The Magazine's review of blogs
By Alan Connor
Critics claim blogs have nothing to say. Weblog Watch aims to find evidence to the contrary.
We've already stated the obvious: that there are great writers and terrible scribblers in the blogosphere, just as there are in the mainstream media (or "MSM" as we're now known), but then it was obviously worth stating given how often the point gets missed by commentators in both worlds.
More interesting is the question: if you're a blogger with something to say and an ear for language, how do you get round the fact that the MSM writers blessed with the same gifts also have the advantages of a great resources and contacts, and most importantly of all, the whole day to sit there at the keyboard?
This week, we've got two examples of great blog posts that have got themselves some decent linkage and nice writing without the hassles and perks of doing it for a day job.
One classic way of saying something new is sticking two things together to juxtapose them. Reporting a report is fine so far as it goes. There are plenty of blogs made up almost entirely of links, and once you find one of these that's on your wavelength, it's a handy way of picking up on newspaper articles you might have missed.
And, of course, lots of newspaper articles are themselves based on other people's work, from wire services to press releases - or by plagiarising blogs! But remembering an old story can put a new one in a whole different light; or, as with our first example, a well-chosen "compare and contrast" can be incredibly satisfying.
A Big Stick And A Small Carrot is a Scottish blog, and paid attention this week when Tony Blair had a crack at "absurd regulations" hampering British industry.
The speech is available online, and A Big Stick was reminded of something, and got thinking. What we get is a series of extracts from the speech, with heckles from the blog.
"TONY BLAIR: 'A natural but wrong response is to retreat in the face of this change. To regulate to eliminate risk. To restrict rather than enable. But we pay a price if we react like this.'
"BIG STICK: I don't want to pay a price for a disproportionate judgement of risk. Well said."
So what's the context for the snarky interjections? Well, it's the rationale behind the National Identity Register and ID Card Bill, also available online at the Home Office site. A Big Stick asks us to get both documents to hand:
"Please do try to play along at home. Do you have the bill in your mind? You do? Then we are ready to read selected highlights of Tony Blair's speech on compensation culture."
And so we go:
"TONY BLAIR: 'We seek protection from risks that are exaggerated or even imagined. We allow the conspiracy theorists to dictate the argument without a basis in fact. Likewise in more mundane areas of public service the idea that it is the job of government to eliminate risk can lead to the elimination of common sense.'
"BIG STICK: Quite right. I'm glad the government doesn't want to eliminate common sense on the basis of exaggerated threats and without basis in fact."
As it goes on, the parallels become neater and neater: as the speech decries hasty law-making, explaining that "[b]ad people will find a way round the law no matter how good the law is," the blog post becomes more persuasive. Whatever your thoughts on ID Cards, compensation culture or Tony Blair, it's a fine demonstration of how a skilled politician can use two categorically contradictory arguments to defend two different policies.
And it's fun and rude to boot, so read the rest for yourself!
Our second example of getting around the Day Job Problem is quite the reverse: you can't work hard or think smart to make it happen, because it's... when the news happens to you.
Where blogs and tabloids collide, Cameron Diaz was there
Serious examples of this are blogging's first international "face", Salam Pax of Baghdad, and the enormous number of tsunami blogs giving coverage and help within days of the disaster.
Our favourite example since Weblog Watch started, though, is at a personal weblog called Nickerblog.
Shane Nickerson is "a Red Sox fan, a Patriots fan, a Dunkin' Donuts fan", and more importantly, a freelance actor and producer, who recently found himself caught up in the unglamorous world of tabloid celebrity gossip. He's been working on a show featuring Cameron Diaz, and a photo had appeared of the actress, possibly kissing someone so grainly-rendered that it might just possibly have been Shane.
He assures us that it wasn't him, and one's inclined to believe him, but even more inclined to carry on reading what happens if a showbiz reporter wants to make a story out of something.
"Later that day, as we were getting ready to take our daughter outside to play, I noticed somebody walking up to the front door. We live in a little neighborhood in Manhattan Beach, so that's not uncommon. Neighborhoods bring solicitors. I went to the door to tell the gentleman that I wasn't interested. I opened it.
"ME: 'Hi, can I help you?'
"HIM: (British accent) 'I'm looking for Shawn Nickerson.'
"HIM: 'Yes, I'm looking for Shawn Nickerson.'
"ME: 'It's SHANE. Trust me. I'm him.'
"HIM: (slightly surprised) 'Oh, it's Shane? Hi, I'm Lee Hannon with The National Enquirer.'"
As the post goes on, Shane's friends start getting calls, too. An odd assortment of his friends, and the parents of his friends... until he realised that his blog was providing an investigative tool for the hacks on his tail.
And so, having seen Google used against him, he fights back using Google. You end up admiring the guy's resilience and, much more so, his understanding wife. And if you've ever wondered how a celebrity scoop comes together, it's a wonderful case study.
"To the people at National Enquirer that decided Mother's Day was a good day to invade my life... I don't know how you sleep at night. Your work is shameful and evil."
If the more starry-eyed advocates of the blogosphere realised their dream of seeing every man, woman and pet cat with a weblog... well, it's not going to happen, is it? But as more and more blogs appear, we are getting despatches, from Baghdad and from LA, of how life plays out on a day-to-day level. The filtering process becomes ever-more important, of course, but once you've got the right filter there, you've got access to the biggest newsdesk in the world.
With that in mind, thanks again for all your feedback: your pointers, your thoughts on blogs, and even your e-mails sent into Weblog Watch berating the BBC for failing to cover blogs. Keep them coming!
If there's a blog you would like to suggest for inclusion, please let us know about it here.
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