeymoon with blogs is over, mostly because there really is no room for spirited interaction between my students and myself in the blogs. Yes, I can require that they respond to another person’s blog, but one student said that, compared to a discussion forum, leaving responses to blogs felt more like leaving a note for someone who is out. The discussion forum, she said, felt more like an ongoing conversation which was more fun.

It generated quite a bit of discussion with people saying they were relieved to be able to suddenly discuss their doubts about blogging in education. The complaints from teachers seem to be:

– blogs are not good tools for facilitating discussion
– students find the technological hurdles an unhelpful barrier
– assigned blogging ends up being forced writing
– blogs focus on the personal and can be “an unwholesome celebration of one’s ego”

It seems to me that any of these complaints could probably be made against any other technology such as discussion boards. And there has been a similar discussion going on at Just Tenured about the difficulties of getting some student’s involved on discussion boards.

I think Charlie Lowe’s comment gets to the heart of the issue when he points out that there are at least three aspects to blogging that make it an interesting tool:

– the personal mode
– the knowledge management mode
– the community/social mode

The real challenge for edublogging, it seems to me, is to find ways that encourage students to make use of blogs in an integrated way which takes account of these different modes. It is at that point that blogging becomes a really interesting tool that has particular pedagogical impact because, used in this way, it begins to provide a technological scaffolding for an integrated method of practice.

In another post and series of comments metaspencer, myself and others have been discussing what he calls the visual rhetoric of blog “hotspots” or the indexical elements that indicate blog “validity” and/or “affiliation”. These indexical elements may be as simple as the date header, which immediately tells you something about the freshness of the blog. Others include:

* links
* comments and track-backs show reaction and connectedness
* number of visits
* the archive, which dates the blog and signals longevity or “experience”
* the blogroll: “who does this blogger hang with/aspire to connect with”
* the sidebar links functioning to contextualize “the writer and their position in the blogosphere”
* listed categories as scannable text that then maps linkable content
* and then there is the site’s name and tagline working to locate attitude
* RSS feed –
* author names – In a weblog billed as a community blog
* Foaf document
* url: does the blogger “own” the address? What’s the domain category, country code?

All these may seem like they are surface elements to a blog but they are actually critical elements in defining the feel, purpose and functionality of the blog. Blogging becomes a central part of the course philosophy not just a method fro completing an assignment, it becomes a way to talk about the way we learn, the way we write, the way we interact as a learning community and the way we develop a personal learning archive.

If teachers are finding it difficult to get students to become involved in blog basics it may seem like a tall order to get them to think about all these other elements. But maybe not. If we help students explore the full functionality of blogs maybe some of the problems disappear. Functioning RSS feeds to an aggregator might immediately help increase the communal aspect of class blogging by providing an easy form of access to each other’s blogs, functioning categories and effective sidebar link lists immediately open up aspects of the knowledge management mode.

Also if we foreground the different aspects of personal expression, group interaction and knowledge management, we are given an opportunity to foreground a pedagogical framework and assist students to become more self reflective learners.

In an old but still very relevant set of postings on blogging in the class room James McGee suggests that there are four aspects of blogging:

There are four hurdles to pass to move from willing volunteer to competent blogger: learning the technology environment, developing an initial view of blogging, plugging into the conversation, and developing a voice. These are not so much discrete phases as they are parallel tracks that can be managed.

I think that teachers often focus on the last two aspects without due attention to the first two.

It seems to me that it is an exciting time, we have passed the initial euphoria of blogs as a solution and we can now start focusing on them as part of a larger process.

Why academics blog.

Came across (via Pink Flamingo’s wonderful links page) a great set of reflections on Crooked Timber in response to a post asking why academics blog. The responses reflect the diverse satisfactions and uses of blogging.

Timothy Burke reflects on being a public intellectual through bogging and trying out experimental forms of scholarly publishing:

I try to do several things, not all of which are related to my scholarship. One, just be a “public intellectual”, e.g., someone interested in many things, willing to write about them in a communicative manner, and knowing that most of what I have to say is relatively ephemeral and unpublishable. Two, I do try to do some things that involve publishing scholarly material of various kinds; I’m about to try and start a new format of book commentaries, for example.

While Brian Weatherson reflects on a more mundane motivation:

In my case it was less because I was particularly motivated by some positive ideal, but more because I was in a writing rut and thought trying to write up 1000-1500 word notes on things I’d been reading might be a good way to get started writing again.

