Category Archives: Blogging

Blogging versus reporting

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi (right) introduces Pope Benedict XVI to journalists during a news conference aboard the Pope's plane prior to landing in Darwin July 2008. Photo: AFP

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi (right) introduces Pope Benedict XVI to journalists during a news conference aboard the Pope's plane prior to landing in Darwin July 2008. Photo: AFP

Two recent reports from the Guardian’s religious affairs correspondent Riazat Butt show the way mainstream journalists are using bogs and traditional reports to cover their beat. Butt filed two reports of the Vatican communication’s director Federico Lombardi’s defense of recent Vatican press gaffes. What is interesting is that her blog report and her news item contain pretty much the same information but vary greatly in tone. Her standard report begins:

The Vatican’s communications chief has defended his handling of the controversies surrounding Benedict XVI’s papacy by arguing that the furores have benefited the Holy See.

Father Federico Lombardi said that many of the scandals had led people to think deeply about topics such as inter-faith dialogue, anti-Semitism and Aids prevention.

The pope has aroused controversy on several issues. His quoted remarks about Islam being “evil and inhuman” prompted violent protests around the world. Catholic-Jewish relations were severely tested when he lifted the excommunication of Richard Willamson, a priest who was a Holocaust denier. Benedict also angered health campaigners, politicians and activists by claiming that condoms aggravated HIV/Aids.

The incidents meant the pope’s ability and judgment were questioned as never before.

Despite the episodes generating unprecedented hostility towards the Vatican, Lombardi said in a speech in London on Monday night he was “convinced” the question of Christian-Muslim relations had been addressed more frankly following the pope’s 2006 lecture at the University of Regensburg, in Germany, when he talked about Islam. He also said the “clamorous response” to Williamson’s declarations had allowed the Vatican to reinforce its position on anti-Semitism, and that the pope’s remarks on condoms had led to a “greater understanding” of “truly effective” HIV/Aids prevention strategies in Africa.

Her blog report relates to the same speech but is much more personal – and cynical – in tone:

Last night I had the pleasure of going to mass in search of Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s director of press, who was giving a lecture on communications. It doesn’t take a genius, never mind a religious affairs correspondent, to think that the head of Vatican PR pontificating (ha) on communications is akin to Norway giving masterclasses on getting a joke. Lombardi, an Italian priest who started his press career on La Civiltà Cattolica, working his way up before replacing the long-serving Joaquin Navarro Valls in 2006, has come under sustained fire since taking over at the helm of the Holy See press office.

First there was Regensburg. Then there was the lifting of the excommunication of the Holocaust-denying priest Richard Williamson. I know the decision was unconnected to the Holocaust denial, but it’s not that hard to Google, I do it before every date. Then there were unscripted remarks about condoms aggravating the spread of AIDS that were later edited to say something rather different. Bring in a bit of papal revisionism – he wasn’t a member of the Hitler Youth, oh hang on yes he was – and an almost unintelligible speech that angered gay rights campaigners and dominated news cycles for 48 hours with little or no clarification from the Vatican and we have all the makings of what Catholic and non-Catholic commentators called a PR failure, carnage, nightmare and train wreck. But wait! Apparently, we/I/you/they got it wrong. Citing not so much divine intervention as the law of unintended consequences Lombardi said that Muslim-Christian relations were better because of Regensburg, that the Williamson episode had allowed the church to clarify and strengthen its position on antisemitism and Holocaust denial and that the pope’s intervention on condoms was carefully crafted to allow deeper discussion and reflections on the topic.

Apart from the jokey tone the interesting thing about the blog report is that it links to details of all the previous reports such as stories about Regensburg and the Williamson fiasco. So the blog report is both more personal and potentially more personalised in the sense that it provides vertical history to the story which enables the reader to personalise the story for themselves.

Both reports use the same key quotes from Lombardi. The standard report is clear inverted pyramid style writing which quickly summarises the key points of the story while the blog report also introduces the key elements but does this in a less formal and many would argue a more engaging way. Given that the information is virtually identical in both reports it is interesting to compare the apparent objectivity in the standard report with the clearly cynical tone of the blog post. This is an easy case where the conventions of objective journalism – such as the judicious use of quoted phrases – allows a source like Lombardi to hang himself without any visible bias in the reporting.

Student blogs as uni promotion

Luke is a music major and is an official blogger at Ball State

Luke is a music major and is an official blogger at Ball State

A number of universities are using student blogs as a kind of “reality ad” for their courses and campus life. Here in Sydney UTS had an ill fated go at it that didn’t really take off but as I noted in another post last year Sydney Uni has a more vibrant project still going. Today I came across a really good example of it at Ball State, Indianna. These bloggers have remained committed over the course of the year and have produced an interesting take on campus life. The vodcasts by a com student adds an extra dimension as well.

