Jean Dublog

Monday, October 31, 2005

Open and Closed Source

While impressed with many aspects of Daou Report yesterday, I wanted to explore more of Salon to help gain insight into the role such sites are playing in the shaping of public debate. What I observed in other site features, especially the blog box, leads me to more firmly believe that this type of blogging is having a profound impact on public debate by allowing many of the previously voiceless to exert significant pressure on the agenda-setting process and bring immediacy to the vetting of information. But to anyone who thinks that by "open sourcing" blogging is bringing greater transparency to the process, I would suggest that transparency can be an illusion and critical thinking is as necessary as ever.

Even Daou, who invites submissions, warns he cannot use everything. So, what criteria is applied -- besides the 12-hour rule? Could he choose the more ludicrous right-wing posts for the purpose of favorable comparisons? I don't really see evidence of that, but I certainly like to proceed with caution. Even most blogs with their frequent and undisguised links to other sources appear to be completely above board in making their points, but often there is little attempt to track a meme to its original source -- if known. So, I see transparency to a point but we all still need to focus to see to the core.

So, by helping to drive the political agenda and by driving immediacy like it's never been driven before, blogs have changed the process for good. But I don't think blogs will become as dominant a source of information as many postulate. Right now, many political/public policy blogs are really singing to their own choirs. Yes, the mainstream media is just outside listening closely, but I doubt the congregation is going to draw from any other sects. To a certain extent, this type of blogging is a direct outgrowth of the political extremism that has grown so dramatically in the last 15 years, as a result of gerrymandering, etc. To these constituents, a medium that wholeheartedly supports their agendas is, oh, so gratifying. Those blogs that appear to evenly offer up a real conversation and debate of the issues are, in my view, either veiling their true agendas or never going to be as popular as the more openly partisan.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Well And Daoued

One of the most interesting things over at Salon is without a doubt the Daou Report, probably one of the most well-thought-out blogs devoted to influencing policy and politics. No bones about it, this is a blog that craves influence and prestige.

Just look at the expressed purpose of the blog. 1) Offer a diverse, unfiltered sample of online political discourse; 2) probe ideas and perspectives behind the current political divide; 3) examine the relationship between blogs, media and political establishments. You don't have to get too far into Daou Report to see these objectives at work, though with uneven results, from my perspective. But what struck me most was that the third objective seems to be the real fire in Daou's belly.

Not only does he spend quite a bit of time in his essay writing talking about the "triangle" of influence between blogs, media and political establishments, overall this blog just has all the earmarks of a site meant not just for the politically minded but for the movers and shakers, serious political junkies and those committed to moving progressive politics forward. We're not talking here about a few clever witticisms or terse-but-sharp blog rants about the issue of the day; this is a well constructed and lengthy chain of information designed to further educate and fortify the faithful.

Daou, of course, devotes a good deal of space to the right and left points of view in side-by-side fashion. You can get a quick overview of what liberal and conservative bloggers are saying about the issues of the day and/or read them at greater length. It can be interesting and fun to compare the competing points of view on issues such as the indictment of Libby. Many of the conservative bloggers seem to be doing their best imitation of Monty Python, "it's only a flesh wound," because Rove was not indicted, while others claim the indictment is next to meaningless because its grounds are confusing and not pointedly about illegally releasing information. The liberals claim it's larger than it appears because it shows an administration hellbent on getting its enemies, and it shows Republicans in general are the anti-ethics party.

Most of these reflect the quick-thrust style and snarky tone of the blogosphere. But Daou's essays do not. They are more thoughtful and well reasoned. "Sliming the Quakers," for example, is a carefully crafted deconstruction of recently posted right-wing rants about the Quakers and their observances for the 2,000 dead American soldiers in Iraq. Daou manages to build a very well-reasoned argument against the bloggers' tactics, decrying the "strange interesection of hostility and rationality" found in these blogs. From the nature and length of this essay, the way it picks apart conservative tactics, I get the sense he's trying to help other progressives arm themselves for the battles going on in their own local blog trenches.

In his trinity essays, Daou goes on at length about the influence of blogs today and how what the Democrats need is not their own brand of rants modeled on Republican behavior but rather a heartfelt blog voice in policy and politics to replace the dry "press release voice" all too present in Democratic speeches. It's an interesting point of view that really underscores the likelihood that blogs will continue to influence politics. But it is also interesting to me that these lengthy arguments speaking to the direction and heart of progressive politics are aiming high -- at those who are most involved in the future of the Democratic party.

While the liberal vs. conservative blogs could help influence and educate the public at large, I think the variety and volume of material here is clearly meant for true liberal audiences. To help steer the direction of the cause and to help others be armed for the fight ahead.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

A Dog's Life

I can't for the life of me remember the "very germane thing" Colin mentioned Thursday, but as Republic of Dogs was the link behind this reference I took it out for a test drive and kicked the tires. It was interesting not only for its oddly compelling blend of personal and political blogging but for the long and involved threads he manages to inspire.