Matt Weiner and a number of others talk of using blogs as “pre-scholarship—I’d like to rework a lot of the ideas for publication sometime, and the blog posts are first drafts.”

One of the interesting things is that a number of the academics who responded write about a process of the blog starting out as one thing and becoming something else. Laura writes:

I had a lot of extra ideas kicking around and I needed to purge them. I never expected anybody to read it. It was mostly just to entertain a couple of close friends. Nine months later, I am still at it, because I have stumbled into a virtual community, and it’s good conversation. I’ve gotten good feedback. Actually, I’m a bit obsessed. I find myself writing my posts in my head during the day, and later running to the computer to dump the brain.

I think that one of the interesting things about blogging is that it is such a flexible form but it is a form. We can grow into the type of blog that suits us but there are other models to guide us through our contacts in the blogsphere, through the energy that happens in that contact. This is in a sense Ricouer’s notion of narrative identity as self actualised through relation with other selves, which is not about a dispersal of selfhood but the measure of its self constancy. Our story measured against the stories of others.

The revenge of the source

Interesting post this morning on ojr about journalists, blogs and their sources. Mark Glaser notes the interesting case of billionaire sporting and tech entrepreneur, Mark Cuban, who is using his blog to strike back when interviews are not reported the way he would like. It’s hardly the revenge of the little guy, but it presents an interesting dynamic in terms of journalist/source power relations. Glaser sets the scene:

You interview someone by e-mail. You write up the story and edit what they said, condensing their quotes to a few saliable points. Your story runs, and that’s that, you think. But to your surprise, your source decided to post all the interview questions and answers on their Weblog, showing the public that you cut something important to them.

More and more, blogs are giving sources the power to strike back and making journalists think twice about what they run in a story and how they conduct an interview. Case in point: Billionaire technology entrepreneur Mark Cuban, who also owns the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks basketball team, launched a blog last spring and quickly posted an e-mail exchange he had with Dallas Morning News sports columnist Kevin Blackistone.

The most interesting aspect of this story is the extremely defensive reaction of the journalist, Kevin Blackistone:

While Cuban wrote that the best thing about a blog was that “I get to respond to the media,” Blackistone wasn’t too thrilled that Cuban had posted their e-mail exchange. “I didn’t think much of being surprised by having what I thought was a private exchange with Mark Cuban posted on a public Web site,” Blackistone told me via e-mail. “That is a reason I stopped responding to readers years ago, because I discovered they started posting my personal responses to them on message boards.”

This again highlights the way blogs are shifting notions of public and private communications. In many ways this is the most fundamental challenge of the blogsphere and its most serious challenge to traditional journalism.

Blackistone regards the exchange as private because to him it is a set of working notes, the exchange is raw data that only becomes a a piece of journalism through his application of professional skill. This is a product oriented, journalist centered, view of journalism that doesn’t properly acknowledge the exchange value or the process of journalism. For Cuban of course the exchnage is not just data, it is an act of self representation because he is aware that anything he says to a journalist can be made public.

While not everyone interviewed by a journalist is going to have a blog, the very fact that some people do may begin to have a ripple effect and help to enact a new paradigm in thinking about the respective rights and values of interviewers and interviewees. A good journalist will of course welcome the kind of interaction that Blackistone seems to find so irksome. But even good journalists need to think more about the public and private dimensions of their practice and work towards a model of transparent journalism that is about dialogue not pronouncement.

This brings me back to the comments about McLuhan’s notions of “publicy” and privacy that I posted about last month: “Blogging is an “outering” of the private mind in a public way (that in turn leads to the multi-way participation that is again characteristic of multi-way instanteous communictions.)” (Mark from the McLuhan project)

In any journalistic encounter a source is prepared for this “outering” but a journalist often hides behind a shield of privacy in the very act of making things public.

Interestingly Cuban also has his own reality TV show, which of course is a whole other set of public/private inversions.

Tom Brokaw Calls Blogging “Political Jihad”

Tom Brokaw Calls Blogging “Political Jihad” from blacklily8 at Kairosnews:

Seemingly, no anchor refrains from doling out vitriol on bloggers–even old Cronkite referred to us as “scandamongers.”

