Happy Halloween!

October 31, 2007

eva-halloween-cat.jpg

You don’t think that I wouldn’t make a Halloween lolcat, do you?  And yes, the cat in the picture is mine (I’m having a cat blogger moment, but she is appropriate for the day, no?). 

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Blogging and Journalism

October 29, 2007

One of the things that is so great about blogging is that your audience can participate and leave thought-provoking comments, like this one from Maryam (check out her blog – I hate to use cliches, but the classic “it’s a feast for the senses” truly applies here) left on this post: “Journalists I know who are not bloggers are concerned that so much of the blog world is so unchecked, unsubstantiated, and yet so influential…They feel it is out of control.  What do you think?”

There seems to be a divide between the bloggers and the non-bloggers on this issue.  The bloggers think that the blogosphere (and in most cases, the web in general) is awesome and wonderful and everyone should participate, while non-bloggers seem to focus on the more negative aspects of blogging.  Personally, I tend to take both sides with a grain of salt, although clearly I fall on the pro-web side.

In fact, that grain of salt is necessary when reading blogs as well – while posts on say, the New York Times’s array of blogs can be considered fairly credible, as well as the posts on plenty of independent blogs (just because someone doesn’t work for a major media outlet doesn’t mean they are necessarily incorrect or dishonest, after all), it is essential to realize that many bloggers or people who post/comment/write things on the web aren’t accountable to anyone, particularly if they’re anonymous. 

Is it getting out of control?  I’m not sure that’s the case – one of the best things about the blogosphere, in my opinion, is that anyone can participate and share their version of the truth, and out of all the stories, we can all form our own opinions and views.  Of course, gossip does tend to run rampant, but it’s not like bloggers invented sensationalism – the web just lets the juicy stories move faster and reach a bigger audience.  However, it seems that there is always someone ready to report their side of things of as well – the web is kind of self-regulating like that, even if some bloggers are prone to taking a story and running with it. 

I think that part of the problem is the rest of media’s perception of bloggers is the simple fact that the blogosphere encompasses everything from major sites like Daily Kos and the Huffington Postto personal diaries – and for every blogger who posts gossip and speculation (which isn’t something I take issue with as long it’s not presented as facts) or cat pictures, there is someone who’s acting like a journalist and reporting the news from their perspective, like all the brave souls blogging from inside Burma or the people who are first on the scene after a important event or a natural disaster occurs – the ones go places or see things that journalists can’t.

However, it is sometimes difficult to determine whether a blog or website is credible, which is indeed a problem.  It’s not like it’s even remotely possible to issue blogging licenses or regulate the internet – at all.  And isn’t one of the best things about the web is that it’s a completely democratic platform; anyone can publish whatever they want (and for those of you who are going to get all Andrew Keenian here – if you don’t like something, you really don’t have to read/watch/listen to it). 

When it comes to determining the credibility of something on the web, we have to listen to our own instincts (although personally, I tend to immediately discount sites or blogs that are full of spelling and grammatical errors – a few typos are human, but if someone lacks a basic grasp of the language, I don’t listen to them.  A little bitchy, I know, but considering the glut of content on the web and the ease with which anyone can post, taking the time to write and edit something coherent is essential to getting your voice heard).

To that end, is being a blogger really so different from being a columnist?  You’re writing about things from your own perspective, in your own voice, and sharing your opinions on a regular basis.  Some bloggers just have more widely columns than others, the same as traditional journalists.

Of course, feel free to take my opinions with a grain of salt.  I’m a blogger, after all.

Yes, I’m predicting that the beleagered Irish and their loyal fans will get a much needed repreive this week – Notre Dame is not going to lose.  Charlie Weis will not be playing musical quarterbacks in hopes of sparking some offense, and the worn-out defense will not have to spend the entire game attempting to hold off the inevitable.  Touchdown Jesus will not have to avert his eyes in shame.

Touchdown Jesus at the University of Notre dame

How do I know that this will be one week in which the ND faithful won’t be embarrassed?

The Fighting Irish have a bye.

The New York Times, Remixed

October 22, 2007

Dave Winer’snews river” is pretty cool.

One of the best things about blogs is how they are published in reverse chronological order – they’re all organized the same way and easy to digest (especially when you’re using RSS).  However, traditional news outlets don’t always deliver their content in the same neatly packaged way; thus, the creation of the NY Times news river.

