Sunday, February 13, 2011

The need for change in blogging

Browsing this morning, I caught up with the fact that Club Troppo and Larvatus Prodeo had formally withdrawn from the Domain collective. I have added the relevant links to ANZ, IBM & freedom of speech; I think that this post now has enough links that anybody who wants to can trace the whole saga through.

As I read the CT and LP statements, I thought that some sense of proportion had been lost in the gold fish bowl. I also felt a degree of sadness and even slight tarnish as a blogger. There are no winners in this one.

As it happened, I had to go to Newcastle yesterday. On the long train trip I wrote notes on the changes that I had seen in the blogosphere since I started posting in March 1996. I was doing this for my own reasons as part of my review of my own blogging and writing activities. However, this also set a mood for my subsequent reading of the CT/LP material.

I may bring yesterday's material up as a full post independent of my own blogging review. Most readers won't share my great interest in blogging matters. However, the changes are interesting for those of us who take a professional or, at least, keen amateur interest.

The patterns are also interesting for what they tell us about interactions within the media environment, about the way new forms cannibalise old ones. Twitter is presently doing to Facebook what Facebook previously did to blogging!

Blogging has aged, has fragmented. The sheer joy and excitement that those of us felt who first became involved in the medium in its early days has largely gone.

Looking back, I can remember that excitement. I can remember the joy of meeting new friends, of new groups. Looking back, the landscape is littered with people and groups I once knew who have moved on. I still remember them because of their place in my life.

In a comments' exchange with Legal Eagle, a blogger from that period, I mentioned the Blonde Canadian, a blogger who was neither blonde nor Canadian. BC has long gone from teaching, she was obviously a great teacher, into a broader world. As she did so, she withdrew from blogging. Now she remains frozen in my mind, a friend from a past period.

Since Legal Eagle threw off her disguise and became Katy Barnett, then PhD student and now law lecturer, people refer to her by name. To me, she is still Legal Eagle as well. I knew who Katy really was through Facebook, but in public she was LE.

As LE, she introduced me to Blond Canadian and the Junior Lawyers Union, a group of junior lawyers working in big city law firm who cast an acerbic eye on management. They provided the case study material for my depression series. Long gone, they remain fixed in my memory.

If blogging has aged and changed, is is still worthwhile? Yes is the short answer.

I was reminded of this only this morning.

In January 2010 I wrote a post, New England Motor Company - Lismore. This morning, over twelve months later, I received a comment suggesting someone I should talk to who knew about these things. It was someone I should have remembered, but had forgotten. This type of feedback happens all the time.

If blogging is still worthwhile, I have to work out how to respond to the changes.

While I was careful in what I said in the on-line opinion matter, I reacted quite strongly because I saw the key protagonists actually damaging blogging in one key area of the blogosphere. In their absorption with their own concerns, the rightness of their respective positions, they lost sight of broader issues.

I accept that this is a partial and imperfect position. If you follow the various comment threads through, you can see how issues were clarified and positions resolved. You can see how positions of personal principle and values were expressed and upheld. But, at the end of the day, the personal won out to the detriment of the principles. Defence of position became dominant.

I recognise that I am open to attack here. With time, I think that the case may become important as the emotion drops away, leaving the principles more exposed and open to discussion.

Despite the low income I receive from blogging, I really am a professional blogger.

Measured by frequency of posts and certainly words, I may well publish as much as Club Troppo and Larvatus Prodeo, maybe as much as both combined. My traffic is far less, but then I serve different purposes and different markets.

I also try to think constantly about what it means to be a blogger, about the audiences I try to reach, about the principles I should follow. Here I am often conflicted and confused; that is one of the issues I am trying to resolve.

It may seem pretentious, arrogant, to argue to bloggers that are far more successful than I am measured by audience reach, that are names in a way I am not, that they have lost sight of the plot. Still, I would plead to them to leave immediate issues aside, to stop defending their own brands, but instead focus on the principles and issues involved.

Blogging has become professional. We have to deal with this.


Winton Bates said...

If you are looking for a market niche, Jim, one of the things I think you do very well is to provide a commentary on what other bloggers are writing about. Perhaps you could develop a TWT of Australian blogging as a regular feature.

Just a thought from a non-professional blogger!

Jim Belshaw said...

That's not a bad idea. Winton.

In a comment that will seem totally obscure to anybody not from the New England tradition, it should be on a Friday. Further, there should be a nice red wine with lunch!

Neil said...

This whole issue sailed right by me, Jim. My blogging is just a pleasant indulgence really. No thoughts of being professional at all.

Jim Belshaw said...

I think that's true for many bloggers, Neil, nor is it a bad thing.

But as a long standing blogger who changes templates, who worries about what he says, who keeps stats, I think that I would classify you at least as a keen amateur.

Winton Bates said...

Well Jim, I thought just about everyone would know about TWT (even if they were not aware of the New England tradition). So, I googled TWT and came up with a large number of references to 'The Weekly Times'. Then I googled TWT and David Frost together and got asked,'Did you mean TW3'.
Yes, that was exactly what I meant!

Jim Belshaw said...

Talk about a walk down nostalgia lane, Winton. To the ordinary reader, this must be one of the most obscure exchanges in blogging history.

To add to the obscurity, as I remmeber it, our sacking as co-editors involved some of the same issues as the on-line opinion imbroglio. What to publish, free speech vs other values.

And on the value of blogging, I very much doubt if we would have come back into contact without the medium!