This really ties in quite nicely with a theme I’m building into my dissertation about “gatekeepers” and their growing resentment towards free culture as it exists on the internet. The days when people were content to listen to commercial “journalists” like Rather, Brokaw, and Jennings are slowly coming to an end, and more people are realizing that if they want the REAL news, they’ll have to turn to their trusted bloggers. Perhaps the sun is also setting on Horkheimer and Adorno’s Culture Industry…Let us hope.

Cyber literacy

Another advantage of the ongoing course blog is that it really foregrounds both blog literacy and wider cyber-literacy as an important ongoing course objective.

One of the aims of using blogs in educational settings must actually be about the process itself, in some sense all education is about both content and process and all educational technologies (from face to face to computer mediated) are about learning to learn.

In the same way that one of the aims of encouraging good essay writing is about helping students to develop expressive skills that they will apply in a range of different ways in a professional or personal context, one of the aims of blogging ought to be to encourage cyber-literacy and an understanding of the ecology of the link in a networked society.

This is particularly important for journalism students. All forms of major media now have online presences and future journalists will need to be increasingly cyber-literate. Many traditional media forms are also specifically incorporating blogs, so skills in this form will advantage students in their future practice. (For an interesting and humorous take on blogs as the future of journalism check out John Hiler’s, Borg Journalism: We are the Blogs. Journalism will be Assimilated.)

Even if, as future journalists, they are never called upon to write “blog journalism”, the internet research skills and practice of assessing, organising and archiving internet information sources, essential to good blogging, are also now essential to good journalism.

But this is not just restricted to journalism students, blogs, wikkis and intranet sites are also fast becoming part of good business practice in a range of situations and students from all sorts of disciplines will need to know how to operate convincingly in these virtual work environments.

Course blogs or subject blogs?

Thinking about some of the issues I raised about the WHAT of blogs, and thinking about how blogs might be best used in journalism education, specifically how they might be used in our course at UTS, I am becoming increasingly convinced that blogs used across classes over the duration of a degree course may provide a very interesting way forward.

If students were encouraged to establish a blog at the beginning of their course and continued to use it to post research notes, stories and reflections throughout their three year degree this would become a unique and powerful teaching and learning tool. The blog would evolve together with (and record) the student’s learning and practice experience. Then both the WHAT and the HOW of blogs becomes easier to analyse.

* Students grow into blogging and gradually figure out WHAT it is best for them to blog and how;
* Connections in the course blogsphere develop organically over time;
* It becomes a metalearning tool that allows students to make connections across subjects;
* It has the potential to contribute to a department wide sense of learning community.

For journalism students this approach has particular advantages:

* It encourages the habit of writing;
* It provides a personal publication space over which they have journalistic control;
* It provides an immediate portfolio of work for future job hunting;
* It provides a single space which links the practice based elements of the course and the theory based units

One of the particular advantages of an ongoing course blog, as opposed to a time specific subject blog, is that it takes better advantage of the blog form – a form of research and publication that is episodic, cumulative and open-ended. But it can also provide a place to house certain projects and more “finished” pieces of work. Thus it offers unique opportunities that are not usually provided by traditional forms of essay writing and other assessed work.

If conceived in this way, as a personal course archive, then other differences with traditional CMS tools such as threaded discussions also come into focus. The discussion that occurs on a class discussion board has no permanent archival value, it is by nature ephemeral and is perhaps valued by students as such. However if they conceive of their posts as part of a permanent archive which interacts with the permanent archive of other students perhaps this will lead to their valuing the discussion in new and different ways. What the effect of this might be, of course, is unknown but it seems reasonable to hypothesise that this may well lead to a greater sense of ownership and involvement in the generation of ideas.

There are a whole range of interface issues that would need to be worked out – how permanent individual blogs might be linked in to aggregating class front pages for example – but I am sure there are nifty technical solutions.

The WHAT of blogging

I’ve been thinking about another of Tanja’s comments over the last few days. Commenting on one of my posts about a blog research study, she notes:

In the study it seemed that WHAT the students might be learning through the blogging experience was not clear.

Even you, Marcus (in your very first post) outlined WHAT you saw the purpose of this blog was: you set a particular agenda for using this blog in a particular way.

Does a blog have to have a WHAT?

I think the answer is probably yes and no.