What is even more impressive is all the other uses of blogging at Ball State. Everyone from Freshman advisors through to the alumni office are using blogs.

The communication and media students have a number of different blogging projects. Notes from the digital Frontier presents a range of comments from young people about technology, social networking and media – its opinionated and not very in-depth but it presents a really interesting way of getting students to begin to track their own interaction with the new digital environment. Ball Bearings is a neat multimedia site that the students produce with lots of good little info packages, games blogs and videos.

It’s a very impressive cross-campus cross-faculty commitment to blogging it would be interesting to see how blogging is being used at the subject level in different courses for assignments at a University like this – I will search around and see if I can find out more.

Possibleworldz redesign

I have redesigned this site again following on from last year’s attempt to integrate my different blogging worlds. I was never completely happy with my 2006 design and my attempts at regular blogging this year have been sporadic to say the least. I am hoping that having my key content areas up front will encourage me to write more across diverse areas.

It is interesting that in the last 12 months the notion of using WordPress as a CMS has evolved pretty dramatically. The mimbo theme that I have adapted here makes this very easy and there is also at least one “pro-theme” around as well.

When I searched tweleve months ago the commentary on WordPress as a CMS was scattered and unfocused. Now there is also a lot of very informed discussion and many helpful hints on taking WordPress beyond blog style sites. Miriam Schwab over at WordPress Garage now has a whole section on WP as a CMS.

One of my projects for next year is to take our student journalism website to WordPress and in many ways this redesign has been a test run for that.

The interesting thing about websites and blogging is that it is a constant process of adaptation and reinvention and in this way it becomes the perfect metaphor of life lived across a number of possible worlds.

Student blogs

I have just finished marking 75 student blogs and 75 reflective essays from this semester’s features course.I had the students posting three times a week in three categories: observations from life, analysing features and feature ideas. This seemed to me like a perfect vehicle to explore observational writing, strong structure and interesting ideas – the three cornerstones of good feature writing. The advantage of the blog over individual assignments in these areas is that, as an ongoing series of weekly exercises, students gain both an experience of writing to deadline and a sense of a developing set of ideas emerging over time.The work was, of course, variable but there was a strong emerging consensus in the reflective essays that the blogging exercise was a surprising but important learning experience. The following quotes are typical:

Student 1: At first I was reluctant to do some of these things (especially the descriptive writing exercises), but once I started to write more regularly, I became quite fond of my blog and was committed to building it up and making it look like a complete piece of work.Student 2: Perhaps one of the most rewarding parts of this course was – completely unexpectedly – the blogging exercise. At first, this seemed to be a useless adventure into time wasting, however, over time this became the most important part of the course. Working to a deadline, constantly thinking of new ideas, and pressuring myself to better each post. The blog assignment proved so useful to me personally, that I landed a job working as a paid blogger for a website. Its amazing that at the beginning of the session, I said that I wouldn’t want to blog, even if I was paid to do it. Three months later I am getting paid for it, but I’d gladly do it for free.Student 3: Despite some initial skepticism, I really enjoyed doing the blog assignment. I never saw myself doing something like that and, although I often forgot to post or ran out of time, I liked seeing its progression online. It taught me to think about writing constantly, for example every time I saw something interesting I’d think “oh I should do an observation piece on that!”

Nearly all of the reflections about the blogging exercise express initial reluctance/scepticism about the idea but then go on to say how this was overcome as they “got into” the task. The different way that different students “get into” blogging is interesting:

  • For some the “ah hah” moment comes as they begin to see the blog as a “thing” that they can tinker with, change, develop and create. They move from doing an assignment to “making it a complete piece of work”
  • For others it is noticing the influence of the blog on other aspects of their work or thinking as one student said: “I realised I was beginning to think like a journalist” because the blog became a focus for what might have just been passing ideas.
  • For others it is getting over the “geek” factor – “they” do that it’s not for me.

This confirms an old post of James McGee that I often quote when talking about blogging:

There are four hurdles to pass to move from willing volunteer to competent blogger: learning the technology environment, developing an initial view of blogging, plugging into the conversation, and developing a voice. These are not so much discrete phases as they are parallel tracks that can be managed. (McGee 2002)

There are other elements that emerged from this semester’s work that I will post about over the next few days.

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A new home

After days of fiddling this new version of my blog is up and running. I have brought together all the entries from my other blogs and reverted to the name I chose when I first started blogging in 2004 – but with a “z” because the other domain was taken. I thought it was about time that I grew up and started to manage my own blog, cut the Typepad apron strings and built my own WordPress home.

I am a bit unsure about bringing together my Ph.D blog and my blogging and teaching blog but I want to see how it goes. Eventually I would like to learn enough about WordPress to bring over some of my other projects to this site as well.