I like what Om Malik has to say about it:

“Winer likes to call his new experiment a “river,” but I prefer to call it real simple navigation. Using The New York Times’ taxonomy, he has come up with an example that allows you to easily find the latest news from the Times’ vast media machine.”

 As Om and others have pointed out, this would be an excellent way to organize news and other content for mobile devices as well.

The Best Lolcat Ever

October 19, 2007

This kitten knows what’s up:

irishcat.jpg

Happy Friday!

Are Bloggers Journalists?

October 17, 2007

Read Write Web (clearly one of my favorite sites judging by how often I link to them) has posed a question to their readers upon reading this post about the Free Flow of Information Act recently passed by the House of Representatives (via Ars Technica). 

The gist of this bill is that it’s a journalistic shield, protecting the rights and safety of the press and (yes, Captain Obvious) upholding the first amendment.  It would safeguard the civil liberties of any journalist (including bloggers) who get caught up in a federal investigation.

Do I think this bill is a good idea?  Of course, and I’m happy to see bloggers included in its protection.*

However, I’m starting to wish there was another word for blogger.  Seriously, when someone posting a daily diary online and say, the Huffington Post’s writers are placed in the same category, something is a little off.  I don’t want to discount the efforts of personal bloggers, but there’s a certain disparity here.  While some bloggers certainly qualify as journalists in my opinion (albeit journalists whose work is colored by their opinions, but I believe we’d be hard-pressed to find a journalist whose work was 100% objective), there are plenty more that are more like hobbyists.

Yes, there should be laws in place protecting the rights of bloggers, but I’m not sure if they belong under the journalistic shield.  But perhaps I’m just a little bit mired in the old ways of thinking – after all, if the web, the ultimate free press, has allowed us all to be publishers, why can’t blogging fall under the umbrella of journalism?  It’s not as if everything committed to print media is completely serious, objective, and/or perfect (from where I sit, the informality or frivolity of the web as opposed to print seems to the underlying tone of many “blogging vs. journalism” discussions).  It’s plain that there needs to be more conversation on this issue. 

One more note – shouldn’t we all be protected?  After all, just because someone gets a paycheck from a media company doesn’t make them the only ones that can uncover information or be a whistle-blower.  In fact, it’s often the ordinary citizens – or the citizen journalists – who are capable of exposing all sorts of things.  Besides, in a world where traditional media is losing ground rapidly to the web, the definition of journalist is really getting murky.

*Just because it has been passed doesn’t mean that Bush won’t veto it; the Senate is also considering a similar bill.

Today is Blog Action Day, a day where thousands of bloggers post about and/or donate their earnings to various environmental causes.  Now, I’ve never been one to obsess over the state of the environment (my particular sort of bleeding-heart liberal guilt tends to steer me more towards causes that have an immediate impact on people and animals), but it’s obviously a worthy cause – and more pressing than most of us think.

Instead of talking about global warming or any of the other horrible, very bad things that are currently happening, I’d rather be action-oriented.  I’d rather talk about things that we can do right now to effect change, as opposed to worrying about things that none of us can help.  The organizers of Blog Action Day have created an excellent list of fifty quick, painless ways that you can help the environment today – and I’ve added a few of my own.

1.  Buy fewer, better quality items.  I’ve mentioned this before, but really, wouldn’t you rather have one or two really great pairs of boots/coat/set of sheets than lots of cheap crap? 

2.  Instead of only buying organic products, look at what has the least amount of packaging.  Yes, those organic veggies might be better for the environment alone, but when they’re resting on a bed of styrofoam and coated in plastic, whatever “green-ness” they may have is canceled out.

3.  Kick your bottled water habit.  People, it is water.  Can you really taste the difference?  Even if you live in an area where the tap water sucks, get a Brita filter or something, and refill your water bottles.  The planet – and your wallet – will thank you.

4.  Live a little smaller.  This one is probably not possible overnight, but drive a smaller car (do you honestly need an SUV?) and live in a smaller space.  You’ll use less energy, and there’s the added bonus of your car/house being much easier to maintain.