I’ve already referred to Steven Krause’s article “When Blogging Goes Bad: A Cautionary Tale About Blogs, Email Lists, Discussion, and Interaction” which is a fascinating practice analysis of his course blogging experience. In noting some of the reasons why his use of collaborative blogging in a a writing class did not work as well as he intended, one of the reasons he offers is his own lack of clarity in setting up the task:

This assignment did not have any specific requirements in terms of the number of postings, the subject of the postings, or just about anything else. While we set up subject groups on the first day of class, this was a quick and somewhat haphazard exercise, and I tried to make it clear that students were more than welcome to drift away from this initial focus….

Certainly, much of the failure of this assignment can be traced to its open-ended nature. As I already said, I purposefully gave my students minimal directions with this project because I didn’t know what we would come up with (after all, I hadn’t attempted blogging in my teaching before), but also because they were grad students (i.e., “grown-ups”) and I thought in less need of the forced motivation by assignment than some of my undergraduate classes. I also thought that the blog technology very much called for this sort of open-ended and unformed writing assignment. My goal was to create an opportunity/space where my students would simply just want to write.

But what I found is my “open-ended” non-assignment translated into “vagueness.”

Krause also speculates that one way of giving the task some shape, without directing it too forcefully, may have been as simple as showing the students good examples of collaborative blogs such as Crooked Timber. While I think this would certainly have helped I think this would require an active analysis of the site in a class (or perhaps online) discussion rather than just pointing them to the site as an example to look at.

One of the things that really surprised me when I started teaching is that even post-grad students in the class I was taking still had difficulties in writing essays. This was because some were returning to study after long absences while others were coming to journalism from non-humanities backgrounds. It was also because in the course I was teaching we were after a particular kind of essay: an empirically based case study with a strong theoretical framework. It took me a while to realise that, even the “good” students who were used to traditional literature review based argumentative essays, were a little puzzled by this form.

So I certainly believe that we have to be clear about what blogging as a “form” means when we set students the task of blogging in a course. Part of the problem of course is that the form itself is evolving. But I think that we can provide both a sense of openness and a sense of direction

Some student’s really respond to an open-ended approach. I have already noted this comment from one of Adrian Mile’s students:

For example, the assessment was our blogs and a hypertext rather than the regulatory ‘intro-body-conclusion’, word-limited essay that restricted the amount of problems we could discuss.

Miles however does provide a quite specific framework for this project and talks about the “assessment matrix” that he has developed for the task. Significantly all the students get a chance to self assess against this matrix, so that they can determine, with the teacher’s input, if they are on track with their blogging project.

Dennis Jerz is very precise in his instructions to his American Lit class about his expectations and assessment criteria. His framework includes:

1. Coverage: substantial posts that cover the topics

2. Depth: that goes beyond just notes

3. Interaction: with other bloggers

4. Discussion: each blog should generate discussion

His final criteria is what he calls “Xenoblogging”:

Xenoblogging. “Xeno” means “foreign,” so xenoblogging (a term that I just coined) means the work that you do that helps other people’s weblogs. Your portfolio should include three entries (which may or may not overlap with the ones you have already selected for “Coverage”) that demonstrate your willingness to contribute selflessly and generously to the online classroom community. Examples of good xenoblogging:
* The Comment Primo: Be the first to comment on a peer’s blog entry; rather than simply say “Nice job!” or “I’m commenting on your blog,” launch an intellectual discussion; return to help sustain it.
* The Comment Grande: Write a long, thoughtful comment in a peer’s blog entry. Refer to and post the URLs of other discussions and other blog entries that are related.
* The Comment Informative: If your peer makes a general, passing reference to something that you know a lot about, post a comment that offers a detailed explanation. (For example, the in the third comment on a recent blog entry about the history and culture of print, Mike Arnzen mentions three books that offer far more information than my post did.)
* The Link Gracious: If you got an idea for a post by reading something somebody else wrote, give credit where credit is due. (Since a link is so easy to create, it’s not good blogging ethics to hide the source of your ideas.) If a good conversation is simmering on someone else’s blog — whether you are heavily involved or not — post a link to it and invite your own readers to join in.

In each of his categories he links to blog examples which model the criteria that he is describing.