I get my students to blog because I tell them that it encourages the practice of writing so maybe this new space will encourage me to also practice new kinds of writing. The irony is that the research and construction of the site has well and truly kept me away from the writing I should be doing – not to mention the marking!

J Student blogs at NYT

In a fascinating experiment NYT columnist Nicholas D. Kristof has selected a J student Casey Parks to travel with him throughout Africa and write about their experiences on a blog. Unfortunately this great little experiment is behind the Times Select barrier and requires paid registration (you can get a 14 day free trial or its $50 a year for lots of goodies).

This is a great way to use a blog and Parks is writing an interesting reflective narrative as she comes to terms with the desperate poverty of Africa, meeting with leading politicians and trying to break through to street level in spite of language barriers. She makes a good attempt not just to describe what she sees but to relate this to what it means for her as a journalist:

We’ve met a few people in Africa so far who have complained about Africa never receiving any positive press.

“Why do people only write about the bad stuff?” they ask us.

I’ve had the same question for years about Mississippi. In fact, one of the reasons I want to be a national correspondent is to be able cover the South in a more accurate way. Journalists from New York or other northern cities often swoop in, researching but not understanding the state, then file stories that don’t reflect the complexities of Mississippi.

Yes, it’s easy to report that the state is poor or repressive toward women. But where is the good coverage, the life that keeps people living there?

And I think many people in Africa feel the same way. Of course, I think many journalists writing about horrors in Africa are doing so in an attempt to help Africa, but there has to be some balance. As Prime Minister Mangue asked yesterday, “What about Africa’s progress?”

In thinking about Mississippi in the past, I’ve often thought of the William Blake quote, “Pity would be no more if we did not make somebody poor.” What would the other states do without Mississippi to pick on, to make them feel better about their own evolutions? Last night, looking out toward a very illuminated Yaounde, Cameroon, I asked Naka, “What will the world do once Africa really progresses?”

“They’ll work on Antarctica,” he replied.

Blogs on TV

Interesting post by Donna Bogatin about blogging taking a starring role in a new police investigation series USA networks Psych. What is think is even more interesting is the fact that Gus (played by West Wing’s Dule Hill) the sidekick of the starring psychic baddie catcher Shawn, blogs in character on the show’s website. The posts aren’t usually about incidents that occur on the show, the blog provides a back story including what Shawn and he did at school:

I’ll never forget the Bosseigh High alma mater, and not just because we had to sing it all time at school events. I mean, look at it. Have you ever heard of school song so sadistic and poorly punctuated? Excruciating pain? What’s up with that? And what’s that colon doing at the end of the sixth line? I swear it’s not a typo, that’s the way the song was written, and for four years, I had to look at it painted in big letters on the wall of the gym. I brought it up to administration at least half a dozen times, all they ever did was give me a form to fill out.

Ask Shawn to sing the song, and he’ll gladly oblige. He still knows it, too, and he’ll sing it for you the same way he did then – at the top of his lungs, changing the last line to “If we catch your underwear.” Some things never change.

The alma mater isn’t the only thing I remember from high school. I haven’t forgotten anything, and although it’s never fashionable to say it, I really had a pretty great time in high school. And yes, you could say I was involved, if by involved you mean ASB Cabinet, Mock Trial Team, Latin Club, Junior Kiwanis and the V8 Society (a club dedicated to muscle cars, not vegetable juice), I also filled the second half of my senior year for the guy that made the morning announcements, after he got fired for playing “Whoomp! (There it is) one too many times over the school PA.

Shawn was involved, too, but most of the clubs he was in were clubs that he started himself. He was the captain of the napping team, ran an underground newspaper (for which he was the gossip columnist), led an unsuccessful two-day boycott of the Pythagorean Theorem and subsequently founded the Quadrilateral Appreciation Society. Oh, and he somehow lettered in Track and Field even though he wasn’t even a member of the team.

Backstories of the characters are becoming increasingly important in building fan communities, 24 and anumber of other shows now post full CVs for their major characters on the show website. With 24 this has been taken a step further by fans who have developed long Wikipedia entries for the key characters.

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Blogs at Sydney Uni take off

Found an interesting article from the Australian’s Higher Education supplement about Sydney University’s embrace of blogging. It’s bizarre that the most traditional of universities would be the first university in Australia to set up a campus wide blogging project. In May the university set up a system open to all university staff.

“I don’t know of any other Australian universities who have set up a staff blog system like this,” says Charlie Forsyth, manager of Sydney’s web services. He says the idea is to make it easy for staff to blog, to collaborate with one another, to reach out to industry and the wider public, to share knowledge and engage in debate.

“The blogs will not be centrally moderated,” Forsyth says. But the standard university policy on computers applies; this forbids uses that are “illegal, unethical or inappropriate” or anything that would cause “embarrassment or loss of reputation” to the university.

