I'm at a panel on blogging at the SAJA conference
, and I guess I'm going to try and Blog it, but the wireless in this part of Lerner Hall is not very good. We've got:
Seshu Badrinath, Tiffinbox.org
, Jen Chung, Gothamist
; Mark Dery, new media professor, NYU and commentator on the digital age; Anil Dash, AnilDash.com
; Prashanth Kothari, Finding My Voice
; Nimesh Patel, Badmash.org
. Apparently Nimesh worked for American Express; you gotta love it when people turn down real jobs to make comic art.
We're focusing on blogging and its relationship to blogging and participatory democracy.
I'm totally going to update and correct typos and even edit, both later and as I go. Huge Caveats. Don't take this too seriously. This is just for fun--I'm experimenting.
The moderator, Mimi Hanaoka
, is particularly interested in the ability of blogs to raise funds for political campaigns. Anil Dash, with Movable Type, worked with the Dean campaign, and now both the Kerry and Bush campaigns, helping set up their blogs. Comments might not actually filter up into the campaign, but community members feel like they're really helping out when they're asked to spread the word. It "feels a little bit like Tom Sawyer getting you to white wash the fence, but at the same time you do feel a little more connected." Jen Chung points out that blogs "complements our lifestyles more." Mimi wants to know if it's like the "Deanie-baby" phenomena, a closed off youth phenomena, and Jen Chung thinks there's a real trickle down effect to older and less digitally obsessed people. This makes sense to me--my Mom has gone from an email-only person two years ago to a habitual reader of political blogs and my friend's blogs. (Her favorite is my buddyultracasual.com
Professor Dery wants to know if anyone has any hard data on the ethnic and gender demographics of bloggers, and Anil Dash says anyone who says that have hard data is lying. "Terms like democracy make me really goosey. . .they feel like clouds of methane gas to me, it means nothing," says Dery. He wants to focus on specific analyses.
Prashant Kothari wants to emphasize that there's still a big element of bloggers talking to each other, though he thinks it has the potential
to be a lot more democratic, despite its innate dependance on people who have computers and more rather than less leisure time.
Anil Dash has no problem with the idea that most bloggers are young. He points out an interesting idea: take an event, say a Zoning law meeting, that most reporters aren't too interested in, and commission a really interested party (those city council backbencher hobbyists, say) to blog about it expertly, rather than sending in a bored journalist who has no idea what's going on.
Hanaoka wants to talk more about the interaction of locality and the globe. Kothari points out that he's not a professional writer or journalist, but an entrepreneur, and that he writes often about outsourcing. He was frustrated with the coverage he saw from the pros, and wanted to put out something that better reflected his experience.
Seshu Badrinath injects a dose of humor, noting the chagrinizing
affect of expecting great feedback in comments and instead getting mostly spam. (I hope I'm not jinxing myself here.) He says that most of the new people who write to him are other bloggers, which mirrors my experience.
Hanaoka wants to know more about the community building efforts and missions of blogs, and Jen Chung rattles a list of great Gothamist projects, like happy hours and a Little League sponsorship. Anil Dash says he gets most of his local government news from Gothamist, and that Chung has more credibility with him than most local tv journalists.
Now Hanaoka wants to talk more about journalistic integrity. "I have to say the pungent phrase journalistic integrity always drips irony to me," responds Dery. "The Stephen Glass syndrome is not something that springs from the brow of the twentieth century." He's delighted to see some "very wrongheaded" notions of journalistic integrity erode, such as the doctrine of objectivity. Dery compares the "hour long ad for embalming fluid that is known as the the Newshour with Jim Lehrer" to Fox News--"I loathe it, I feel that it rides into battle with the mark of the beast on its forehead," but it's fun, he says. Derry applauds backtoIraq.com as an exmplar of the full disclosure with fairness. Anil Dash says he's suspicious of any definition of journalistic integrity that doesn't include telling people what you really think. "Inspire me to disagree with you," he says.
Kothari likes the ability of blogs to act as a check on journalists, noting the "now sort of the legendary tales of the outing of Trent Lott" He continues. "95% of the stuff out there is crap. But 95% of anything out there--people's pictures and home movies--is crap." But he thinks that ranking systems and searches will get increasingly important.
"I think it's common sense for things to be supply and demand," says Patel. "What's good will stay."
Dery does worry that blogging is just as balkanizing, if not more balkanizing, than mainstream media. "It seems to me that blogs encourage that sequestering in these little cellular units." Anil Dash readily acknowledges his bias as an advocate, but disputes this. "Fox news is never going to say here's a story we disagree with, and we're going to go through it line by line." He thinks its absurd to look at blogging through the same lens as mainstream journalism because most of it does start out aimed at friends and family. (SSRD smiles here, fondly.)