Another interesting discussion on Kairosnews about ways to encourage “good” bloggging in students also emphasises the need for working hard at showing model blogs and model blog enteries. Setting up specific activities that encourage peer interaction and peer review also seem to be important:

We had assignments scattered throughout the semester where our students had to go read each other’s blogsites and post blogs to their own blogsites about what they read. Because they knew they had a relatively large audience of classmates (not to mention the WWW), they really didn’t post crap. This was especially true when they started to see their names/blogsites referenced on other people’s blogsites. They wanted other people to blog about them, so they didn’t just post something to get something up there. …lots of my students commented that knowing everyone in class was reading their blogsites at any given time made them want to write more engaging stuff.

Another comment emphasises that while assessment is important, so to is the perceived centrality of the blogging process to the course:

I think it’s working well… because the course is heavily invested in blogging as a way of sharing writing and the means to meaning making. It’s such a major part of the course that the course would not be the same at all without it. In other words, you may not be able to just “try” it … So assessment of blogging may be much less important than how and to what extent students use it in the course.

Over at Techsophist, Lanette Cadle notes that blogs work better in longer courses where students have a chance to actually develop their own take on the form. She notes that: “It takes time for the synergy between posts in a group blog to develop, and it looks like six weeks is not long enough.”

These problems: not knowing the form; lack of specific objective; perceived centrality of the process; vague assessment criteria and the length of time necessary to develop synergy, certainly express themselves in specific ways in course blogging but they are also issues that I have found in my attempts to get quality work happening in Blackboard threaded discussions.

So getting back to my original question about the WHAT of blogging, issues to do with direction, form and purpose do seem to be critical to developing successful models of blogging for online learning. However part of this modeling must also include helping students get over the anxiety they might experience at the seemingly open-ended nature of blogging. So questions for further reflection include:

How do we provide a WHAT framework that still allows students to discover the more open-ended nature of blogging?

What are the different WHATS of different forms of blogging: writing blogs; research blogs; k-blogs; project blogs; personal blogs? Do we encourage students to sample, mix and match?

What ( if anything) is the specific WHAT of blogging that does not occur in other forms of teaching and learning?

Now for something strictly non-academic

It takes all sorts…

Superman’s Blog:

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Feeling a little depressed today

I just discovered that two other superheroes, The Incredible Hulk and The Green Arrow, both have their own blogs. And guess what? Compared to their blogs, mine sucks!

Why oh why can’t I ever be the first superhero on the block to play with the latest toys???

Thanks to Google Blogscoped for the tip. Its a great site about all things google and other stuff! From the about page:

Another interesting aspect of the Google phenomenon is that this site, its company, its people, and its fans, are behaving a little like Google is more than just a website. People have feelings toward Google. They think of the Googlebot as a human visitor, walking around their server, looking here and there, and taking with him words, sentences, titles, graphics and whole pages. They analyze the Google Dance. They’re into Googlebombing, Googlewashing, Googlology, Googlosophy. They are using “google” as a verb (it’s found its way into online dictionaries, even). In short, people behave like there’s someone out there knowing them. Google has managed to keep to its roots, and is constantly rewarded. As soon as something seems to change, people cry out, complaining. This blog is also reporting on this social phenomemon.

Blog Trumps Trad Media

A link from new media musings blog to sindikk.aeshin
who notes that:

As of 8:42 this morning, the top headline on Google News was a blog. [Daily Kos on Bush Kerry Debate] That’s a first as far as I know. The algorithms have spoken, and the most relevant source of news on the 2004 Presidental debate isn’t a “news organization,” it’s a guy with a brain and a text editor. Looks like Dave Winer might win his bet.

And in another post on bloggers and the real news from new media musings a transcirpt of the Daily Show. Jon Stewert interviews a reporter about to cover the debate:

Helms: We write the narratives in advance based on conventional wisdom, and whatever happens we make it fit that storyline.

Stewart: Why?

Helms: We’re lazy? Lazy thinkers?

Stewart: But what happens if actual news happens?

Helms: That’s what bloggers are for.

How big is the blogosphere ?

John Quiggin at Crooked Timber does some interesting sums in trying to work out How big is the blogosphere ?

There are heaps of dead blogs out there (thanks to changes in technology, hosting problems and so on, I’m already on my fourth). I prefer to start with another Technorati estimate, that there are about 275,000 posts daily. If you suppose (fairly arbitrarily, but consistent with the Pew data) that the average active blog has one post every three days, that would make around 800 000 blogs.