Legal Eagle said...

The whole Domain/LP/Club Troppo thing makes me sad. I don't want some horrible factionalisation of blogging, where people take sides on political bases. I really enjoy reading different views and looking at different blogs.

Jim Belshaw said...

That's my feeling exactly, LE. Still, there is enogh variety in blogs to pick and choose.

Anonymous said...

Jim and LE

Obviously there's a problem, but I honestly don't see cause for agonising. These are your blogs, and comment is absolutely at your discretion.

If a comment is not polite, or not adding to the subject, even maybe just as an amusing aside - then just bin it. As you probably would ask an overimbibed erstwhile friend to leave your home, just cut it off.

I read a lot of Jim's New England blog, and it is really interesting, but I would never comment because for some reason "it is not my place".

I follow a lawprof blog from the US because the lady writes really quite interesting and insightful stuff, not just on law - but I long ago gave up reading her comment stream, because it just seemed full of petty interpersonal pointscoring.

If OLO wants to be seen as a marketplace of ideas, then I think he/it should refuse all comment, and work on a version of balance in the market place. My guess is however, that the comment stream is a useful indicator for both the owner and the advertiser of "what works", what's "interesting".

I hope all you writers keep writing, but I wouldn't hesitate, in your shoes, to stamp on anything undesirable. The right to say crap, to abuse another anonymous face based on race or religion or sex or politics just does not exist in my worldview.



Anonymous said...

Was the above "on topic"? If not, feel free to bin.

Even my best friend knows to remove his muddy boots at the door.


Anonymous said...


Last time I promise - but you correctly picked up on the distinction made between blogs that are "salons” as opposed to a “public square”.

Young was correct to define the difference, but I've stood in Hyde Park Speakers' Corner, and he just isn't acknowledging his own definition. It is a wonderful place, but the speakers don't come to it for reward; they come to proselytize.

That is his conundrum to sort out.


Jim Belshaw said...

You raise some interesting issues, KVD, and it's helpful to have an external perspective. It's also good to know that you read my New England blog!

Blogging is meant to be interactive. Some of the best conversations I have seen come from comment streams, although the blogger format makes this a little difficult. Once you allow comments, you have to decide how to deal with them.

Ignoring advertising, there were two quite separate issues in the on-line case; the decision to publish and then the treatment of the subsequent comments.

As salons, neither LP nor CT would have published the article in question if it had been offered to them as a guest post. Neither would I, for that matter. On-line opinion is in a different position: it aims to be an open forum of ideas. Even then, decisions still have to be made.

Similar issues apply to commments.

The salons generally have quite firm comment policies; MB's advice to Graham makes that quite clear. LP won't publish anything that it believes breaches it's position on certain issues. Again, Graham believes that he must allow greater variety. However, decisions still have to be made in terms of what is expressed and how it is expressed.

Your point about proselytizing is correct. Some commenters want to do this. Others want to punish, to hurt those with alternative views.

An open forum has to allow the first. By contrast, the salons really only allow those to proselytize whose views are broadly acceptable. To my mind, neither should allow the second.

The comment stream on a blog is not the same as that you will find on most newspapers, although I accept that the point I am about to make is a slippery one.

There is very little real interactivity, little conversation, in newspaper comments. People respond, not converse. A blog is different.

One of the reasons that I, and I think LE too, were upset about this matter is that the events that occurred breached our perceptions of blogs and blogging, actually damaged part of the blogosphere that contributed to informed discussion.

I said that the point was a slippery one. People blog for all sorts of reasons and have all sorts of approaches. In this sense the blogosphere as a whole is like the Hyde Park forum. Anybody can get on their soap box.

However, those blogs that present themselves as serious vehicles for public discussion then have to accept the responsibilities that go with that role. More broadly, I suppose, every blog needs to recognise the limitations and responsibilities that go with its expressed role.

I have to finish cooking tea. Again! I will stop here.

Don said...

Back when I first started blogging I complained about something Tim Blair wrote. Here's how he responded:

"DON ARTHUR, the Mary Whitehouse of Australian bloggers, complains that I'm uncivil. What a butt munch. However, to accommodate Don's desire for polite discourse, the following post is written in an entirely non-insulting Arthurian tone ..."

Jim Belshaw said...

Good lord, Don. I'm not sure what conclusions I draw from this beyond:
1. It's way before I started blogging.
2. It's extremely unpleasant and in that sense puts a different context on what I have been saying.
3. It's representative of a very unpleasant stream in blogging that still exists, those who who deliberately write in a certain extreme way to attract audience.

Still, you are probably in good company if you consider those who have been savaged by this particular blogger.

Don said...

Jim - Back then Tim made some vicious comments about people like Margo Kingston. But I think this comment about me is amusing.

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks, Don. I can see why you would say that. I was really referring to the tone of the response that followed, as well as the posts before and after!

rummuser said...

Jim, I blog for the fun of it. I spend on keeping it alive and do not make any money from it. It has been an enriching hobby, yes, that is what it is to me. I have made a lot of good friends from all over the world and have been learning a great deal about people and places that I would not have had I not been blogging and visiting other blogs. For instance, I have learnt a great deal about Australia from your and Neil's blogs and have a fascinating time reading LL's posts. I may not comment often but visit to learn.

Jim Belshaw said...

That's nice to know, Ramana. It does have to be fun. Sometimes I do take the whole thing too seriously; I guess that it's just the way I am!