One of the more interesting aspects involving the news coverage of the war in Iraq was the personal accounts, or logs, of embedded reporters as they traveled with soldiers. Readers got a firsthand, first-person account of what fighting men and women experienced.
Similar ideas are behind the newest trend in Internet communication, the Web log, or blog.
A blog is a journal in which people write, often in a brutally direct way, about their observations, experiences, thoughts, and emotions. Then they open it to the public, worldwide.
A blog can be about a range of topics—whatever the writer is thinking about. Or it can be on a narrower topic, such as politics, education, technology, popular culture, or humor. Some blogs read like online magazines, with reports and commentaries about new developments. Most blogs are personal, but a good number are business-oriented.
Like Web sites, blogs can include pictures and links to other Web sites. Unlike Web sites, new entries go on top of the page, pushing previous entries down.
Anyone can write a blog, anyone can read one. Blog sites typically include software for creating blogs, with pre-designed templates to make things easy, and Web space that hosts what you’ve created. A good place to start is Blogger [http://www.blogger.com], which, more than any other service, popularized blogs. Another good site is Globe of Blogs [http://www.globeofblogs.com], where you can browse more than 16,000 blogs indexed by category.
But do you want to be a “blogger”? Are blogs sources of interesting or useful information, or are they just exercises in narcissism by writers and voyeurism by readers?
To shed light on these questions, I got input from four experts in online communication: professionals who write about the Internet and computers for a living.
Freedom of the press has long been a cherished ideal in this country. “In much of the West for centuries you’ve been able to make independent news for the price of a printing press,” says Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, chairman of the Internet Press Guild. “The real difference now is that blogs drop the bar for self-publishing to a new low.”
Some people, however, disparage the quality of the information and insights available through blogs, particularly when compared with the traditional media. It’s only partly self-serving for me to say that journalists are trained to distinguish news from rumor and self-promotion, to dig out relevant, interesting information, to make the complex clear, and to minimize mistakes.
Typically with blogs, what’s most conspicuously missing is editorial oversight. Alan Zeichick, editor-in-chief of SD Times, a publication for software developers, knows all about editorial oversight. “I view blogs as being akin to writers publishing their notes as opposed to a publication making available carefully researched, written, edited, fact-checked, and proofread stories.”
Yet there’s something to be said for the immediacy of a blog, for the direct and often intimate connection between individual writer and individual reader without others filtering your thoughts and your words. Zeichick, editorial hat and all, recognizes this: “Blogs provide a look into what the writer is thinking at a particular moment with the spontaneity that an edited story doesn’t have.”
Sure, some blogs may be stream-of-consciousness meanderings that are hard to follow and hardly worth doing the effort. But there can be benefit to the raw as well as the polished. “Blogs aren’t better than professional journalism,” says Mitch Wagner, a professional journalist, freelancer, and consultant from San Diego. “They’re just different—and complimentary.”
And editorial oversight isn’t always positive. In the candid spirit of a blog, Wagner says, “What journalist hasn’t worked with an editor who spends all his time sitting in meetings or safely walled in his office and forces stories to conform to his own prejudices and agenda without regard to what’s really going on?”
Wagner recognizes the benefits of the editorial process too. “Editors and colleagues can be great sources of ideas, inspiration, and much-needed restraint when you go off on tangents.”
The writer/editorial relationship, at best, involves stewardship. “Has anyone seen writing so good that it couldn’t be improved with a little judicious editing?” says Stephen Satchell, a freelance technology journalist and consultant from Lake Tahoe, Nevada.
Though blogs are typically personal, individual efforts, they don’t involve revolutionary change. They’re not much different from many personal Web sites, despite the hype they sometimes receive. But as another evolutionary step in Internet technology, blogs represent a further opening of communication available to anyone with access to the Net who wants to read or write.