Res P. followed up an incredibly honest and personal post on Monday the 18th with a very insightful (a trait he denies having, wink-wink) political post that disassembles a shallow Kos piece postulating that contested policies among the Ds are really a result of "generational differences." Res P. builds a very convincing argument for why this position is laughable. But it's the comments thread I find worth digging into.

First, I think it's interesting that this political piece is quite a bit longer than we all seem to agree is advisable for posting in the blogosphere. But, nonetheless, he managed to inspire 124 comments, so obviously he's connecting. Could be his personal posts have struck a chord and he's got a big following. Could be also that this piece is just that compelling -- it certainly reinforces the antipathy many in our class felt toward Kos and its obnoxious rants and exclusionary policies.

But, with the help of an engaging blog voice peppered with a smattering of self-deprecation, he seems to have his readers identifying with him and sympathizing with his point of view. He claims no special insights and beats himself up for misspellings and snarking. Very reasonable and likeable guy, so much so that readers rise to his defense. Check this out.

"In the blogosphere, snark is the grease that oils the gears, and you are permited to attack others for the very sins you have just committed yourself," said one reader. This advice is undoubtedly heartfelt and consistent with past practice, but I suspect it will mean less and less as the blogosphere gets more and more mainstream. Less on the cutting edge.

I also got a chuckle out of the readers who are looking for a source so that they can learn how badly they are "getting shredded in class." Amazing how much concern our little class has generated. While everyone indulges in a certain amount of criticism, bloggers should know we're only trying to learn. But I suspect they know as well as we that blogging in the presence of review and scrutiny is bound to change. And, we're the least of the catalysts.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A Lot of Bull

OK. After cruising around with the Three Bulls, I'm convinced they're not talking to me. So what is their purpose? How are they using language to ensnare, or at least influence? Very colorfully and cleverly.

What I think they have done is create a fun clubhouse with their blog, decorated with a colorful design, lots of photos and words that are just as clubby. They're self-deprecating, "don't now what we're talking about either." "Trash Like 3 Bulls." They even post as a tag team of cool guys, a club, a cool clique. So they use a lot of young, hip language without ever getting long-winded, definitely understanding how to connect with other blog-minded youth. The mish-mash of topics underscores the idea of a bunch of crazy guys who have a unique, fun view of the world.


So, if they're crazy and they don't know what they're talking about, at least they're cool and honest about their limitations. And, if the political blogs that pop up between the random celebrity and culture commentaries have a distinct anti-administration point of view, readers who like to feel like they're members of the club, too, in spirit, are likely to agree. It's not like they're trying to sign anyone up for a campaign, it's just fun sniping at a lame administration.

The persuasion here does not stem from detailed, well-reasoned arguments, but rather from the reaction you are meant to "feel" as you encounter the ludicrous amidst the cool colors all around you.

Now, Sadly, No! is more interesting to a middle-aged word guy. You're not exactly going to get long-winded arguments here either, but his use of words is feisty and fun. Employing brief, pithy posts, Brad R. uses a lot of links to get those who really want to think about these things more information. As for the rest, he uses the right's excesses and mistakes to illustrate the "truth" and insight behind his cutting, mocking headers, such as "Wingnutting" and "Completely Delusional."

His use of sarcasm and scorn is meant, I think, to create a bad smell around the political figures he targets, creating a miasma of inaccuracy and ineptitude that these figures can't escape wherever they go. And, it's done with sarcasm and humor, protecting the blogger to some extent from the angry-young-man syndrome, to some extent. The playful questions under their title make them sound pretty benign. There's no gentle, or even clever, persuasion here. The scorn is meant to rob the subjects of even a chance of credibility -- often effectively.

RumbleLizard is much different yet. Her posts are about anything and everything, from bad concert experiences to her wish lists in life -- all described in the hip vernacular of a somewhat rebellious, even once-troubled (Have you ever hurt yourself on purpose?) young woman. These posts show a resilient young person surviving the insanity around her, and the in-your-face descriptions make it a vivid, and tangible experience. The political stuff she points to seems like more craziness to be overcome. This writing can be very effective with those who can't help but empathize because some of it feels so familiar.

Are all of these devices in the blogosphere having an effect in the mainstream media? I think it's underway, but I think it's very slow in coming to the print world but much faster in the world of television reporting. Just look at Fox, the network real journalists love to hate. You've got more in your face, trash-talking pundit programs than you do news -- a style perfectly suited for the blogosphere. And, you've got programs like Fox Report that offer super brief tidbits of news. As for print, they seem suspicious of the blogosphere and are approaching it in baby steps. Just look at all the writers in Huffington Post, they're irregular and wordy, for the most part. This will change eventually. The blogosphere's influence can only grow.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Literary Blogging?

That headline just might get Neddie's attention. Neddie Jingo sure did get all self-conscious and reflective once he learned that we actually were going to study him this week. Neddie's nervous witticisms aside, I'm not sure I'd know what to make of "attempting literature," either.

I hate to flatter, but Neddie has a pretty cool cultural blog. He's got an appealing blog voice, despite the fact that he relies on irony and word play to entertain and delight his readers. As we've seen from accomplished writers' blogs, it can be tough to pull off some of this stuff without becoming an anti-blogger -- or a long-winded "literary" scrivener. Neddie seems to get it for the most part -- I feel like he's addressing other bloggers. He stays away from the soft writer's voice, most often speaking with purpose and volume.

