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


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

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 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…

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.


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

“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, 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.”