Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 4
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Who let the blogs out?

Recent strolls through the Olin computer lab and the cubbies in the back of Penrose Library revealed, among other things, one girl scrolling through Post Secret, one kid watching what looked like the new MacBook video, two people looking at various political commentary blogs, one person commenting on what looked like a friend’s study abroad blog and one student who quickly changed the screen at the sound of approaching footsteps, but not before the characteristic pink background and   flashing advertisements of Perez Hilton were spotted. Second only to people actually doing homework or checking their e-mail, a quick computer lab tour confirms that blogs have taken a front seat in the fight for college students’ attention.

With increasing popularity, blogs have come of age. The blog has moved out of the dark corners of adolescent angst-driven LiveJournal entries and moved into the mainstream media.

While the term ‘blog’ was coined less than 10 years ago, today there are well over 112 million blogs with sites like celebrity blog Perez Hilton receiving close to 20 million hits per month and some bloggers now possess Whitehouse press credentials. Blogs have revolutionized the ways college and non-college students communicate, consume media, experience education and, of course, procrastinate.

“In the old days, we used to sit down with a cup of coffee and a copy of The New York Times. But now you would go online and through your RSS feed listen to your ‘This American Life’ podcast, watch your Mark Bitman cooking show and read through all your blog posts from both private and public blog sources,” said former Whitman student Paul Carduner who now works as a software developer, describing his morning routine.

When they hear the word “blog,” many students said they still initially think of grainy webcam photos and characteristic whining about oppressive parents that defined the first wave of online diaries, but that they later realized they used blogs more than they initially thought.

“When I think about blogs I first think of the personal journal, but there’s definitely a lot more to it than that…my friend actually has a physics blog for one of her classes at UW,” said sophomore Lydia Ngai who has found herself using blogs to compare recipes, look at new industrial designs and follow the life of a Utah mom on the popular blog Dooce.

“I know a lot of people, myself included, check the personal blogs of friends who are abroad,” said sophomore Faith Tucker, echoing the sentiments of many students.

The specialized nature of blogs ensures that there is a blog that will appeal to each and every interest. Because blogs don’t have to worry about money or pandering to a broad audience, the format of the blog nurtures specificity.

“I know that many of my colleagues have a list of blogs that they check in their field,” said politics professor Susan Beechey.

“Blogs cater to a much smaller group of people so the quality of information [in top blogs] is much higher,” said Carduner.

As part of the software industry Carduner finds it necessary to get his technology news from blogs.

“You either read the blogs or, well…basically you just have to read the blogs. By the time a book comes out it’s already out of date.”

The instantaneous nature of blogs has helped them begin to chip away at the holds of traditional news media. As newspapers cut large chunks of their staffs, blogs and online news are being blamed for many of these ills.

“In college I’m just constantly busy. I could read a newspaper but it’s more convenient for me to just read in online and its more in line with my environmental ethic to keep another paper from being printed,” said senior Andrew Aviza who gets news from both traditional journalistic sources such as The New York Times Web site and also from blogs such as The Daily Kos.

Aviza, an experienced member of the blogging community who works as a blog contributor for climate change non-profit 1Sky, sees the blog as an important element of the new face of media, although not a substitute for traditional journalism.

“I think a lot of times people link journalism and blogging together when it’s not always a seamless link,” said Aviza. “Bloggers are writing out of a passion or a vested interest in something, whereas journalists are getting paid to write objectively.”

Many have lauded blogs for largely erasing the obstacles of money and connections necessary to get one’s voice heard. It was, after all, bloggers who led to the resignation of Senator Trent Lott after he made pro-segregation comments at a party, and it was bloggers that allowed many to see the attacks on the monks marching in Burma.

“Anyone, well, anyone with an Internet connection, can have a blog and have people read it. If you’re bad no one’s going to read it, but if you’re a good writer and you actually think about what you’re saying, people are going to hear what you have to say…It’s the democratization of news,” said Carduner.

Even though he continues to read several traditional news sources, Aviza sees blogs as a way to help keep in check many of the ills of the filtered mainstream media.

“We’re ending the strangles of the mainstream media one blog at a time,” said Aviza.

Beechey admits that she continues to have more respect for blogs as a news source, but that they must be taken with a grain of salt.

“You can’t just trust that there are some sensitive ethical standards behind blogs,” said Beechey.

“Blogs aren’t scholarly sources,” Beechey added, with traditional professor-ly caution.

While the number of blogs has mushroomed, more notably, the breadth of topics and effect of blogs has exploded. Far beyond an online diary, today many people satiate all their appetites with various blogs. One can get news from blogs such as Huffington Post, keep in contact with friends via personal blogs and micro-blogging on programs such as Twitter, follow and support important causes through sites like environmental blog Gristmill, research gadgets on gear blogs like Gizmodo.com and wile away the hours looking at coffee on napkin art and purple people eater mittens on Boingboing.com. And the seemingly infinite reach of the blogosphere has not left the education world untouched.

This fall, Beechey made a blog a mandatory part of participation for her class on the 2008 elections.

“The material for the class was developing as the class going,” said Beechey. “A blog seemed like an appropriate step.”

Through the blog, students have been able to link to relevant articles and videos, analyze various elements of the election and respond to one another’s thoughts and queries.

“Essentially, [the blog] was a place to continue the discussion from class,” said Beechey. Beechey also noted that the blog seemed especially pertinent given the increasing role bloggers have had on politics.

“Elections are one place you can really measure [the effect of blogs]. In 2000 there was very little effect, in 2004 there was a bit more and in 2008 there’s a lot going on. It’s almost inescapable,” said Beechey.

While Beechey admitted her first deviance into blogs for a class wasn’t perfect, the overall student feedback has been mostly positive.

“I think people are willing to say things in type that they wouldn’t have been willing to say in class. I know I’ve definitely gone on a few rants [on the blog] that I wouldn’t have probably said in class,” said Tucker.

But the spread of blog mania hasn’t always been productive. Tucker noted that the camp where she works recently ditched much of their old interface on their Web site and turned it into a blog.

“Now they have the exact same thing but it’s the Camp Hammer Blog so it’s cool and trendy,” said Tucker.

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