I'd better qualify what I just said a bit. He does seem to get what the blogosphere demands, being current and using bold language -- yikes, even calling Anne Coulter a "stupid bitch." But his posts are full of baby-boomer cultural references -- I think this is an appealing blog meant for literary-minded yuppies. Judging by the comments, there's a few out there. I sure loved references to one of my favorite visual movies, Fanny and Alexander, and Trekisms galore. The Bush-Miers love notes post is wonderfully sardonic, not meant for those allergic to complete sentences.

So, here's a writer I think is definitely influenced by the blogosphere with its appetite for quick, rapier-like jabs. But the sense of irony and keen satirical voice were definitely developed elsewhere. It definitelty has appeal to this borderline baby-boomer.

But, for a keen study in contrasts, try staying down for long with Xiaxue. I couldn't. It's most definitely a blogging voice, annoying, over-the-top, incessantly self-indulgent. But the problem with this blogging voice is that it's so loud and consistently snarky that it looks like a performance on overdrive. I get so much a sense of playing to an audience, that I'm left out in the cold because I can't find anything real behind the blog.

OK, the legs are definitely real. But the terse, punchy writing, used so effectively by some bloggers, seems empty to me here. The sporadic use of profanity seems staged. The photos are so overly narcissistic that even fashion geeks have to get bored. I felt like I was watching a cyber teeny-bopper on stage.

It definitely exemplifies a style of writing that's pretty common today, but the rhetoric is oh so dull.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Lance A Little

I can see why Lance would be described as a strong writer. He's a great storyteller whose writing is often witty and absorbing. But has the freedom of the blogosphere shaped the ideas and writing style of this pundit? Hmmm. I think not, though Lance Mannion has to be a name made up for the blogosphere. Or maybe he's overly influenced by the Hollywood movies he loves to write about from time to time (Rock Hudson with a mighty pen?).

He's at his best, I think, when he's able to make a point around a telling anecdote, like the Charlie Meets Bill story. And, he's capable of writing a short, pithy blog that sings to the blogosphere. But when he gets wound up on matters that are close to his liberal heart he can succumb to long-windedness and a strained attempt at humor. And, the Polanski movie review does not gain enough momentum to keep the typical blogger aboard for some of the humorous swipes he takes at actors and directors along the way.

A number of the so-called strong writers I've seen blogging overly like the style they are used to, to the detriment of their blogging personas. I still think the blogosphere is a terrific place to nurture experimentation and innovation stylistically. But the odds of innovation have to go down the better known the writer is before blogging. I really liked many of Lance's posts, like reading Bob Greene's Cheeseburgers except they're more political. A lot of commenters seem to like him and read regularly. But I'm not in awe of where these thoughts came from, nor do I feel like I'm looking at next year's model.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Strong Coffee

A longer, more careful look at Coffee Rhetoric confirms what most of us already thought, damn good blogger. And, read in the context of Colin's questions of the week, she still stands up as a very compelling blogger and writer.

I'm a little uncertain of how I feel about the suggestion that in blogging there's a freedom from having to worry about readers. Certainly, there's a freedom from having to worry about getting published, and writing to satisfy the tastes of a book-buying public. But I doubt bloggers really don't worry about readers at all. In the case of Coffee Rhetoric, you can certainly see readers are on her mind when she explains her goals for the blog and some of the things that compell her to write. Only a pure diarist thinks nothing at all of readers.

What the blogosphere does provide, for now, is a freedom from conventionality. Coffee Rehetoric has many strengths -- vivid, detailed writing; edgy social experiences; a combative but contemplative voice; and a directness that today's consumers like (isn't that why a Dr. Laura and a Dr. Phil thrive?). Self absorption, which she confesses to, is OK as long as you're direct and humorous about it. In addition, the blogosphere, at least currently, allows for creative expression and experimentation, and Coffee Rhetoric uses it to great effect.

She can tell a compelling story, laced with rich detail, bold language and generational touchstones. Or, explain her inner motivations and idiosyncracies free of tedium. For example, her tastes and interests are defended with a few f-bombs and a lot of attitude on one occasion -- a successful play, it seems to me, to other angry young souls disenfranchised from popularity. Or, she can get across ideas using just a few words to go along with interesting photos. Or, she can use verse to make a statement in an interesting way, though it sometimes puzzles her readers as Osiris Brooding and Singular Matrimony did. Clever introspective stuff, nurtured and encouraged by this new medium called the blogosphere.

The use of these multiple techniques seems perfectly suited for a new medium that only seems vibrant and alive when in the hands of creative youthful spirits such as Coffee Rehetoric. The rules are few, and by using this state of affairs to her advantage she is able to both exercise her writer's wings while connecting culturally to other like-minded souls.