Another way of looking at things is to consider the labour input going into blogs. If you suppose that the average blog post takes an hour to prepare (this includes overheads like research, if any, site maintenance, responses to comments and so on), 275,000 posts per day amounts to about 100 million hours per year, equivalent to the work of around 50 000 full-time, full year workers. As a comparison, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that news analysts, reporters, and correspondents held about 66,000 jobs in 2002.

One of the comments makes the key point that readers are also an important part of the blogsphere

Blogs versus CMS

Fascinating post from John Kruper’s The electric lyceum blog about relative advantages of blogs and CMSs like Blackboard. He makes the point that blogging as a course management tool actually represents a major paradigm shift:

And so we see why educators are so excited by blogs. For the first time, they have an easy-to-use tool that provides them and their students an authentic voice in the online classroom previously dominated by syllabi and class notes. And equally important, this newfound voice isn’t a glued-on afterthought one finds by jumping out to the “class bulletin board,” but rather is an equal citizen to the professor’s powerpoint slide, word document, and other forms of traditional “course content.” What on one had sounds insanely trivial is in fact a paradigm shift in online learning environments: blogs empower students to be co-publishers of the course and to easily comment on, react to, and debate any (teacher or student) contributed element.

However the traditional systems like Blackboard are much better at easily managing courses and the co-ordination aspects on line learning processes, ie. providing course information, integrated email lists etc.

With the rising buzz about blogs in education they will probably be introduced as an add on to traditional CMS software at some time in the not too distant future. However for the moment dual occupancy seems the way to go: handling admin matters in Blackboard, which provides the course interface across all university courses, and blogs as the primary learning environment because of its flexibility and student focus.

Blogs track objectivity

Two interesting blog posts, noted by Rebecca Blood, that track the nature of journalistic practices and provide a good example of how bloggers often have a better understanding of journalistic ethics than journalists do:

Campaign Desk on the damaging effects of media ‘even-handedness‘, and Josh Marshall on ‘the poverty of what passes as journalistic objectivity‘.

And these two tips from Sydney Morning Herald’s election blog Counterspin:

The New York Times profiles the rise of bloggers in the American election while the National Review’s David Frum sees a failure of the blogging left (and disappointment in John Kerry).

(Frum, by the way, is the speechwriter credited with coining the phrase “axis of evil”)

A fascinating debate that’s further developed at Daily Kos

More on this later.

OJR article: Blogging as a Form of Journalism

An interetsing typology from an OJR article: Blogging as a Form of Journalism. The quotes are from Deborah Branscum a Newsweek journalist who blogs

Creative freedom. Part of a blog’s allure is its unmediated quality. “For a working journalist, there’s no luxury like the luxury of the unedited essay,” she says. “I’ve been an editor longer than I’ve been a writer, and I know the value that an editor brings to your copy. Even so, there’s an enormous freedom in being able to present yourself precisely as you want to, however sloppily or irrationally or erratically. I don’t have an editor to pitch the story to, or a copy editor who decides he’s not happy with my syntax… You think it, you write it, you put it out to the world.”

Instantaneity. “Even when you’re writing for a weekly magazine, it seems like it takes forever to see your work in print,” Branscum says. “With a Weblog, you hit the send key and it’s out there. It’s the perfect disposable journalism for our age.”

Interactivity. “It’s a kick to get feedback from people you’ve never heard of who stumble on your Weblog,” she says. Branscum estimates that 30 readers might surf her blog on a slow day and 900 might read it on a busy day, with pointers from other sites and other bloggers often driving traffic to archived material.

Lack of marketing constraints. “The people who are interested in your perspective find you, instead of you having to find a publication that reflects their interests,” she says. “You don’t have to necessarily tailor your work for a certain readership or demographic.”

More blog research

One study, by Jeremy Williams and Joanne Jacobs, which does provide an empirical evaluation of blogs as a learning experience comes from the MBA program at the Brisbane Graduate School of Management in Queensland. The results are general but quite encouraging. In the six week course students in the course were encouraged to participate in a class blog. Although it was optional five “meaningful” posts in the six week period earned five marks for the course. About half the students in the course participated in an online survey. About half of those who responded (24) indicated they had not taken part in the blog. The major reasons were “For the marks available, it wasn’t worth the effort.” (33%) and “I would have liked to participate, but I wasn’t sure I’d have anything valuable to contribute.”

