We started a good discussion at Berkman last night about ways bloggers might give readers more clues about whether they are "doing journalism" or expressing opinions, or quoting someone else's blog, or perhaps writing outright fiction.
If someone is serious about reporting on events and issues, doing it in
a separate weblog with a clear statement of purpose would keep things
sorted out. Otherwise, having a category label like "Bob's Eyewitness
Reports" might be worth a try.
I mentioned at the meeting that different kinds of postings could be
flagged with a recognizable graphic and linked to an "about" page that
explained the bloggers category system. However, besides flirting with
way-too-cuteness, a framework like that might disappear if the blog also
circulated as an RSS feed.
by reflex, shifting "writing style" is my preferred way of
differentiating between kinds of content in this weblog. For example, I
started the year playing journalist
with a blog entry written in a newspaper style, even avoiding the first
person with the awkward construction "this blogger." In contrast,
an item about helping teach a class
came out more like a personal letter. (Actually, some of my postings
here start out as letters to one or more friends, then get pasted into
the weblog. Sometimes the glue shows around the edges.)
I'll have to browse through
some of my other blog entries to see if I've ever taken a more
"editorial commentary" tone. If I have, I suspect the difference would
be obvious. More often, I'm afraid my postings here read like a cross
between lecture notes and the ramblings of a walking case study in information overload.
Some of the blogging tools folks at the Berkman
meetings use handle the "who said what?" question visually, nicely
setting off quoted or syndicated text, as in Shimon's frassle site or Jay's makeoutcity.
For the average blogger right
now probably stops with the choice of one downloadable blogging tool or
another. Radio Userland's news aggregator, which I use for this
site, offers a simple mark-up: It picks up RSS-syndicated news items,
puts the linked name of an original source in square brackets at the
end of the quoted text, and tops it with a headline linked to the
original news item. However, the structure gets confusing in longer
blog entries that quote other blog entries that, in turn, may quote and
link to another news or blog site.
Ideally, there would be both visual and "meta" information in the
itself to indicate such a cascade of fragmented syndicated
quoting. I've been reading about the underlying issues since some
of Ted Nelson's early writing about "transclusion" in Literary Machines
almost 20 years ago. On the more practical level, I'm just starting to
learn what goes on behind the scenes in my own RSS syndication feeds.
I'm certainly not ready to tackle the whole
future-of-everything-online metadata topic. I haven't even had much
luck coming up with a "category" system to sort out my own weblog
postings, although Radio Userland does allow me to group items into
categories, even identifying one item as belonging to more than one
category, or presenting a category so that it looks like a separate weblog.
(And, yes, my writing this mini-essay fits in that category. It began
as a simple posting of the three aggregator items at the bottom of this
Back to just writing clearly: Sometimes, to mention an "aggregator"
item or emphasize a point in it, I copy the feed text, shift into the
third person and talk about
the original source, inserting quotation marks for verbatim
parts. When I don't have time to add comments, I indent verbatim
passages from the aggregator, but keep the Radio mark-up and links. I've also experimented with
changing text or background colors, which only takes a mouse click, but
that distinction would all be lost to readers using RSS aggregators. (In fact, changing
weblog templates this week may have made some older posts hard to read as Web pages.)
Here are examples of both techniques. They are also items
that might be of interest to online journalism bloggers -- I wonder
whether the project mentioned in the first item could be used to study
the phenomenon mentioned in the second. Hmm. The third (BBC) item
reminds me of online sites that encourage readers to contribute
personal messages, descriptions and pictures during disasters,
including storms in North Carolina. As "unmediated" notes, the practice
raises questions about fact-checking and decision-making, which an
organization like the BBC should have the staff to handle.
Distributively studying the net to improve it: NETI@home
A group of Georgia Institute of Technology computer scientists are
launching a collaborative, distributed computing project to
better understand information flows in the internet. NETI@home
works on users' machines, tracking and assessing internet connection
and traffic patterns. The project team vows to protect users'
privacy when they run the downloadable software. [NITLE Tech News
Will RSS Readers Clog the Web?.
Sure, news aggregators are handy tools, making Web surfing a breeze.
But the programs are greedy little buggers that swamp websites with
unwanted traffic. Something has to change, and soon. By Ryan Singel. [Wired News]
Readers as Reporters at the BBC.
The blog called [unmediated]
reports about BBC News asking its readers for help on a breaking news
story. (Shots were being heard in Damascus.) Five reader comments and a
much more detailed article were on the site when [unmediated]
blogged about it: "It is not disclosed how many people have sent in
comments and how much editing and fact checking was done by BBC News
before publishing. However, this looks like a clever way to dress up
your coverage even from far-away places and to involve your readers
beyond letting them criticize the results of your brainwork."