Thank you, and good day.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

57 Varieties of Hynes

I very much enjoyed meeting Aldon Hynes and Tom Fausel Thursday night, very informative discussion. Before moving on, however, I wanted to look at Aldon's Orient Lodge one more time in light of our discussion. I like his blog and have found a number of posts there that I enjoyed reading. But I was interested in someone's suggestion that the wildness of the blogosphere may be starting to decline, and I wonder what that means not only for obviously way-out-there blogs but also multi-dimensional, hard-to define blogs.

I asked Aldon offline why he bills his blog as a "literary outpost" when it seems more like a political blog. It seems political because 171 of his posts are about politics, according to the self-generated categorization on the left side of his blog. But you can see that other posts are about all kinds of things. Fiction (literature?), however, only one entry.

Aldon said that when he started out, literary concerns were at the forefront of his blogging thoughts. Over time, however, he has found himself more and more concerned with political matters, a natural evolution considering his involvement in the Dean campaign and now DeStefano's. Believing that "persona is a function of context," Aldon celebrates his relentless metamorphasis with a bio section containing no less than nine different bio sketches. This contributes to the quirky, sometimes random seeming nature of the blog itself.

While quirky and spontaneous are indeed likeable in the blogosphere, I wonder if a lack of sharp focus or a kind of generalism can last. Others have postulated that bloggers can reinvent themselves in the blogosphere -- they certainly can adopt strong authorial voices that may be nothing like the voices they use in everyday life. But can one continually reinvent oneself in the blogosphere? Will future bloggers be able to straddle topics? Can you be considered compelling and interesting if you don't specialize? Many do it now, but we live in a world of specialists, and conventionalization and categorization are coming to the blogosphere. I suspect we'll see fewer generalized blogs getting much notice unless they belong to celebrities or opinion leaders. Enjoy the wild wild blog-west right now because I totally believe it's going to be changing fast. Aldon may have the right idea when he talked about long-range goals-- and now for something completely different.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

No Place Like Loam

I like reading about natural wonders, especially those close enough to consider for a day trip. So, when I first glanced at Connecticut Windows on the Natural World I thought, here's some dirt and rocks (not to mention a five-lined skink) I might enjoy checking out. And, I thought, here's a true Connecticut voice that speaks to what this place is all about.

Well, it does give a great sense of what Connecticut's natural resources have to offer. There's some good information in here. Trouble is, it's not really a blog with a personal, blogging voice. It's more like an instructional video. Maybe that's Connecticut's real voice, restrained and pedagogical? I like this blog the way I like certain websites -- a resource to turn to when I need information about the subject at hand. I might come here when I'm thinking about a hike. But check in regularly to hear what this blogger has to say, nah.

There are some posts that are a bit timely, about events and environmental developments. And, I have to say what a nice job this blogger does in putting together a visually appealing package. The photos are not only attractive, they truly illuminate the subject of the text. Points for truly caring enough to do many things right. Just needs to synthesize his content into pithy blogging speak. Maybe then we might find it a little easier to see the author, too.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

A Connecticut Yankee in King Ludwig's Court

Tonight I meandered through a number of more personal blogs to find the defining Connecticut voice. No shouting through bullhorns heard here, but there were some interesting whispers here and there. Take Grace the I-91, Exit 6 woman, for example.

I enjoyed reading her posts about life in Germany, and sympathized when her digital camera was stolen. I found her style comfortable and appealing. And, one of the things I liked were the connections to home that grounded her -- like the Red Sox and Bush's antics. The Red Sox are a frequent touchstone for her, but her earlier posts are full of celebrations of little things that say a lot about place, such as celebrating the arrival of summer vegetables at home and favorite restaurants. Not profoundly revealing but worth a look.

In other local blogs, I noted and was going to announce here the grand discovery that another class, at Quinnipiac, is looking hard at blogs. But I just saw in the Comments to Colin's Sunday post that they have discovered us and have announced themselves. I was also going to point out some interesting musings by Chrysanthemum's Culture of Communication about some bloggers attempting to set up their own identities and build their own social communities. Could have been an interesting point of view for our first couple of classes. Oh well.

Another Connecticut blog that definitely creates a real sense of place (on the water) is Connecticut Fishing. Sandy from New Britain has found an amazing amount of material to blog about related to fishing, be it the dredging of Norwalk Harbor or the health of the striped bass population. This blog definitely caters to a narrowly defined Connecticut community and shares almost everything the local angler could want to know about his aquatic backyard. Trouble is, no one is sharing in return. I could find only one comment of late, and that was SPAM. While the blog is absolutely about Connecticut, I'm not sure that it says anything revealing about life in Connecticut.

Susie's Raspberry World is a personal blog that lacks the bold young urban look and feel of Coffee Rhetoric, but has something to say about suburban life in the Nutmeg state. Interestingly, Suzie has what looks like one of the oldest blogs in the state, dating back to 1998. Among her earliest posts (Dec.'98) she notes with amazement how mean many people appear to be in their online journals. She could be more evidence of my earlier speculation that many Connecticut bloggers appear to lack the bitterness of other bloggers. She also offers some insight into what makes personal blogs interesting for others to read. She suggests that she enjoys those that reveal all sides of the writer, good and bad, so that the person seems real, like what is appealing about a good character-driven movie. Blogs that simply describe events or offer certain opinions without giving up the 3-D view of self, no good.

