j’s notes: Times-Dispatch on Blogging

Well, earlier this week a happy little e-mail floats into my inbox from the Richmond Times Dispatch asking if I’d like to be interviewed about Virginia bloggers. And I figure, sure, why not. Besides, it’s probably a blanket e-mail and I’ll just get lost in the crowd.

Well, I wasn’t. Todays article in the Times Dispatch:

Blogging is easier than sending e-mails to your friends about that new restaurant you checked out last weekend, and it’s cheaper than making long-distance phone calls to your college-student brother in California. You don’t have to be a computer geek to blog. All you need is a computer, a modem and a few thoughts to share.

And blogs are like snowflakes: No two are the same. One blogger may be careful to include research and diverse points of view in his posts. Another will be tantamount to verbal diarrhea, “like a tabloid, all splash and trash,” Richmond blogger Jason Kenney, 26, said.

Heh, while I didn’t use the term “verbal diarrhea”, I wish I had.

Some bloggers believe the medium will overtake mainstream media (“MSM”) in the near future, rendering obsolete most newspapers and TV news. Others disagree, arguing there’s room – and need – for blogs and traditional news media.

“I think what people need to keep in mind is that blogs are not true journalism,” Walters said.

VCU professor Jeff South, who teaches classes in media ethics and in communications technology, said most blogs don’t contain any original reporting; rather, bloggers rely on mainstream media for fodder.

“Blogs tend to be so anti-establishment and anti-mainstream media, and yet they really need the mainstream media to feed off of,” he said. “In this brave new world of new media, the good news is that everyone can participate, and the bad news is that everyone can participate.”

It’s difficult to say whether blogs are an important part of communications, South added, because they vary so widely.

“Blogs can be very amateurish, unethical hack jobs, and blogs can be highly professional, authoritative journalism,” South said.

There is a gray area, though. Recently, some newspapers and TV news outlets have caught on to the blogging trend, adding staff-written blogs to their Web site or even inviting readers to create their own blogs. For example, The Greensboro (N.C.) News & Record has more than a dozen blogs written by staffers that include the behind-the-scenes details of local news stories.

“The audience just has to realize that a blog is more akin to the op-ed page of their newspaper as opposed to the front page,” Kenney said.

Check out the article for more.

Now, for the sake of total disclosure or what not, I give to you my full response to Ms. Akin’s questions:

> Name, age, job (if you want to tell us):
Name: Jason Kenney
Age: 26
Job: Currently a full-time student at VCU and I work part time shipping and receiving at Virginia Book Company. I started blogging as a receptionist for a lawfirm in downtown DC.

> Blog site:
J’s Notes (http://jsnotes.blogspot.com)

> How long have you been blogging?
Since August of 2001.

> Why did you decide to blog?
I decided to blog in order to have a central location for friends and family to get information on me as people began to grow up and on in life.

> Does your blog have a theme?
I wouldn’t say there’s a unifying theme to J’s Notes–it’s just a bunch of random links and news mixed with a bit of personal information and opinions. For a while there was a focus on politics and news in particular, especially with covering events in downtown DC (IMF and anti-war protests). But it has come back to just links and occasional updates on the life and times of me.

> How often do you blog?
I try to update J’s Notes daily, though sometimes I miss while other times I end up tossing up ten or more posts in a day. Depends on having the time and my mood, really.

> Is the site for your friends and family, or do others read? Do they respond to your posts?
With the content being a lot of links and news, the potential audience is anyone, but it currently entertains my friends and family. There was a time when the audience was wider than that, pulling in assorted bloggers and random readers, but after I took some time off from blogging in 2004 that audience moved on.

> Do you regularly read other peoples’ blogs? How many?
I usually check out about a dozen or so blogs every day, ranging from family blogs to news and link blogs where I get some of my content (since blogging really turns out to be a lot of shared information anyway). Daily must reads include Instapundit (http://www.instapundit.com), Commonwealth Watch (http://commonwealthwatch.blogspot.com/), The Beat (http://www.comicon.com/thebeat/) and others.

