I don’t know what to title this post

You’ve probably noticed that the mainstream media can be a little touchy about the blogosphere and communal creation of knowledge. A few news outlets, however, have tried to embrace the technologies of social computing, some with more success than other. A notable failure was the LA Times attempt at editorial wikis earlier this year. This introduction to the concept is interesting:

[The editorial wiki] sounds nutty. But the best-known example works bewilderingly well. This is the Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia built on the contributions of thousands of readers (plus some minimal supervision from the host site). Readers are also fact checkers.

To be sure, bewilderment seems to accurately describe the tenor of most of what the mainstream media is reporting about the phenomenon of wikis and blogs. It is encouraging, one one level, to see a newspaper like the LA Times trying to embrace this new form of knowledge creation. But, ultimately, wikis may not be a tool that will ever work in the traditional newsroom. Reading this “retraction” of the wiki editorial idea, one wonders if the Times had really done their homework (side question: when referring to a newspaper, do we use the pronoun “they” or “it?” I really don’t know.) If they had familiarized themselves with the kind of wiki culture that makes wikipedia both bewildering and amazingly successful, they would have been prepared for the appearance of “inappropriate material” on their Web site. And they would have allowed the wiki users to negotiate the editing (and, presumably, excising) of this material.

Meanwhile, here in Fredericksburg, the local paper announced the introduction of its first blog today by music editor Emily Gilmore. Intrigued, I took a look. Frankly, it doesn’t look like they’ve gotten the idea, yet. I just don’t think this is a blog. I’m wondering if they haven’t just modified whatever content management system that they use to allow for a chronological listing of short pieces that this particular writer is contributing.

There is no way for users to provide comments or trackbacks (perhaps there is some fear of inappropriate content?). But, the jury may still be out on whether a comment-less blog is still a blog.

More frustrating perhaps than the lack of comments is the lack of an RSS feed for the blog (at least I couldn’t find one). There is RSS for the paper’s “regular” content, but not for the blog.

I’m sure the author of the “blog” is a lovely person and she may have lots of wonderful things to say about the music world in Fredericksburg and beyond. But I don’t think she is blogging. It looks as though the paper plans on adding more “blogs” to the site, but, again, I think they’ve missed the boat.

All of this sort of feels like when you wanted a particular toy for Christmas as a child and your grandmother bought you something that was sort of like the toy, but just wasn’t the same. She is trying hard to be “with it” but she. just. doesn’t. get. it.

Certain mainstream media channels seem to be trying to get on board with the social web. NPR is an example of one outlet that is doing a pretty good job (especially with podcasting), but many of them are either doing too little too late or they are trying to massage the tools to still do what they have always done: present carefully controlled content in a more or less traditional way.

(As I was about to post this, I remember another example of a major news outlet that did some amazing work with blogging earlier this year. Brian Williams and the NBC Nightly News team maintain a blog called the Daily Nightly. During Hurricane Katrina, he and others blogged from New Orleans. The entries from that period are an amazing snapshot of their experiences in that city during a time of great tragedy. The humanity expressed in these pages is truly humbling. The juxtaposition of the smiling News team members’ publicity photos next to the sobering text is truly bizarre — and, in my opinion, of what it is like when blogging “gets real.”)

4 thoughts on “I don’t know what to title this post”

  1. Yes, alas, indeed.

    Nothing bloggy on the Emily Gilmore blog, to my eye, unless the chirpy, superficial content is supposed to, like, OMG, channel some of the I’m-in-my-pajamas feel I’ve seen on some blogs. Not hip or edgy or informed (especially not informed: who knew Queen had written so many songs? please). Just cutesy and lame, and a spectacular (and maybe deliberate) misunderstanding of everything that’s worthwhile in the blogosphere.

    It reminds me of some of the cringe-worthy let’s-appeal-to-the-young-people shows of the 1960’s. Or maybe it just reminds me of Ed Sullivan letting his sideburns grow and wearing wider ties.

    Pretty hollow, and pretty embarrassing for 2005. Mainstream media will find themselves a drying rivulet if they keep on this way.

  2. “Mainstream” press is aimed at the “average” person (whatever that is.)

    One of the problems is that I don’t think a lot of folks clearly know what blogs (or podcasts) are yet. I ask students, faculty, friends and family this question pretty often, and some have heard the terms, but many could not define the basic aspects of either if they had to. So, I don’t find it that surprising that a local newspaper editor necessarily knows the difference either.

    I have recently seen a good example of a blog from the Baltimore Sun. It is about sports, mainly the Orioles – its title is “Roch Around the Clock” by sportswriter Roch Kubatko. http://blogs.baltimoresun.com/sports_custom_roch/

    It has opinions, analysis, comments and an RSS feed.

  3. That is a good blog, Jerry. The permalink/comments/trackback links make me feel right at home. 🙂

    I agree that it’s tough to describe a blog. But imagine trying to describe a newspaper or magazine–in general, not any particular one–to someone who’s never seen or heard of either. “Well, it’s made of oblongs of paper, and it has stories about all sorts of events, but it’s not a calendar of events, it’s about news, but not just US news, though mostly that, but also international news, as well as human-interest stories, which are interesting stories about humans, and sometimes zoo stories, and it’s full of advertisements, but not on the front page, unless it’s USA Today, and you can write letters to it, and most of them endorse political candidates at some point in the campaign. Oh, and you can get it delivered to your house every morning.”

  4. Nice to see another BBB….that’s Burg Based Blog…hey, it’s 7 AM on a Sunday…lameness comes with the territory.

    I looked at the music thing you mentioned…let’s give her a chance to make something of it although the “cutesy” comment seems pretty appropriate so far.

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