The marketing arm of the university is also embracing blogging with a site called Sydney Life. Here they have employed a series of students to post on their experiences of life at the university

Like most blogs it has regular, journal-like entries with a comment thread. But the home page banner carries the university shield and Cohen, Sydney’s marketing information manager, vets every post before it’s uploaded.

Can big institutions tame the free-spirited blog format?

“I think it’s working because I don’t domesticate it too much,” says Cohen, who was fascinated by blogs before she came up with this official use for them.

At Sydney Life she doesn’t see a lot of room for posts about dating or wild nights. She says subjects more suited to the readers include how to make friends in first year, insider tips for enrolment day, study and procrastination, as well as immersion in campus clubs and societies.

Spencer, president of the Sydney University Dramatic Society, doesn’t regard Cohen’s editorial control as heavy-handed; in fact, he’s reassured she’s there. “Obviously we’re writing for a fairly specific audience and it is under the university name,” he says.

He’s found it fun, a totally different way of writing, and an inspiration to look into blogging more closely.

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Publish your homework

Doing a search for resources on e-portfolios I stumbled across this gem from Pete Hubbard

We do need to harness all of the creative energy that is now at the hands of our students (with access.) I say this in my presentations all the time, but how cool would it be for us to remind our kids to “publish your homework” instead of simply hand it in? We can do that now.

Glocer also says that “what we are seeing today is an almost continuing talent show,” and I really like that image. It reminds me of a quote from a book by Marc Rosenberg, Beyond E-Learning I’ve been working through where he says “don’t call them learners:”

“Thinking about e-learning in new ways has to start with existing paradigms that might be holding you back. Calling people what they really are is a good beginning, but if you must use a generic term, a better one might be performer (23).”

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Katie Couric to blog? and Fairfax to digicast?

USA Today’s Peter Johnson reports that Katie Couric’s new contract with CBS includes a commitment to a “daily, regular presence”. Current NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams already contributes a regular blog to NBC’s site and the ABC co-anchors do a fifteen minute daily webcast.

But exactly what form that’ll take has yet to be worked out, he says. “I don’t think she has decided exactly how she’s going to do it or what she’s going to do other than have a keen interest in figuring how we can use new media to extend our reach and make sure people who may not be seeing The Evening News get a chance to see the work she is doing in a new form and in a new way.”

This is something new for Couric, who has blogged selectively on various Today projects, such as this year’s Winter Olympics, but has never has a daily Web presence.

The Web “is something that Katie’s really interested in, and so are we,” Hartman says. “She shares an everyperson sensibility, which is: She loves what the Internet represents and loves the possibilities, whether it’s as a journalist, parent, or consumer. But she doesn’t claim to know the ins and outs or be a techie.”

With the deadline for submissions on Australia’s new crossmedia ownership rules looming SMH reports:

John Fairfax Holdings chief executive David Kirk said earlier this month the newspaper company would be interested in the new digital spectrum, which could allow companies to offer pay TV and mobile video services or provide content for specialist channels.

But Mr Kirk warned the Government not to set restrictive rules for the new services. He also said there should not be any “backdoor regulation of video services and content on broadband”.

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Katie Couric to blog?

USA Today’s Peter Johnson reports that Katie Couric’s new contract with CBS includes a commitment to a “daily, regular presence”. Current NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams already contributes a regular blog to NBC’s site and the ABC co-anchors do a fifteen minute daily webcast.

But exactly what form that’ll take has yet to be worked out, he says. “I don’t think she has decided exactly how she’s going to do it or what she’s going to do other than have a keen interest in figuring how we can use new media to extend our reach and make sure people who may not be seeing The Evening News get a chance to see the work she is doing in a new form and in a new way.”

This is something new for Couric, who has blogged selectively on various Today projects, such as this year’s Winter Olympics, but has never has a daily Web presence.

The Web “is something that Katie’s really interested in, and so are we,” Hartman says. “She shares an everyperson sensibility, which is: She loves what the Internet represents and loves the possibilities, whether it’s as a journalist, parent, or consumer. But she doesn’t claim to know the ins and outs or be a techie.”

Blogstats

Dave Sifry at Technorati has just posted their latest quarterly “State of the Blogsphere” report: In summary:

* Technorati now tracks over 35.3 Million blogs

* The blogosphere is doubling in size every 6 months

* It is now over 60 times bigger than it was 3 years ago

* On average, a new weblog is created every second of every day

* 19.4 million bloggers (55%) are still posting 3 months after their blogs are created

* Technorati tracks about 1.2 Million new blog posts each day, about 50,000 per hour

Sifry points out that not only has the number of blogs increased dramatically, so too has the volume of posts per day. Graphs also indicate that posting volume spikes in response to world events. Big news events are obvious, but what is interesting is that tech news – ipod video and mac intel announcements for example – also cause notable spikes.

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