Suzie has a lot of ho-hum posts about this or that movie, but I really do get a sense of place from her journals as she revels in seasonal New England activities. Having lived in Germany at one time, she opines that living in New England is pretty cool, too. She also wryly observes the more out-of-control habits of many nutmeggers, such as those willing to run down their neighbors in their haste to get their morning Dunkin Donuts fix. Have to say I've seen some of that myself.

Monday, October 10, 2005

The Village Blog

I'm trying to figure out how Connecticut blogs relate to one another, what they say about the state in which we live. It seems a little daunting to look at all identifiable Connecticut blogs this way, so I'm back to Connecticut's political blogs. Most of the politically oriented blogs I've read so far from Connecticut seem to fall short in important and, sometimes, multiple ways. But a few seem to be doing a blogging good job of trying to engage their readers in the local political landscape.

As Colin mentioned, Connecticut Local Politics appears to be far ranging and successful in providing facts and analysis about elections around the state -- the most recent include West Hartford and Enfield. The maps provided do a terrific job of illustrating the political lay-of-the-land. The polls about election issues, the activities of Connecticut's Congressional delegation and other updates then add some of the sizzle to encourage greater research and involvement on the part of the citizenry in their local elections.

Absent some of the more inflammatory partisan rhetoric to be found on other sites, this blog looks to me like more of an informational tool kit for those interested in community or state politics. The posts are regular and the comments fairly numerous, which shows there must be interest out there, thankfully, in local politics.

My Left Nutmeg, on the other hand, bears an imaginitive, if slightly rude, label that portends a more aggressive political message. It's a bland looking blog (looks as though it came off a teletype machine), but it is interesting for content that doesn't mince words when it comes to supporting "progressive" or liberal politics. It's not only Republican Gov. Jodi Rell who takes the heat but also Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman, who appears to have completely alienated the left-most Democrats in the state.

A regular blogger, what Nutmeg does especially well is encourage and facilitate comment and discussion. Most recent comments are highlighted in a lefthand column, reinforcing the importance of feedback and discussion among its liberal base. Nutmeg also invites guest columns, taking on such topics as N. Branford's town council. Nutmeg says that anyone who registers can post events and diaries...as long as they're related to Connecticut progressive politics. They know what they're about, and if true dissent is discouraged, at least Nutmeg is reaching out like a true blogger to the community to which it is tethered. Only its many plugs for liberal political events are dull -- there's no real blogging content around these posts, mostly just cheerleading.

But if you look at many of the links to other Connecticut blogs that are listed by these two bloggers, you find a more spotty record for blogging. The Accidental Reporter is one such link, to a former television journalist living in Westport who likes to rant against the administration in Washington and an anemic press. Posting infrequently, however, she never gets any momentum going to warrant serious attention.

Interestingly, Caffeinated Geek Girl is one of Nutmeg's recommended links. She does a better job of posting than Accidental Reporter, but she isn't really a political commentator. And, since she has only recently moved to Connecticut from Brooklyn she doesn't really shed much light on Connecticut politics. Her occasional rants against the Bush administration rated her mention, I suppose. But she really offers social commentary, as a new Connecticut resident who is trying to figure things out here on the Nutmeg social scene. But I found only her earliest posts interesting. The later posts have become more general and less about place.

Connecticut Young Democrats is trying to encourage young people to participate in the political process, but it does nothing really to appeal to the audience it claims to seek. The blog really is a bulletin board, with no real blogging voice that would grab the attention of young voters. Their posts are mostly information about events and reprints from The New York Times. Surprise, surprise, no comments to speak of from readers.

David A. Mooney offers a blend of political observations and technology info -- well I suppose there's a market for this somewhere. Unfortunately, his posts also are far too infrequent to generate return visits. Democracy for Connecticut and Left Watch 2.0 suffer from the same weakness.

Slush Guzzler looks sharp and has some interesting, if terse, posts, but it doesn't develop the strong blogging voice I expected from its tagline: "Pickles, Law, Beer and Politics." The semi-regular posts here often seem to fall back on the "open myke," which is another way of saying NOT MUCH TO SAY.

In short, a lot of Connecticut blogs don't seem to be able to keep up with the demands of blogging, and their authors may be short on things to say (perhaps it's that famous New England reserve). But some do get it and their mostly local view of politics probably plays well to the residents of Connecticut's 169 independent fiefdoms. I also think Connecticut bloggers may also be a little better behaved than many of the beltway boys and girls who blog, but perhaps I haven't seen enough of Connecticut's alternative voices yet.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Citizen Journalism

Among the Connecticut blogs we've been asked to review, I found In Southington one of the most interesting because of my undying interest in journalism and its many challenges today. Too bad this very local blog has just breathed its last.

It's not that this is an especially well done blog but rather that its mission is so very interesting -- do the job that so much of the media is failing to do today. This blogger is (or was) championing the cause that has stirred many in the blogosphere, giving voice to local community residents so that the issues that affect them most can be aired out and fully debated. It appears to be "citizen journalism" right here in River City. In Southington describes its quest as a mission to "look past the headlines" to see what's going on in the community. And, the local media get zinged every so often.

