Jim Day and Weblogs

I have a lot of respect for smalltown daily newspaper reporters, most of which extends from having worked closely with them in my newspapering days. They are, as a group, generally intelligent, witty, and patient. You’ve gotta be patient to survive on a diet that includes school board meetings, parades, and stories about fantastic pets; there are only so many hurricanes, Province House explosions and general elections to being you to the top of your game.

When Jim Day from the Guardian phoned me on Thursday to interview me about the U.S. election, his original reason for calling was because his Managing Editor, Gary MacDougall, had read some of my blog posts about various election-related topics.

Jim, however, didn’t really know what a weblog was — he initially described it as “a chat room sort of thing” — and so as we were talking, he kept having to interrupt me when I offhandly used words like “blogger” and “blogging” and “posted.” I tried my best to describe what a weblog is, but I don’t really think I did it justice.

I came away from the experience thinking “wow, is he out of touch!?”

Upon reconsideration, though, I’ve come around to thinking this says more about how self-referrential and closed the “blogosphere” is. Sure there are millions of blogs written by millions of people. But I think if you drew a giant Venn diagram of the system, you would find that the world of blogs mostly intersects with itself, and doesn’t overlap with regular everyday reality all that much.

In other words, if you remove bloggers themselves, along with their immediate family and friends, from the readership, there are far fewer “civilians” left over than we all assume. We are, by and large, talking to ourselves.

That doesn’t bother me, and I don’t think it invalidates the medium at all. But it is important to remember, especially when we get irrational heady thoughts about our blogs as the new media’s new media, that we’re more like monks illuminating manuscripts for the church than scrappy New Journalists shouting out to the general public.


Ritchie Simpson's picture
Ritchie Simpson on October 30, 2004 - 19:19 Permalink

Hey does your illumination ever fall upon the word “hyperbole” Brother Ruk?

Lisa Howard's picture
Lisa Howard on October 30, 2004 - 19:21 Permalink

I don’t see myself as a journalist at all, of course, but I do think journalism needs a helper or a critic from time to time. What I mean is, if you compare journalism to blogging it can be illuminating especially if things are going awry in journalismland. Personally, I think journalism has moved too far in the direction of blogging, in the sense that it’s too subjective. It’s also (unlike blogging) a lot like entertainment. I’m glad you mentioned reporters covering fires etc. I like the grunts too. I think they often do good work. I wish there were more international coverage involving smart grunts as opposed to media ‘stars.’

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on October 30, 2004 - 20:12 Permalink

I meant “intended for a private audience” when I made reference to monks, not “doing God’s work.”

Alan's picture
Alan on October 30, 2004 - 20:25 Permalink

Seeing as Jim Day is the guy (I’m pretty sure) who broke the Somalia abuse story when he worked for the Pembroke Observer, I would not measure his professional capabilties by awareness of a hobby of yours and mine.

Lisa: I’d think just because blogging is fairly shallow entertainment, (oxymoron?) it is still entertainment — in fact it is pretty much only that.

Lisa Howard's picture
Lisa Howard on October 30, 2004 - 20:32 Permalink

Speak for yourself. I’m a dullard.

Will Pate's picture
Will Pate on October 30, 2004 - 21:07 Permalink

I’m getting the impression that there are a few groups of “citizens” as you call them that are reading blogs, from my experience:

- People in the technology and marketing industries
- Students and people of student age
- Journalists

There is a bit of a problem with the argument that the blogosphere is only read by other bloggers: the barrier to entry is almost zero. People that like reading blogs can become bloggers themselves with no cost and no more technical savvy than it takes to write an email. So blog readers can quickly and easily become bloggers themselves, making the number of non-blogging blog readers a hard number to nail down.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on October 30, 2004 - 21:26 Permalink

You’re right Will: there’s relatively little barrier to entry. Except if you’ve got no reason to know that weblogs exist, how will you know that they are there?

Will Pate's picture
Will Pate on October 30, 2004 - 21:52 Permalink

Good question.

Journalists seem to be spreading the word (even if they can’t spell it properly — “web log”). At first it was funny and quirky, but there have been a ton of “what are blogs” articles in well read newspapers and magazines. I bet Technorati teaming up with CNN for the DNC increased public awareness too.