> What is the “future of blogs”? And how do you think they fit in to the world of “information dissemination” (for lack of a better term)?
I think the “future of blogs” is going to look a lot like the present, only used by a wider market. For example, there has been a large push lately to see blogs used more in the business sector for customer support, news, insights and such, and I think you’ll start to see more of that as the internet continues to evolve. And while some news bloggers believe that blogs are the future and that the mainstream media (MSM to some) is a dinosaur, I don’t agree. I think you may see an increased used of blogs by journalists, but only for them to have forums for their own thoughts. News blogs need the structured, reviewed, and editorially overseen MSM in order to survive–or rather, fulfil their purpose.

As for “information dissemination” I think blogs have a limited place in filling that need, mainly because of the bias of the blogger as well as the audience. This relates greatly to your next question:

> Is a blog a valid source of information, or more just a place to unload your thoughts?
Like any source of information, validity is entirely dependent on the filter of your source. Some bloggers are more akin to an encyclopedia, taking their time on their presentation of information through research and patience and presenting a thoughtful post that covers all the bases. Others are much like a tabloid, all splash and trash with unfounded statements, citation of questionable sources, and contradictions every other post (or even within a post).

Most, thankfully, fall between these two categories. However, mistaking one for the other is not really the issue since your average internet savvy person can distinguish between them (though there are still those who believe “anything on the internet is true”, a concept which will ideally pass like “anything seen on television is true”).

With that said, blogs represent many different areas of interest, from politics to programming to random links to gaming, and so on. To an extent they provide information to their audience in as much as they provide what information they WANT to share. The internet is a great service where people can find out nearly everything about anything with the click of a mouse. But it also leads to people purposefully (though perhaps not consciously) selectively educating themselves. An internet user can choose to only visit certain sites for all of the information they want or need on a particular topic, never having to even entertain the notion of other ideas existing.

It’s a trap some blogs fall into and feed. Many bloggers associate their sites with those of like minded bloggers or news sources, linking to them, sharing information from them, and then redirecting their audience to those other sites. This bias turns
most blogs into nothing more than journals of opinion, even when they link to news articles or information from objective sources. It is their decision to share some of this information over others that creates their slant.

Their audience may believe this and swear by it, getting their information only from this source and never entertaining alternative news, views or even the truth. As I said, the internet provides people the means of finding the information they want to find, the stuff that they want to hear, and they can just keep coming back, never having to deal with those other sites that don’t speak their language.

This also limits the effectiveness of a blog spreading information because their audience ends up containing only like minded individuals, a situation where they are simply preaching to the choir any time they have a thought or even an actual news event or fact that should perhaps get more attention and coverage.

After looking over my response I realize that I’ve taken a fairly negative view of blogs when that’s not really how I feel. Blogs are great supplemental information to the world. Whether in providing more through observations on a political view or a book or how something works, Blogs can help to educate their audience on many things they might not find out otherwise. The danger exists of a reader falling into the trap of what Cass Sustein called “Daily Me” in Republic.com, but that is not a problem with Blogs. The audience just has to realize that a blog is more akin to the oped page of their news paper as opposed to the front page.

With that said, I’ve always been under the impression that blogs in and of themselves aren’t too entirely revolutionary. There have been many means for sharing personal information available on the web since it’s mainstream birth. Forums, websites, chat rooms, mailing lists, they’re all there. What is revolutionary about blogs is the system behind them, the publishing software like Blogger or MoveableType, because they make the quick and easy sharing of information as simple as pushing a button.

But blogs are really no different than journals or diaries, like what you find at LiveJournal. It’s all about how one uses them.

Also, the article opens with talking about a Matt Walters. I think I know that guy from high school…

UPDATE: The Virginia Blogosphere comments:

Commonwealth WatchHopefully they’ll do a follow-up or two on political blogs.
One Man’s TrashIt’s not a terribly good article, seeing that its focus seems to be largely on bloggers found in an around VCU.
Commonwealth Conservative

And I can’t argue with that. A more thurough article would have been nice, covering not only the big guns of Virginia blogging, but Virginia bloggers on the national scene, like Meryl Yourish and others. But I get the feeling that this was done in three or four days (since I was e-mailed on Wednesday). Maybe there will be a political follow-up, especially with state elections around the corner.

UPDATE 2: The Matt Walters in the article IS the same Matt Walters I hung out with for a bit back in high school. Small world. Yeah, yeah, I’m only an hour away from my high school, but still.