"Don't believe that everything that is happening in this town can be found in the newspapers," In Southington says in its farewell message. "Mediocrity (in the media) is fine as long as the profits roll in," says another post.

The author or authors of this blog seem to have a keen interest in local politics and government, watching closely the activities of the Town Council, the Planning and Zoning Commission and the local Board of Education. They are earnest in their desire for dialogue, inviting comments and even articles from "guest commentators." They also involve their readers in frequent, informal polls on a variety of government and community life questions. "Where do you dine out most frequently?" Or, "who has the best ice cream in Southington?" Or, "rate the opening weekend of the new Apple Harvest Festival." These frequent polls are probably a good way of encouraging interactivity with their readers, but I think they'd help their credibility if they included something about their methodology and sample size.

The blog is not simply an issues forum, however, as the author(s) openly call on others to support certain candidates and not others. It could be operated by a local Democrat, since local Republicans seem to take most of the heat. But it could also be the work of a local gadfly who is simply anti-incumbent and anti-status quo. Positions are not supported with a lot of links to outside research, but there are a few links to local media coverage. Instead, the blogger(s) tends to make anything relevent part of his or her main text, which every so often gets tediously long. For example, the first post I could find back in June was a very long history of a local publication. It made some interesting points, but there was no attempt to pare down and tailor the message for the blogosphere.

In the end, I'd say it was often poorly executed by failing to keep in mind the habits of web users and bloggers. But it is a worthy attempt to plug the community into local issues through the cyberworld. Interestingly, some of the exceedingly long posts did attract comments from a number of people -- so they must have had some success at reaching others in the community. I think this distinctively town-meeting, village-green approach could be something more emblematic of New England bloggers than others. Of course, bloggers everywhere like to scrutinize issues of all kinds. But I've been surprised more than once to see how fascinated some people are in others parts of the country with our town meeting and town council forms of government. A blog devoted to scrutiny of town government and local development seems a natural extension of the town meeting tradition of strong individual involvement. The absence of strong local newspapers from this process in many communities makes such a blog more valuable and interesting. But whether this blog is or is not distinctively Connecticut or New England in its political approach, it is distinctively local in its flavor, from the issues vetted with local board and commissions to the apple festival for which Southington is so well known.

It appears, from their farewell note, that the blogger(s) over time ran into one of the most demanding aspects of blogs -- the need to post frequently to stay compelling and timely. They did not do a bad job with keeping up most days of the week, but it appears it was too much in the end. At least they had the integrity and sense to not continue in a half-ass fashion.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

A State of Conn-Sciousnesss

While directed to Connecticut Conservative as an alternative Connecticut voice to Colin's, I actually found Ex-Donkey Blog more interesting, though still alternative. This is a blog trying to come off as very hip and hoping, I think, to reach young adults interested in politics.

The political stuff is usually fairly brief, a quick jab or two at Dems, and some support for the administration and other conservatives. As an aside, the post trying to analyze Harry Reid's motivations in saying that he "likes" Harriet Miers is just hysterical. I can see the sweat forming on his upper lip. But, Gary seldom gets lost in his prose. And he mixes up the political with plenty of pop culture (Lord of the Rings, attractive actresses and football are among the favorites) references. The Diane Lane obsession seems to place him (has to be male) in his late 30s or 40s -- that and the fact that he supposedly fell off his donkey in rapture while in his early 30s. And, he seems bent on convincing other males in his generational vicinity that this fun-looking mixture of thoughts and tastes is where it's at.

There are plenty of photos and graphics, which makes the overall appearance of the blog kinda fun. His posts are not wordy, even his slightly longer ones, and he's not overly concerned about building complex arguments and linking to lots of supporting articles and research. In short, he seems to have the blooging thing down, understanding what is likely to connect with others like himself, interested in politics but not consumed by the detail. And, still imagining that he's hip.

Connecticut Conservative, on the other hand, does see "red" in a blue state, but he's polite and ever so straight-forward in his blogging, as though he were writing editorials for the hometown newspaper. He uses lots of quotes, like a newspaper story, but his or her voice doesn't seem very strong here. He/she also does not link from the text to articles and research, preferring instead to let the apparent sincerity of his/her analysis do the persuading. It's not amusing, it's not pithy, it's not inflaming -- all characteristics of compelling political blogs I've seen. But what it does have that may attract some readership locally are some musings about the Connecticut political scene. It just seems like such a quiet, country voice compared to the bulk of the political blogosphere.

One I like quite a bit is CT Blue. This obviously liberal blog offers up a lot of political analysis, not as briefly as Ex-Don but he's no Wolcott either. He does not get long-winded, except when quoting Al Gore speeches, and is not using lengthy arguments to slam the administration. But he does manage to lampoon Bush and the right with a little bit of sarcasm and a strong, authorial voice. The use of humorous pictures effectively gets the mesage across to young and older bloggers alike.