Jen Cheung describes Gothamist: "It's a friend of yours at a cocktail party who knows all these little random facts that you would never know." She says she'll happily link to a more conservative friend if she respects their opinion and thinks they have something to say on a topic. "People can explore and see what they like and develop their own taste." She's very happy with the arguments-in-comments that her readers engage in every time Gothamist posts something political, and says she finds out more about the topic from these readers. Anil Dash says he loves this "collaborative serendipity."
Dery refers to Louis Rosetto (??) as John the Baptist of the ethos of the web, and Anil Dash puts his head in his hands--"That's a terrifying image." Dery is talking about how the Times only recently added live email addresses for its reporters, and Jen Chung reminisces on the Times readers forums ("I don't think anyone uses them anymore," she says. "It's the cave, you get banished there" replies Dash) where she complained about a Times story in 1999. (David Grimes (?) had a $1000 meal at a restaurant but didn't really review it. "If you're going tohavea $1000 meal, I want the review!") Now she complains in her blog, and she knows people will see it. Dash insists that blogs are only a danger to bad journalism.
Dery tells the story of Marty Rimm as classic example of blogs being corrective to journalism, but worries about mobocracy. He also worries about a pundit on top of a pundit on top of a pundit (Yurtle the Turtle?) resting on the back of the tired reporter who actually got the facts. Anil Dash immediately says that it's currently a very "unkind culture." Dash says the more famous bloggers are war bloggers and often have a war like subculture. "There are probably twice as many people blogging about knitting as there are people blogging about war and politics, but the knitting bloggers tend to be pretty nice, so they don't get as much attention." Dash wrote something once on his blog and made one war blogger angry, who then asked his readers to "go get this guy." Dash says he got 11,000 emails in four days, calls at home, and calls at work. Once he put up his own picture, and offered to meet anyone at a restaurant and explain himself (no one showed up) he was left alone. He thinks they calmed down once they had a human face. Dery says that's more an issue of anonymity drying up civility, and that he's more worried about punditry echoing itself. Chung says that people are always going to link to pundits as a way to get attention ("Attention is the only currency" says Dash), but that good blogs do bring in new ideas and those will be noticed by people like her looking for something new.
A woman with the Neiman foundation for journalism wants to know why blogging wants the mantle of journalism, and sees blogging as "alternate media" rather than alternate journalism. "One of the bases of blogging is to reject mainstream media."
I want to inject here that I think blogging is a media--like paper, tape, flash, and video--that can be done in a professional manner (journalism) or an amateur way (personal diaries and videos for your friends.) The only difference is now everyone can see your amateur work, so it's harder to immediatley tell the difference between that and professionally published work. But as someone who was forced to watch a "film" about a laundromat on public access tv last night, I think that if you're willing to take a little more time, you can tell the difference on your own. It's really just code. There may be cultural biases because the people who started Blogger had certain friends, but anything you can do with it (fictional blogs! photographs of your dinner!) will work.
I just made this point, badly, and Professor Dery wholeheartedly disagrees with me. :-) Unfortunately I have not yet figured out how to blog as I am actually speaking, so you're not going to get that discussion, but I'll ask him aftewards for a more thorough rebuttal.
Someone has asked about ads. Nimesh and Jen say that there's nothing wrong with taking ads because it helps maintain the site, but that it's not yet a real income source. Nick Denton seems to be only named bandied about as someone who makes real money blogging. "There's about 12 people in the world who make their living blogging," say Dash, and Nimesh points out that none of them are here. Dash says that people see ads as a legitimizer. Dery says this isn't unique to online, and that start-up print magazines are desperate for ads.
A student wants to know where it's all going.
Dery is talking about a linguist Jackie Nunnberg (sp?) who reported that Webster's dictionary will include blogs in the next edition (Now what about the OED?)
Dash says that the era of punditry as the main definition of blogs is almost over, and that mobile devices and mobile phones will be much more common. He points out that America is very far behind in terms of texting and mobile information. He says that mobile blogs with visual and audio elements are going to be a big deal especiallly in South Asia.
A woman behind me identifying herself a middle aged member of the mainstream press says the blog will solidify into a pulse. "We look to you as a sort of cutting edge--we're not going to you for reporting at this point--but you're a good starting point."
Another student wants to know about video blogging. Dash says it's just a technology issue of and will be possible eventually, estimating at 18 months in the US. There's a higher barrier because editing video is a less common skill than reading and writing.
And that's it. Whew.
Update after the fact:
Dery was talking about Marshall McCluhan
, a communications theorist. I think maybe I didn't disagree with him as much as I or he thought I did. Ironically, I find it hard to make my point without visuals or at least a hand gesture, but I abstractly think that the variable of analysis which is journalism vs. fakery is fairly separate from the variable of analysis which is the media difference between blogs and other media.
I'll fix this later; there's a convention to go to.