5.  This one is kind of a reach, but adopt a pet from your local animal shelter instead of going for a pure-bred.  There are tons of adorable critters that are just waiting for a human to love them, and you’ll help with the whole animal overpopulation thing (every little bit helps).

It’s easy to buy a trendy organic cotton t-shirt or shop at Whole Foods, but if you really want to help improve the environment, we all need to alter (a few minor aspects of) your everyday life.  Talk is cheap, but if we all pick up a few new positive habits, maybe we can change the world.

I’m starting to get tired of reading articles and blog posts about how my generation generally fails.  Although I’m aware that adults have been decrying “kids today!” for centuries, and talking about how in their day, things were different (usually implying better).  Yeah, yeah, Social Security will be gone, global warming will fry the planet, and we’re all going to hell in a handbasket.  I get it.

Last week, Thomas Friedman (I like his books, especially From Beirut to Jerusalem, but his column?  Not so much lately.) referred to us as Generation Q.  The Q stands for quiet.  “It’s for all these reasons that I’ve been calling them “Generation Q” — the Quiet Americans, in the best sense of that term, quietly pursuing their idealism, at home and abroad.  But Generation Q may be too quiet, too online, for its own good, and for the country’s own good.

The piece was inspired by his visits to several colleges and what he saw based on the student populations there, and while Friedman is not entirely negative (he mentions the popularity of Teach For America and how so many students are volunteering in the U.S. and abroad), the impression I took away from the article was that my generation’s activism and politics were greatly inferior to our predecessors. 

Sometimes, I think he is right – perhaps young people are much more apathetic now than they once were.  After all, the current political options kind of suck (which candidate are young people rallying ’round this election?  Obama?  The existence of silly “Obama girl” videos isn’t going to earn our votes, thankfully) and there is little to be optimistic about on the national level. 

Maybe the reason we volunteer and work in the local, grassroots arena is because that is where we can actually change things.  Maybe we learned from our parents’ generation that it’s tough to effect change from the top down, so we’re working from the bottom up.  By the way, here’s a reaction from Wired magazine’s Threat Level blog about just how active “Generation Q” really is – just because major media isn’t covering it doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

Or perhaps he’s just expecting activism to look exactly the same now as it did during his college years – which thanks to internet, will never be the case.  I have the feeling that he might be falling into that trap that many Boomers (and actually, pretty much everyone else as well) have – the trap of looking at their youth through rose-colored glasses.  Adults were complaining about the kids then too, and guess what?  Things aren’t that bad.  Besides, it’s not like those of you who were young in the sixties and seventies were all activist saints working selflessly to save the world  – we know, we’ve seen the TV shows (thanks VH1!) and we’ve listened to the music.  You probably inhaled – and hey, you’re a respectable grown-up now, right?

Clearly I’ve digressed a bit, but the Friedman column isn’t the only NY Times piece I’ve got issues with at the moment – David Brooks penned an op-ed called the Odyssey Years about how today’s young people are essentially taking longer to reach “adulthood” (defined as being married with children, as that seems to be the pinnacle of existence in his world).  

Yes, I agree that many people are taking longer to reach this point, but what’s the problem with that?  Besides, when you consider that typical life expentancies are at least ten years longer for today’s twenty-somethings, what’s wrong with spending a few extra years unencumbered by a spouse and children?

I’m not exactly sure why this article just straight-up rubbed me the wrong way, because I don’t completely disagree with it – he makes many good observations, but the underlying tone seems to be one of dismay.  Is it really so unfortunate that, say, female wages have risen and more women are going to college than ever before?  Apparently, this “has fundamentally scrambled the courtship rituals and decreased the pressure to get married.”  So what?  How is altering outdated traditions (most of which put all the power in the hands of men, leaving women in the passive or worse, the “gatekeeper” role, which is just creepy). 

I think, however, that my main problem with both of these pieces is the subtle longing for the good old days, and the suggestion that my generation is somehow doing everything wrong.  Really though, nobody is perfect and instead of looking at all the bad things, why aren’t we trying to find the positive aspects and/or shared ground?  Granted, I’m probably just as guilty as anyone when it comes to “parents just don’t understand” thing, but aren’t there enough problems in the world without adding inter-generational battles to the list?  Maybe I’m being too optimistic, but even though the times are a-changin’, the kids really are alright.