Of those who did contribute (27) the response was very positive: “some two thirds of blog participants either agreeing or strongly agreeing that the MBA blog assisted their learning (only 12% disagreeing or strongly disagreeing).”

On interactivity: There was stronger endorsement for the view that the MBA Blog increased student interactivity, some 77% of students either agreeing or strongly agreeing that the MBA blog increased the level of meaningful intellectual exchange between students (only 3% or one person disagreeing with this statement).

Even more encouragingly 69% of the students said they would participate in a class blog again even if it had no marks attached. 57% said blogs should be used in all or most MBA units and a further 37% said they should be used in some.

I think some of the student comments are even more interesting than the numerical data:

‘Even though at first people were afraid to take the risk and blog, I found it a good way to discuss concepts and participate in further discussion. It also allowed the sharing of up-todate information that would not have been possible in lecture time.’

‘I spent time prior to each blog constructing an entry. To do that I did need to have a good understanding of what I wanted to blog about. I also spent time reading and considering the blogs of other students and found their comments and perspectives thought provoking.’

‘Students could put forth their ideas on topics after a little thought. The only other avenue available most of the time is in-class comments, for which you do not have much time to really think about them in detail. When new to a subject, the extra thought time that blogging provides can really help students sort through some of the issues in our own head, before providing them for all to see.’

These students are full-paying MBA students doing an intensive six week course so they are likely to be fairly highly motivated learners. But I think the comments are interesting in that they indicate that blogs can provide a new and different mode of reflective learning that is different to class discussion or private assignments.

Some of the dynamics of this “learning space” emerging from the student comments include,

- it provides up-to-date, real time commentary on a week to week basis

- participants need to take a “risk” to really become involved

- it encourages focused thinking in that participants feel they have to think about what they want to say before making their comments public

- reading and thinking about other contributions is as important as posting comments

- it encourages extra “thought-time”

Download paper here: Exploring the Use of Blogs as Learning Spaces in the Higher Education Sector

Blogging as research

From Jill Walker who togethr with Torill Mortensen has developed blogonblog as a research project since 2001:

Traditionally, research and publication have been kept separate. Research blogs are not a final product but an indexical sign of the research process itself.

A blog is published continuously, systematising information chronologically. Dissertations and other forms of research publication is ideally thematically organised, or based on causality. While the actual research is bound by the passage of time, thought processes cross from topic to topic. Blogs are a technique for revealing these process, while allowing greater searchability and openness than a conventional research diary.

Blogs are a new and as yet untheorised phenonomen. They question traditional boundaries between academia and the general public, allowing the researcher to be seen as an individual rather than as a distant authority. Blogs encourage linking and clusters of related blogs tend to evolve, often producing a cross-linked discussions including both academic and non-academic blogs. Unlike edited books and peer-reviewed articles, blogs are personal and reveal the searching and uncertainty of the research process.

download a conference paper on these issues by Mortensen-Walker.pdf

Information and more papers from the conference

Another discovery

I found another more recent teaching site for one of Adrian Miles’ classes in Network Media. This class seems to working very well with many students producing interesting weblogs.

This post is a very interesting example of Miles assessment notes with links to the student sites and how students in this course combines site construction and a related online academic essay.

He also links to Into the Blogsphere a collection of commissioned/reviewed academic essays on blogs which look fascinating. All set up as a blog with a comment function for each essay. Can’t wait to take a deeper look at some of these essays.

Reflective Practice/Theory

Tanja’s comments about “theorising” our educational blogging practice raise some interesting questions:

It seems that there are tips and techniques, and descriptions about blogging – I guess I’m interested in hearing about how this field of blogging and journalism education (and practice) is being theorised? Are there any empirical studies that have been done (perhaps where a particular development has been tested to see what happens) and then analysed? in the field of journalism, are theories just being applied or are they being tested to see if they hold up – am just interested in how theories in a particular field might also be generated as new technologies become available to do and think about things we may not have before

Let me unpack this a little as I see it:

tips and techniques, and descriptions: yes these abound and there are now many places to go for practical help. But because the field is still young sometimes it is in working out the technique that we begin to theorise.

theorising the field: I think this is beginning to be done. Certainly there is theorising about online learning and networked learning – Tanja’s own reference to the marvelous notion of “learning swarms” is a wonderful example of this. Certainly there is the beginning of theories about blogs in higher ed and about blogs in journalism. All this needs to be brought together more clearly in regard to blogs in journalism education.

empirical studies, testing and analysing how theory (practice?) holds up: in a traditional sense, as far as I can find, there is almost none of this. However I would make an argument for projects like this blog as a different kind of empirical research.

