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,
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
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
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.
is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight
Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org