by Larry Smith
“A weblog, or blog, is a personal journal on the web. Some blogs are highly influential and have enormous readership while others are primarily intended for a close circle of family and friends.”
Blogging is all the rage these days.
According to Technorati, which tracks these things, there are over 20 million blog sites on the Internet (including this site and several other Bahamian blogs described below).
Some trace their origin to diarists like Samuel Pepys, a 17th century Englishman who wrote a renowned daily record of life during interesting times. In fact, you can find his blog on the Internet today at pepysdiary.com.
Blogging’s biggest impact is that it has lowered the publishing bar: ”It used to take a great deal of time and money to get a message to thousands or even millions of people,” said Rick Hallihan at Blobservations.net, ”Now, anyone can start a blog for free.”
And more and more people are doing just that. About 12,000 new blogs go online every day, and there is an estimated audience of 50 million regular blog readers.
Blogs let authors (who post articles) converse with readers (who post comments). Technorati and other search engines like PubSub and Google index and rank sites by the number of other sites they link to.
Over the past half dozen years, blogging has increased exponentially. Today, blogs are produced by teenagers, conspiracy theorists, journalists, CEO’s, marketing gurus, civic groups, propagandists, spammers, crooks, crazies and satirists...among many others.
They all fall into three main groups: News filters compile external links from other sites (eg: www.illegalimmigrationnews.com/blog). Personal journals present information about a blogger’s life (eg: http://myissuesareshowing.blogspot.com). And notebooks feature focused articles (eg: http://blackrod.blogspot.com).
American software developer Dave Winer started Scripting News in 1997 – it’s the longest-running blog on the Internet. He also wrote the code for Really Simple Syndication, a programme for sharing content on the web. RSS lets you select what to read without visiting the actual sites or browsing through pages of irrelevant material.
While most of the millions of blogs on the Internet record the mundane personal lives and inner thoughts of their authors, and consequently have few readers, there are two big blogging issues that have attracted a lot of attention lately.
One is the rise of the citizen journalist (or pseudo-journalist to some) and the other is the purveying of anonymous propaganda or just outright lies.
Citizen journalism is the reporting of news by ordinary people, usually over the Internet. It began in a big way with first-hand accounts of the World Trade Centre attack in 2001, and continued with events like last year’s Asian tsunami and the London bombings in July.
Now, anyone with a digital camera, computer or cell phone and an Internet connection can be a major news provider. And mainstream journalists often rely on this kind of grassroots reporting to help them cover breaking news. In fact, some newspapers now provide citizen journalist sites.
The downside is that (though you might not believe it sometimes) professional journalists go through a great deal of editing and fact-checking to provide the most objective, honest news available under the circumstances. And reporting flaws will usually be exposed or corrected at some point in this system.
Citizen journalists don’t do this, which brings us to the second big issue – attack blogs that spew propaganda and insults without regard for ethics or accountability. Readers may not be able to distinguish between fact and spin when information is presented in a blog format, which includes a heavy portion of opinion, often with a heaping side of invective.
And, of course, the anonymity of the internet gives writers opportunities to say things that ordinarily wouldn’t see the light of day in most places due to libel laws, social pressure, political restrictions or self-censorship.
That’s generally a good thing, but it can come with a hefty price tag in terms of online abuse, wrecked reputations and political fraud. Forbes Magazine charged recently that, “Weblogs are the prized platform of an online lynch mob spouting liberty but spewing lies, libel and invective....the ultimate vehicle for brand-bashing, personal attacks, political extremism and smear campaigns.”
Suggestions for fighting back include publishing your own dirt blog, threatening Internet service providers over copyright infringement or defamatory content, or identifying the bloggers and filing lawsuits against them – at the risk of getting mocked. American law requires an ISP to respond to copyright infringement claims or be held liable themselves. This has led to a policy of taking down sites that receive complaints without regard to fair use or other legal defence.
In the Bahamian blogosphere there are few citizen journalists today. Our blogs tend to be eccentric personal or political rants with little claim to fairness or accountability. If we discount online teenage diaries, our two most senior bloggers appear to be Fred Mitchell and Lynn Sweeting. Both started about five years ago.
Fred Mitchell Uncensored morphed into Bahamas Uncensored when the author became a cabinet minister in 2002. At that time the site offered “news and commentary” on Bahamian public affairs, but was certainly “not a place for Fred Mitchell to vent his spleen”.