Blogging is linked, cumulative, open-ended research. It is grounded in our empirical experience of writing and reading, linking and surfing, thinking and responding. It is action research, grounded theory.

Sites like edublog are marvelous examples of a deeply reflective mix of open-ended theroising about online teaching practice.

Sometimes with a very practical bent:

We also talked about the strangeness of making assignments in a blogging course. I want people to leave the course more skillful and confident as researchers, having built a lively and substantial site that is of real service to others, and made up of well-crafted sentences and paragraphs reflecting a good command over the choices a writer faces line by line. So, what should be assigned for Monday, then? Write anything you want? Yes and no, I’d say. A week of wandering among possible topics and interesting sources might be just the thing for one student to be doing right now, as she starts to come to a focus for her inquiry, while another student might need to be attending to the particulars of a theory that animates a field, in order to build a vocabulary for the writing to come. It’s hard to say with confidence that everybody ought to be doing the same thing, so we’re trying an experiment: I’m asking everyone to make their own decisions about content and quantity of writing for the week, knowing that quality is the main short-term goal and that those things above are the long-term goals. We’ll talk over how that went on Wednesday.

Other times from a more explicitly theoretical perspective:

So maybe here’s my point: blogging is not democratic only because it gives each person a place to publish — it is also democratic because it is a body of practices that help each person invent something worth reading. It is as if freedom of speech is not valuable only or even mainly for its freedom, but rather it is valuable for the social practices that it helps a society cultivate, for the internal and social work it helps individuals do, and for the quality of the speech that results from those things. Not to mention the quality of listening.

Student weblog

Here is an excerpt from one Melbourne student’s blog that seems to indicate that blogging can challenge students to new ways of learning.

As part of my journalism course I did Hypertext Theory and Practice, which was the basis for om_blog. This subject was a turning point for me because it introduced the learning theories behind blogging – that the ongoing nature of a blog relates to the process, rather than the outcome or product. We had to maintain a blog community in our class and create a hypertext in Storyspace. I know that most of us found it a challenge because the learning methods were radical to what we had been use to. But the real appeal for me was the idea that we could use an exploratory model rather than a conclusive one. For example, the assessment was our blogs and a hypertext rather than the regulatory ‘intro-body-conclusion’, word-limited essay that restricted the amount of problems we could discuss.

Although it worked for this student a quick look through some of the other blogs on the site would indicate that the take up wasn’t great and a number of the students seemed to be just going through the motions.

Adrian Miles the teacher for this course keeps a regular blog and reflects here about assessing student blogs

The idea of establishing an “assessment matrix” is a good one.

An assessment matrix is provided that indicates the sorts of qualities an entry ought to have for each grade level (a high distinction entry would have qualities that …) and a self assessment exercise is held where all students are able to evaluate a nominated entry against this matrix. This lets students concretise the grades in relation to their own work and demystifies what good, poor, and excellent work is

Empirical research and theory

Tanja raises the question of the interconnection and difference between theory, practice, empirical outcomes research and tips in the work on blogging and education. Four blog scholars recently began a discussion on some of these issues. But as the excerpt below indicates this discussion is still in its infancy.

OJR article: Scholars Discover Weblogs Pass Test as Mode of Communication

The blogologists admit that their research is only just beginning. OK, they’re not looking for a cure for cancer, but it would be nice to quantify just how much of an effect blogs are having. Trammell, whose doctoral thesis at the University of Florida was on blogs (yes, she’s a doctor of blogs), says that there haven’t been any breakthrough moments yet for researchers.

“At this point there has been so little published research in the academic journals,” she told me via e-mail. “Most of the research that is readily available (Perseus, Pew Internet) is important, but atheoretical. It gives a good pulse of the average blogger, but not much more. I think we are on the cusp of an exciting time where the theoretical research of blogs will begin to emerge. Now that we have explained blogs and understand them, we can start to make predictions and see how blogs fit into theories and compare to other ways of communicating.”