News: Blogarithms

With the Internet, everyone becomes a writer

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Jymi Bolden


Blogging allows self-described "news junkie" Brian Griffin a public forum for his views on current events, the state of journalism — and other blogs.



If you have pent-up aggression or a political peeve, a pet bunny that's really cute — or a fetish for dressing like one — you can now write about it on the Internet for the whole world to read.

The latest Internet trend is the blog, short for "Web log." Blog spots are Web sites resembling journals. Words, rather than graphics and sound, are what make a blog. Owners and visitors post their thoughts and responses, making blogs interactive diaries.

"A blog is a Web page made up of usually short, frequently updated posts that are arranged chronologically — like a 'what's new' page or a journal," according to Blogger.com. "The content and purposes of blogs varies greatly — from links and commentary about other Web sites, to news about a company/person/ idea, to diaries, photos, poetry, mini-essays, project updates, even fiction. Blog posts are like instant messages to the Web."

Brian Griffin operates the Cincinnati Blog (www.cincinnati.blogspot.com), which he touts as the "Blog of Record for the Cincy Area."

"I'm a news junkie," Griffin says.

He started his blog, focusing mostly on analysis of the media and politics, in May 2002. Searching local and national media mentions of Cincinnati, he tries to keep his readers informed about what's happening around town, but also takes a critical look at how it's reported.

"To me, the advantage of a blog over a Web page comes in the ease and simplicity of updating the blog," Griffin says. "A normal Web page requires more knowledge of HTML programming and the process to update the page requires far greater time lining up the text and editing the code. ... The blog page is all in a general template that can be customized. But once the form is set, you can update it as fast as your PC and Internet connection allows."

The Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States fueled the creation of blogs, especially about politics, according to Griffin. A new generation — known as the "war bloggers" — was born.

"I'd seen a few (blogs) at the end of 2001 here and there, but I really didn't know much about it," Griffin says.

Chris Anderson of Norwood, who started a blog called "Queen City Soapbox" (www.queencity.blogspot.com) in August 2002, says bloggers are divided into "linkers" and "thinkers." Thinkers tend to write longer messages about their thoughts and opinions, while linkers write shorter commentaries linking to Web sites for readers to study on their own.

Stop me before I blog again
Blogging — writing and reading blog spots — can consume a whole evening, Anderson says.

The key for him is keeping a balance between social time, work and blogging. He originally planned to blog for three months and then decide whether to continue. Now, he says, he can't give it up.

"If I go more than a couple of days without doing it, I start to feel bad," Anderson says. "I don't want it to consume my life, but I find it enjoyable."

Blog spots tend to build on one another. Posting messages on other people's blogs with links back to his own blog lets Griffin share his opinions on a broader scale and steer more traffic to his site. Griffin says he enjoys writing and getting feedback.

"It can get to be fun or nasty once in a while," he says.

Bloggers tend to be nitpickers, according to Griffin, and scrutinizing a news column line by line is one of their pastimes.

On Jan. 28, his blog addressed a news report on Cincinnati Vice Mayor Alicia Reece.

"Vice Mayor Alicia Reece deserves kudos for getting the attention of the Washington Times," Griffin wrote. "The 'Moonie Times,' as it is called, is a conservative newspaper with a small yet influential conservative audience. The article is fair, accurate and generally unbiased. It could have had a quote from a boycott supporter, but they did not return the reporter's phone calls."

The blog world takes this kind of analysis to another level, through an activity called "fisking." The term arose when bloggers began breaking down the writing of Robert Fisk, a British journalist, and posting a retort to each of his comments.

"He would make a certain claim about terrorism or the Palestinian issue and that same day they would write a whole thing about it," Griffin says.

The world of blogs is known as the blogosphere and is open to constant updates and changes.

"Most people who do them do them up to date," Griffin says. "There's blogs about every little topic under the sun. Some people call it an addiction, and it can be."

Most blogs aren't politically oriented, according to Anderson.

"The vast majority of blogs are more like personal journals," he says. "I think to do it the way that we're doing it probably takes a little bit of ego in thinking that people want to read your opinion."

Bloggers aren't just criticizing the media but influencing it as well. Griffin points to the scandal over racist remarks last year by U.S. Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss). The tumult started on blogs, he says.

Tracking the visitors to his site helps Griffin understand who his audience is. Some of the traffic comes from City Hall and downtown corporations.

"I've been getting a lot from colleges," he says. "Somebody from Harvard is reading my blog, and I have no idea why."

Architect, radio talk show host and former city council candidate John Schlagetter has added "blogger" to his list of titles. His mind works like a spreadsheet, seeing patterns and analyzing data naturally.

"I thought it was just a great way to do self-publishing," Schlagetter says. "I just needed an outlet because I was calling (WDBZ) too much."

Schlagetter recently launched a new branch to his blog (www.foregenitor.com/weblog/blogger), documenting his correspondence with political leaders.

"I thought it would also be good to post all my e-mail correspondence with council and the mayor," Schlagetter says. "It's a medium for self-expression. It's a medium for retorts. For anyone who's ever suffered the ignominy of writing a Pulitzer Prize-winning letter to the editor and never seeing it published, blogging is for you." ©

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