Mitchell’s archives are still on the web, and the revamped site follows the same format, writing style and political line today as it did pre-2002, with lots of serious pictures of FM himself. However, the site does not allow for real-time comments from readers, meaning that it may not qualify as a true blog.
Sweeting, a some-time reporter who now styles herself “a neighbourhood street writer”, started blogging for the freedom it provided. Her main site - Womanish Words - presents “the disruptive, disagreeable and culturally reprehensible writings of radical feminist poet Lynn Sweeting.”
Sweeting told Tough Call that “Instant, push-button publishing to the world, for free, still freaks me out. Blogging is now central to my life. Knowing that I have the power to publish and be heard any time is my kind of liberation after so many years of working for bosses who struggled to keep me in line.”
She runs two other blogs – The Solitary Witch and the Wild Mind - which showcase her prose, poetry and unconventional spiritual beliefs. Her first blog was called the “Pagan Poet”.
Political activist Dennis Dames also describes himself as a poet. He posts articles by former FNM cabinet minister Zhivago Laing, Bahama Journal news editor Candia Dames (his sister), Apostle Cedric Moss and ex-Vanguard Party chieftain Charles Fawkes on the pay-per-click Blogit.com site.
Blogit takes a Disneyland approach to blogging: "Entrance to the park costs money, and all the rides are free." in other words, you have to cough up a fee to access the writing, much of which (we should add) has already been published elsewhere and often long ago.
Amateur photographer and culture vulture Erik Russell (who also runs the Cable Bahamas operation in Freeport) maintains a well-put-together blog on MSN (http://spaces.msn.com/members/keeniphoto). It offers an online store for logo gear, showcases his photography, and presents posts on the Freeport film industry.
Nassau Institute director Rick Lowe just launched a trial site at Typepad called Blog Bahamas that discusses “politics and economics among other things that interest me, like the Libertarian perspective.”
The anonymous Bahamas Blog was created by Bahamas B2B founders Lisa Wells and her husband Duke Cromwell in 2002, but was later spun off to a separate site called Bahamas Community. This blog says it offers “piquant commentary and information on the islands”. The site claims about 30 registered members and seems to have had better days. The current administrator refuses to be identified.
A more recent political entry is BlackBeltBaldNaked.com by Gorman Bannister, who spent two years in the US Federal Witness Protection Programme before becoming one of those “born-again Christians” and returning to Nassau in 1989.
This site was launched in August last year and is is a spin-off from the Black Belt News, a tabloid newspaper Bannister says he founded in 1996 with a $900 donation. Black Belt’s niche is to pan everyone: “I liken Black Belt News to Playboy Magazine,” Bannister told Tough Call. “No-one in the locker room has seen it--but everyone has it!.”
In a recent post, he condemned both Perry Christie and Hubert Ingraham for using their political careers to “get straight financially...if it weren’t for a consistent taxpayer cheque, both would have starved to death together.”
BahamaPundit.com was launched in September of this year to make the writings of some Bahamian newspaper columnists available online. They include Sir Arthur Foulkes, Andrew Allen, Nicolette Bethel and yours truly. Ms Bethel also maintains a personal site at www.burrowsweb.com/nico-at-home/blog/essayblog.html.
ReEarth, an ascerbic environmental watch group founded in 1990, launched a blog site in January of this year to support campaigns against liquified natural gas plants, longline fishing and other issues. ReEarth is run by Sam Duncombe and her husband Tony.
But the king of the heap these days is the aptly named Bahamian Ebloggy, which launched last year. Purportedly run by a computer-savvy Grand Bahamian nicknamed Titan, in collaboration with some well-connected North Americans, this blog offers raunchy political analysis, alternating manically between cogent comment and infantile invective, with cartoons to boot. Here’s an apology from one of their recent posts:
“We have had a prominent radio show host call our blog 'garbage'. That warmed the cockles of our heart. We have heard all of the points of dismissal about our blog, and yet we are the blog to read every day. Our detractors are here, taking a sneak peak to see what we say. I just hope that this blog is seen for what it really is -- the blog of a patriot.”
In the final analysis, there are no editorial gatekeepers on the Internet. It’s entirely up to us to decide what is garbage and what is real.