The Blogosphere: Part I

As part of the Sydney Writers’ Festival I recently attended a talk about ‘The Blogosphere’ featuring James Maskalyk, Christian Lander and Antony Loewenstein.

Christian is the genius behind Stuff White People Like the ‘micro-humour magazine’ that chronicles… well, actually the title is fairly self-explanatory. James used blogging as a way of communicating with the outside world while working with Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) in Sudan. Antony blogs extensively about the the Israel/Palestine conflict, and is also the author of The Blogging Revolution in which he discusses individuals living in repressive regimes who are using blogging as a tool for sharing information and political change.

What is Blogging?
Christian Lander:

Blogging is not an artform. It’s writing as it always was. Maybe it was a little shorter and you publish quicker.

James described blogging as a ‘new kind of journalism’ and one that offered greater immediacy than other forms of print media and one which could incorporate multimedia elements.

Why Blog?
Antony suggests that in many countries there is no alternative to blogging for independent thought and that even in less repressive nations most newspapers are ‘crap.’ He identifies the aim of independent political blogs as being heard. Having worked as an Australian journalist he admits that editorial stances put considerable constraints on journalists and that having an independent blog gives the writer much greater autonomy.

For James, having little contact with the outside world, blogging gave him an outlet to communicate with others and process his own experiences in Sudan. He started it as a way of keeping in touch with family and friends, and was surprised that it attracted a much broader audience over time.

Christian started his blog just to amuse some of his friends.

Community and Feedback
Christian admits that he no longer reads comments because they are really vicious and that apparently there is some sort of ‘race war’ going on within the comments on his blog. Negative comments don’t encourage writing. He also notes a difference between the kind of feedback he gets from email as opposed to via blog comments, explaining that the ratio of positive email to negative is 100:1. He doesn’t believe in comment moderation, laughing as he explains that, “You can delete the comment but you can’t delete the person.”

Similarly Antony explains that comments do not form a large part of his writing. He does however have a novel approach for dealing with particularly oddball or offensive comments. He takes them and publishes them on a special page within his blog including their email addresses.

For James blog feedback was his only connection to the larger world and in his experience the comments were mostly positive. He suggests that blogging offers an opportunity to connect not just with information, but with people – and people you wouldn’t ordinarily have the opportunity to connect with. When he was struggling to heal a three year old boy he made information about the patient’s symptoms available online (including photographs, obscuring the boy’s face for privacy and security reasons). With the assistance of the collective wisdom of his readership, he was able to reach a diagnosis.

You can read part two here.

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