Connections between family and friends get used a lot too. It’s not uncommon anymore to hear “I blogged that” or “I read about that in a blog” in a regular conversation. Maybe I just travel in, or help create, blog-aware circles of people but I’m finding more and more people already know (at least partially) what I’m talking about when I drop the b-word.

It would be interesting to know the impact of celebrity-type blogs too. I bet people like Zach Braff, Wil Wheaton, Dave Barry and Moby have brought the blogging thing to quite a few new people.

al o'neill's picture
al o'neill on October 30, 2004 - 21:57 Permalink

Tech people, students and journalists. In short, people who thikn other people care what they have to say, rightly or wrongly.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on October 30, 2004 - 21:59 Permalink

Will, you are inside the eye of a blog hurricane of your creation. As am I. As such it’s impossible, except when emissaries from outside like Jim Day ask good questions, to understand what life on the outside is like.

People with telephone assume that everybody else has a telephone. Or if they don’t, that at least they’ll call if they need more help.

oliver's picture
oliver on October 31, 2004 - 01:32 Permalink

Blog” is argot: As Peter suggests, many people don’t even know what blogs are, let alone participate in the electronic dialogs in which the word gets (I would guess) the most of its use. News style is conservative in regard to language. But I wouldn’t be surprised if “blog” hadn’t made it into Webster’s yet either. U.S. papers tend to hew to Webster’s, which is part of the basis of AP Style.

oliver's picture
oliver on October 31, 2004 - 04:28 Permalink

Argot,” “hew,” “dialog.” I hope y’all forgive me: Stuffy is my mother tongue.

oliver's picture
oliver on October 31, 2004 - 04:30 Permalink

Maybe that should be “y’all”ll”? (New to the South. Still learning the language.)

Robert Paterson's picture
Robert Paterson on October 31, 2004 - 12:11 Permalink

Hey it has only been 3-5 years! When to Blog local newspaper sets up and starts to take the classified business with it, then more will notice. After all why would the mainstream today care? When there is something that grips a wider audience, the readership will turn up.

I suspect that health forums will be early — Type 2 diabetes etc

A more Gawker world???

Will Pate's picture
Will Pate on October 31, 2004 - 13:40 Permalink

You’re right Peter, I do feel in the eye of the hurricane. It’s important that I acknowledge that my perspective suffers objectivity deficiency because of it.

It’s interesting that Jim, by definition of a journalist, is probably a news junkie (it takes one to know one). There is now enough information, that a even a news junkie can miss a totally new medium for expression that allows millions of people to voice a diverse set of opinions within a sociopolitical movement, and still be quite well informed about the state of the world.

Rob L.'s picture
Rob L. on October 31, 2004 - 14:42 Permalink

I would think that anyone following the US election, particularly someone in the mainstream media, would have learned a little something about blogs at this point, considering the big stink that was created over CBS’s fake documents and the role of blogs in the whole affair. Seriously, the word “Blog” was appearing in headlines in the New York Times and Washington Post for two weeks.

oliver's picture
oliver on October 31, 2004 - 15:24 Permalink

3,620 hits for “blog” in Google News at this moment. The top three are from the Web sites of traditional newspapers and seem to represent text that might have appeared on paper, but the stories aren’t using the word casually or incidentally, they’re about blogging, and and reporters often take the time to introduce and explain an uncommon word when it’s central to their story. The rest of the hits is a sea of sites that either have no print edition or in which I suspect the text was written expressly for the Web. I can imagine that some of the hits at CBC.com are “copy” that was read on air, but that’s because I believe broadcast language veers toward the vernacular, I suppose because the announcer can inflect a word so as to highlight it and shepherd his or her audience through it (also because so much broadcast is commentary or “features” rather than bulletins of “straight news.” It’s straight news reporting that’s most conservative in every way, as it’s got to appear dispassionate and authoritative.

oliver's picture
oliver on October 31, 2004 - 15:30 Permalink

Actually, more common than “commentary” and “features” in broadcasts is as we all know plain old and/or simulated conversation. Sorry, I guess I’m paper-o-centric.

Lisa Howard's picture
Lisa Howard on February 10, 2005 - 18:20 Permalink

I’m betting that this story (I’ve posted the link as my web page) won’t make it to the front page of the Globe or the Post. It’s not enough that the real media aren’t doing their job, but the Bush admin has now created fake media so that they can have an even easier time.