README, the net-media journal of the NYU J-School devotes the latest issue to the blogging phenomenon. Diana Espinosa, one of the students who writes for README, asked me to do an e-mail interview for her article, and I sent her answers to all of her questions in early October. She ended up not using any of what I sent her, she focused her piece [here] on Alex Knapp, who writes the witty and clever Heretical Ideas blog.
Espinosa quotes Slate columnist Rob Walker
"A lot of bloggers just offer their take on whatever's the news of the minute," says Walker, "without really having any greater understanding of issue X than anyone else who pays attention to the news." Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, he acknowledges, but too many opinions could crowd out the validity of informed commentary, leading people to lose interest in the news.Well I'm not convinced that very many paid opinion columnists have a greater understanding of most issues than anyone else who pays attention to the news, either. And I don't count, say, Robert Scheer or very many of the San Francisco Chronicle's in-house editorial writers among those with above-average understanding of the world we live in. Nor do I think that there is such a thing as "too many opinions" or that an abundance of opinions will crowd out sane and informed commentary. His quote sounds like that of a guildsman who wants to protect his franchise by erecting bogus credentials instead of by producing a superior product.
Even though Espinosa wasn't able to include my interview, I will not let it go to waste. I publish it in full here
My basic profile is based on the idea of the news web logs. I found your web log interesting because it was not just ranting about what a bad day you had instead it was discussing issues that affect almost all of us.
What is your age and occupation?
39. Iím a self-employed computer software developer and consultant.
How did you first start hearing of web logs?
When and why did you start this web log?
Iíll answer these together. I think Iíve been hearing about web logs in the background for a few years, but I never paid attention. Earlier this year, April 2002, I was paying close attention to the news from the Middle East and I noticed how biased and misinformed so much of the mainstream press was. I started writing letters to the editor of my local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle in response to some of their stories. I also wrote a few essays that I posted on my own website. It wasnít a daily web log, just a few pages that I posted from time to time. And I didnít even know about all the bloggers that were out there. One of the things I wrote were line-by-line critiques of a few columns by Robert Scheer. I never gave him much thought until then. But I discovered that here was this nationally syndicated columnist who was one of the worst journalists I could imagine. I found his columns to be ignorant and hysterical, full of errors, bizarre non-sequiturs and strange conclusions. I was insulted that the Chronicle thought they were performing a service for me by publishing his columns. So I did a few line-by-line critiques of his columns and posted them on my website. One example is here: http://www.usefulwork.com/shark/ScheerPalestinianSide.html
I searched the web one evening to see what else I could learn about Robert Scheer and I discovered some other people who also wrote line-by-line critiques of some of Scheerís columns. Those were the first bloggers I encountered. So I sent email to a couple of them to say hi! Iím doing this too. One of them (Howard Fienberg http://www.hfienberg.com/kesher/) wrote me back and I sent him one of the letters to the editor that I had written. He liked it and posted it on his blog. Several other bloggers also posted the letter. So suddenly several hundred people read this letter and I thought hey, thatís pretty cool, I have an audience! A few weeks went by and some of my other writing got circulated around various web logs and people started visiting my site. And I started visiting other blogs and posting comments and exchanging email with the writers. Then I jumped in and started my own blog on June 1, 2002.
One of the great things about it is that I can realize my lifelong dream of writing for an audience, whatever the size. Before the days of the Internet I probably would have had to quit my day job in order to both write and find a publishing outlet. Now I can keep my day job, write a little bit and still have an audience.
What is your view on web logs?
Thatís like asking whatís your view on books/letters/newspapers. Theyíre as good as the people who write them.
Do you think some people are just using them as journals of their daily lives or do you feel that they are genuine?
The question implies that the two are mutually exclusive. But my answer is yes to both.
Regarding your web logs:
How do you choose what you want to comment on?
I have no plan. Itís just whatever I happen to read about that day and find interesting. I happen to be interested in a lot of things, and often comment on the following: the Middle East; poor-quality journalism coming from major outlets; foolish statements and/or behavior from government officials; silly statements made by prominent left-wingers; I read German and frequently browse the German press and sometimes comment on events in Germany, mainly regarding German foreign policy.
How do your choose your links?
Sometimes I link to news stories that I want to comment on, or articles that contain facts that support an essay that I write.
How often do you update your comments and links?
I usually write daily, but not always
Where do you get the news you comment about (newspapers, the web, television radio etc)?
The San Francisco Chronicle, National Public Radio, Yahoo! news, and the websites from a large number of major media outlets from around the world: New York Times, Washington Post, Haíaretz, Der Spiegel, Die Zeit, most of the London newspapers, The Weekly Standard, National Review, New Republic, Atlantic Monthly. Iíve also exposed and written commentary about the websites of Palestinian terrorist organizations, such as the Hamas military wing. I read a modest amount of Arabic and with a dictionary I can find my way around an Arabic website and Iíve been able to locate and publicize some very disturbing photographs and columns on the Hamasí own website that illustrates how fundamentally sick and evil they are.