He also posts fairly frequently, helping to keep him current. I was a little concerned after a bit of reading that there wasn't enough here about Connecticut -- mostly national. Then I found his Simmons Watch and had to restore the points I had started to take away. Still, he should include more about Connecticut here, considering the title of his blog, and use even more photos to make his effectiveness even greater.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Post Like The Pros?

After a frustrating, futile evening of trying to access Blogspot, I'm relieved to finally get this posted. Got to keep up! I wanted to compare the trio of pro bloggers I spent most of Wednesday night reading. My verdict -- greatness in one medium does offer some advantages, but it's no guarante of greatness in another medium.

Whatever one may think of Roger Ailes (note: last night I did not know he was not THE Roger Ailes and I have not changed a thing here) and his communications and political resume, the man knows how to blog. He is definitely an example of a blogger who is helped by his well-honed skills as a communicator and political strategist. He seems to understand the enormous value of briefly getting to the point in an amusing, if often caustic, way. He's also not above name-calling (Howie the Putz?), but that may be in recognition of the fact that the extremists on the left and the right seem to like that. But I can't seem to reconcile his record and what seems like a distinctly Democratic voice.

He usually manages to score his points with sharp rhetorical jabs rather than from big round-house punches in the form of well-built arguments. When his posts get lengthy, it's usually because he's busy quoting so many others, often for the purpose of sly ridicule. Does it work? I thought it was interesting that one of the posts that drew the most responses from readers was his unabridged reproduction of a couple of vulgar rants from a self-described middle-of-the-road Republican. This post contained almost no words from Ailes, but boy did it get readers worked up. He's also a faithful blogger, launching frequent posts that tackle the new and the provocative in the world of politics. So my hunch is that political blogging junkies would check out this blog at least semi-regularly.

Andrew Sullivan also does a good job blogging, doing so with frequency and timeliness. Though a polished writer, his blog is not overly verbose. He occasionally writes longer blogs than Ailes, but he manages to cull the esential info out for bloggers and deliver the goods to his readers in an unambiguous, unpretentious left-leaning fashion. I think his writing skills serve him well here, though he does not seem as clever as Ailes. He knows that the value of a good anecdote works well in print or in a blog, judging by the success of the Fishback story, about which one post received over 400 responses. One disappointment is the lack of a comment field under each post for true community dialogue. Instead, he invites e-mails on one side of the page.

I can't say I'm overly impressed by Eric Alterman. He's regular with his blog, but rather than produce multiple posts throughout the day as events warrant he dumps it all in what looks like a huge post -- though it has a few headers and such to break up the copy, unlike Wolcott. It can at times read more like a column than a blog, not really addressing anyone. He sounds a bit preachy. Like some professional writers, he doesn't seem to be doing much to engage other bloggers in dialogue. Addition after class: until pointed out tonight, I didn't realize he had any comments on his blog, so far down do they appear.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Blogtresses

Spent some time with a couple of smart bloggers, but, wow, what a difference in personality. MeMo was like chatting informally over lunch with a witty, softspoken friend. Wonkette is a gossip columnist on steroids.

I like MeMo for its wry observations and its clever musings. But I really like that she understands blogging and what bloggers are looking for. Though a professional journalist, she does not appear to be doing her column here in the blogosphere. She is not neck-deep in exhaustive rhetoric, nor is she doing too much navel-gazing. She does, however, offer amusing observations on an endless supply of oddities, with just enough links for more detail. While some tidbits may be a bit too short, most are just the right length to establish an interesting point of view and stoke a discussion. The short ones, however, remind me of the Saturday Night Live talk show host ... three words, then "discuss."

That said, not all her posts are interesting to me. The occasional pieces about Houston life don't do much for me, and many of the pop culture musings just don't stick to me. Oh, occasionally the really bizarre has an impact, but I'm just not that absorbed by so much pop culture analysis. But, for those with whom she connects, say Gen Xers or young boomers, I think she has a real shot at a regular following because she writes a truly interactive blog that pounces on cultural oddities and problems with the requisite timeliness (Colorado trips aside) and with the personal voice that makes blog reading fun.

Wonkette, on the other hand, is like television commercials that are so much louder than regular TV programming despite the fact that you are no where near the volume control. Also, like some commercials, Wonkette is sometimes hysterical.

This blog comes across, quite deliberately it seems, as a long gossip column about politics and Washington insiders. It's very entertaining, at times. The Judith Miller photos of her kissing, hugging and otherwise touching men, hysterical. The Harriet Miers Dopplegangers, a riot. The links she maintains, and there are many, are highly amusing as well. The Michelle Malkin review of Ms. Wonkette is priceless in its own right.

But, as entertaining as it may be, what goes on here stretches the bounds of what blogging means to me, and it looks so much like a professional (if loud and crazy) job. First of all, there's a big-time performance persona being shown here, not a blogging voice. Also, there's so much volume of stuff here it has to be done by a staff. And there doesn't seem to be any real and obvious encouragement of interaction. What there is plenty of is ads, across the top and elsewhere.

