A blogging questionnaire
Every now and again for the last year or so, I've had random emails from people "studying blogging" - normally as part of some kind of journalism course. (Advice, guys: learn QuarkXpress and InDesign, pick up a bit of photoshop, learn how to proof and sub, perhaps learn shorthand - all the theoretical stuff they teach you on those things is an utter waste of time, just stick to the practical.) In case they're of interest, here are my answers to the latest:
What are the factors that have driven you to blog?
Initially it was simply a convenient way to work out my opinions on a range of political issues, started to keep my brain ticking over during a period of fairly mind-numbing work. Since then it has become a handy outlet for developing / practising my writing, gaining feedback, and building a reputation in an area of journalism into which I had not previously ventured.
How much time do you spend blogging a day/week/month?
Depending on how busy I am with things that actually earn me money, it's usually between 10 minutes and a couple of hours a day. I'll also normally spend an hour or two reading blogs and news sites, which may sometimes feed into pieces of my own - but is mostly done thanks to being a news junkie.
To what extent, if at all, do you consider yourself to be a journalist? Why? Why not?
I am a journalist - my day job is as a writer and editor, and I do a fair amount of freelance writing. That's pretty much all on other subjects than those I blog about, however. Blogging-wise, what I do is usually more comment than reportage - although occasional ventures into live-blogging (the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, the 2005 UK General Election, the London bombs of 7th and 21st July 2005 and a few others) have become much more like proper reportage journalism, bringing together hundreds of different sources to try and provide a coherent overview of events.
What are your criteria for editorial process?
On Europhobia, practically none, other than being grammatically-correct - almost everything on there is a first draft, written without any real pre-planning. On The Sharpener, I'll generally spend a bit more time on articles, and re-draft a couple of times to get them slightly closer to professional standard. But there are few things I've written for blogs that I'd consider as good (in terms of fact-checking, structure and coherence of writing style) as my professional work.
How would you differentiate blogs from traditional journalism?
Depends what you mean by traditional journalism. In terms of content, most political blogs are little different to the comment / opinion pages of any major newspaper. Of course, most (but by no means all) bloggers are less talented at writing and less knowledgable than their professional counterparts, plus have fewer incentives to make a serious effort. But blogging success relies on building and maintaining a good reputation - so more successful / serious bloggers will often have their online reputations to think about, which can be just as much of an incentive as a paycheque.
What particular sources do you rely on? Can you please list them? Any websites or web tools?
The BBC and Guardian are often the main ones, simply because with those, you know that any links you make will remain current for years to come. Most other online news sources allow old articles to go offline after a few weeks. But I'll hunt around hundreds of others during the course of the average month - Google News and NewsNow.co.uk are handy for hunting down specific stories, TheGovernmentSays.com is superb for official newsfeeds, plus all the ones listed in the "Resources" section of Europhobia's first sidebar. Other blogs can be handy at pointing the way to new sources - be these blogs I'm already aware of, or ones found via the likes of Technorati (which is now rather rubbish, but still probably the best blog search engine I've found). I haven't yet worked out how to use RSS readers...
I treat source-hunting for blogging the same way as I used to treat writing a history essay while at university - follow the footnotes (links) to find more info - and try to credit everything all the time to back up the authority and allow me to trace my train of thought and research at later dates. Having an historical background (up to postgrad level) is ideal training for blogging.
What are your thoughts on citizen journalism? Do you think that bloggers could be considered as some kind of citizen journalist?
As with much of the terminology of blogging, "citizen journalism" a stupid phrase, thought up by professional journalists who assume that everyone thinks that journalism is glamourous, and that anyone who writes must want to be a journalist. It doesn't actually MEAN anything. It's a nonsense.
In the sense it's normally meant, most bloggers couldn't be considered citizen journalists, because they don't go out and hunt down stories by themselves - they generally rely on online sources, unless an event is happening right outside their window (as some of the Ukrainian bloggers found during the Orange Revolution).
But if you're going to dismiss bloggers purely for relying on secondary sources (as normally seems to be the case), you could likewise dismiss all those journalists who spend all day sitting in their newsroom watching the BBC, Sky, and reading the wires from Reuters, the Associated Press and Bloomberg. By the same criteria bloggers are disregarded as journalists for their lack of primary investigation, those journalists aren't journalists. Which is obviously stupid. As I say, it's largely journalistic self-satisfaction that has given rise to the term in the first place.
Is there a special technological requirement for doing blogging? Who can afford it?
A computer and internet access. That's it. There are any number of free blogging packages available now, from Blogger and WordPress to a bunch of new ones I can't remember the names of. If you've got a computer and can get online, it's completely free.
I've been blogging on and off for about five years now, and blogging seriously for a year and a half. In that time I must have published well over 500,000 words online on various blogs. So far it hasn't cost me a penny. - although I am fully aware that if I'd written similar amounts professionally I'd have earned about £50,000 - instead, I've got little more than a few free drinks and about £250 directly from my blogging to date. A bit of extra freelance work, perhaps, but it's hard to tell.