Is your web log a priority in your life?
My main priorities in life are my family and my business. My blog is a fun distraction. But Iím also an obsessive reader and thinker and the blog is just the expression of some of the things that Iím currently thinking about.
Do you consider it as a form of voicing your opinion?
Do you feel it affects people?
I assume so. Enough people read it regularly and write back to me. So there has to be some kind of impact.
How have people responded to your web log?
Most of the response has been positive. The most moving e-mail Iíve received was from a gentleman in Jerusalem whose teenage daughter had been murdered by a suicide bomber. He wrote to thank me for something I posted on the blog. I translated an article from a German newspaper about how the Palestinian Authority is diverting European Union aid funds to pay for terror attacks. The article was very well-written, a very powerful condemnation of both the PAís involvement in terrorism, and the EUís apparent lack of concern for the way that their aid money is being misused. The article caused a storm in Europe, but it was in German, so its audience was limited. My translation made it available to a lot more people around the world, including in Israel. It helped educate a lot of people to Europeís unhelpful role in the Middle East, and a lot of people, like that girlís father, appreciated that I helped inform people.
Some of my other work has received an unfavorable response in other circles. Iíve been following the case of Juergen Moellemann, a German politician who made a number of anti-Semitic statements in his campaign for the recent election. A number of people in Germany e-mailed me to complain that I was criticizing this guy. Other Germans wrote to praise what I wrote about him. Two German periodicals even published brief items about my writing about Moellemann. I think they were trying to make the point that Moellemann was giving Germany a bad image overseas. At the end of the day my coverage of him was insignificant compared to the negative coverage he had in the German press, and the German voters soundly rejected him and his message in last monthís election.
Has it caused controversies?
I donít think Iíve caused any controversies of my own. Iíve written about other peopleís controversies, like Moellemann, and by doing so Iíve played a small role in the controversy.
Do you feel that it could?
I think itís unlikely that my web log would cause a new controversy on its own.
Personally as a young girl I remember listening to the news and feeling as if everything they said was the truth. I felt if they thought it, I should too. Now with web logs such as yours people are able to voice their opinion on important subject matter. How do you think this will affect journalism?
Iíll limit my answer to web logs that cover current events. I think that web logs are a form of journalism. The Internet is just another distribution medium, like radio, TV, or print newspaper. A lot of web logs simply comment on the work of professional journalists and donít do any original reporting. But then again thereís little difference between that and what syndicated columnists who write op-ed pieces do. Some professional journalists have their own web logs. Among my favorites are Joanne Jacobs (www.joannejacobs.com) and Tim Blair (timblair.blogspot.com). There are also some folks who started as amateur bloggers, and have also sold articles on the basis of their reputations as bloggers. So the distinction between professional journalist and amateur blogger gets fuzzy. Overall it will have a positive affect on journalism, in the following ways:
1) Bloggers help republicize other journalistís articles. An article might appear in a local newspaper, and if itís interesting for some reason, a blogger will spread the word about it to people that might not have seen it otherwise. This is taken a step further when bloggers translate articles from one language to another, like I have done.
2) We hold the press more accountable, both to get the facts right and to reflect on their biases. If a newspaper publishes a story that contains errors or is written with an outrageous slant, it can be more embarrassing to the paper now when bloggers pick up and publicize those errors. So I think the either the quality of what the newspapers write will improve, or people will just get used to looking to blogs to get corrections and commentary. Either way, people will be better informed.
3) Bloggers put the most competitive pressure on editorial and op-ed writers. There are too many thoughtful writers out there writing commentary on blogs (donít get me wrong, thereís a lot of junk on blogs too, but the good stuff has a way of finding readers). Thereís little excuse any more to give print space to some of the columnists who are currently in syndication. And wise newspapers will limit their in-house editorials to subjects where they have unique expertise. For example, the San Francisco Chronicle occasionally writes editorials about the situation in Israel. But why bother to read them, when the Chronicle editors know so little about Israel, and there are a number of thoughtful and informed Israeli bloggers who write in English and can shed so much more light on the subject. So the Chronicle should focus their editorial efforts on San Francisco and California issues where they do have expertise.
Do you think that this form of journalism you are providing is an example of our democracy?
On the contrary do you feel that if too many people voice their opinions it will have a negative effect?
I do not accept the premise that we can ever have ďtoo many peopleĒ voicing their opinions. That doesnít mean that every opinion will necessarily be listened to, let alone become widely held. But the more opinions that are voiced, the greater the chance that good ideas will come out.
By this I mean do you feel that if too many people have opinions than as the chain of opinions continues, the first opinion will be diluted and so on?
I have no idea what you mean.