So, I doubt bloggers come here to interact but to be amused, though they probably do that at Dooce, too. Still, this is like watching a big production, Dooce is not. Despite the entertainment to be found here, I think I'd also prefer it in small doses. I hate reaching for the volume control too often.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Writing the Wolcott Way

Tasked with an examination of ever so many celebrity bloggers, I decided it might be more fun to take in each with a nonprofessional blog chaser. Like a real boilermaker, it was an eye-opener.

I made my way through countless James Wolcott blogs, and while I enjoyed many of these thoughtful, largely urbane pieces, I found myself quickly getting fatigued under the weight of so much polished prose. I went through several months of this year's blogs and a couple of months worth last year and found, I think, that he's getting more longwinded and a little less witty. Oh, he can still turn a phrase, but not with as much verve.

Wolcott's blog typically reads just like a column or essay, long as the pondering that no doubt went into each. The result I think are pieces that are often well reasoned and well said, but which reflect a nearly fatal love of his own words. The problem, I think, is that Wolcott does not seem to be writing to anyone in particular; it's more like a grand soliloquy. His site does not invite comments or discussion. Instead, readers are invited to "write to Wolcott" using the e-mail link. Adjacent is a link to Vanity Fair...the audience he really identifies with?

His blogs of a year ago sometimes demonstrated jarring transitions from their entertainment culture focus to the political. But the wry voice seemed to make the jump reasonably well. Now, the disassembling of Bush's post-911-makeover, for example, seems to get weighted down before it can get away from the dock. I'm not sure if Wolcott is gaining any ground not already won in print, though anything's possible.

In contrast, over at Last Hurrah (smart Dem blog), this person has a pretty good grasp of the issues and a clear, unambiguous voice. He also talks to his fellow bloggers, "did you know...did you know?" This straight-to-the-point style is married well with a concise approach to make a strong impression right out of the gate.

He also virtually brags of a point of view or "insight that comes from not reading the newspaper or or watching the talk shows." Despite this joe six-pack declaration, he writes unpretentiously and competently -- only occasionally does he descend into the realm of f-bombs. In short, I like the timely, impassioned yet rational approach of the blog and would be more inclined to respond with a comment than I would to Wolcott. Wolcott seems meant for slow digestion and reflection, like a cholesterol-laden meal. While Last Hurrah's stir fry has me ready to jump in and join the fun.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Celebrity Blogging

It's amusing, and perhaps comforting, to see that it's not only students who are struggling a bit with the broader implications of blogging. The Nora Ephron blog of Sept. 28 strikes me as a case in point, one that speaks in particular to the tendencies and peculiarities of celebrity blogs. Ostensibly about a panel discussion taking on the weighty subject of whether blogs are democratizing journalism, Ephron's blog seems to be as much about her own wry view of intellectual circles and academic rituals, such as panel discussions, as it is about her panel's topic.

Of course, blogs can be shockingly personal or they can be stridently political. In short, they can have almost any subject and employ any approach. But I think the professional writer's blog probably stands out for its measured and controlled cadences, ironic tone and no small amount of love for one's own voice. In the case of Ephron's Sept. 28 blog, I think she is not so much trying to join a vast cyber debate, as so many bloggers long to do, as she is trying to rise above it. I think most bloggers would seldom take such an approach.

Clearly, she does not consider bloggers to be guerilla journalists, though she does not pretend to examine closely the panel's issue at hand. She notes that most blogggers are "so busy blogging that you don't have time to report." The implication is that blogging does not live by the same professional standards that journalists do and probably does not warrant more credilibility -- statements that really set off some of those who commented. She is not blind to the impact of the Internet and, in fact, opines that it has changed the culture and the way we all think. But these nuggets of insight come between various humurous observations and glib appraisals. I mean, she doesn't choose to rebut a point with which she strongly disagrees because she's afraid she might cough?

She's has an enjoyable style, but I'm not sure if this professional approach will serve her as well in the world of blogging as it does in print. Those of us who enjoy good writing usually do so while taking our time with the printed page. The world of Internet is different. Of course, people can and do read material by smart writers on the Web, but most of the research I've seen seems to show it's but a minority of Web users. I manage much of the Internet content for my company, and I also teach Web writing workshops for some of our marketing staff. The point of so much research is that very few people come to the Internet to read -- they come to complete tasks and find information quickly. Writing for these readers must very brief and to the point. Some people will take the time to read more online when they are visiting their favorite sites -- certainly true of bloggers. But I would suggest that Internet user preferences have influenced bloggers as well, and if they're very young, forget about your long blog getting read.

Bloggers are nothing if not earnest. Whether personal or political, these blogs seems to lay it all out there in unambiguous terms. This, it seems, satisfies the preferences of Internet users who want to know quickly and, preferably, entertainingly what you have to say. I think the dry, artful approach of literary writers will have a tough time breaking past the same circle who read their works in print to reach the rest of the blogosphere. That's not to say that humor won't work -- Heather Armstrong has shown that it can. But it had better be brash and original.

Ephron's writing skills have certainly served her well in publishing and in Hollywood, but I'd be surprised if anyone outside of the Huffington Post crowd would be stirred by her blog. Any use of devices such as vaguery and mockery (the literary kind) could be perceived as the kind of mainstream condescension that bloggers like to rebel against.