Blogging

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Linkage: mostly outrageous, but two bright spots

Via Copyfight: After a reporter for the Pensacola News-Journal revealed in an op-ed that "more than 10,000 children of Wal-Mart employees are in a Georgia health-care program, which costs the state's taxpayers nearly $10 million a year," and "31 percent of the patients at a North Carolina hospital were Wal-Mart employees on Medicaid," at least one northwest Florida Wal-Mart banned the sale of the PNJ but then lifted the ban. Still, that's pretty awful.

More awful is this story about how lousy U.S. family leave policies are in comparison to other countries (Via Ms. Musings).

The good news is, today's Chronicle has an article about orphan works, which I hope will raise some awareness among scholars about the obstructive qualities of copyright. From the article (link added):

In response to the U.S. Copyright Office's request for comments, Cornell University librarians added up the money and time spent clearing copyright on 343 monographs for a digital archive of literature on agriculture. Although the library has spent $50,000 and months of staff time calling publishers, authors, and authors' heirs, it has not been able to identify the owners of 58 percent of the monographs.

"In 47 cases we were denied permission, and this was primarily because the people we contacted were unsure whether they could authorize the reproduction or not," says Peter B. Hirtle, who monitors intellectual-property issues for Cornell's libraries. "Copyright is supposed to advance the sciences and arts, and this is copyright becoming an impediment to the sciences and arts."

Restrictions on using orphan works, often imposed by risk-averse lawyers at colleges and museums, affect scholarly work in ways large and small.

Right on to that! Finally, G Zombie has it on good authority (see last comment in thread) that an essay in support of blogging will be appearing in the Chronicle soon.

"The personal," disrupted

I think I just had, to use Sam's term, a duh-piphany. Let me explain. Michelle's comments here in response to the recent pair of articles claiming that blogging will hurt one's career ("the mere act of opening up could cost you a job") made me think all of a sudden about what Mike has been saying about personal writing, and I finally put my finger on something. I'm sure it's blindingly obvious to the rest of you, but here's my new understanding: Due in part to blogging and other kinds of quickly, easily, and widely disseminative self-publication that the internet makes possible, as well as a complex confluence of factors in the social and political milieu (shifting notions of public/private, to offer one example), and the market (imaginary rather than material capital, middle class' living paycheck to paycheck, carrying debt, depending more on the market's caprice*) the context and meaning of personal writing have changed. "The personal" is becoming a site of struggle. To put it another way, "opening up" is set in opposition to "corporate values,"** and I'll admit that "the demonization of the personal" is a strong phrase, but judging from the articles in the Chronicle (and the subsequent forum discussion) and The New York Times, the personal is obviously seen by a lot of people as being to a considerable extent verboten.

So "the personal," in composition theory, can be conceptualized in terms of rights, as something at stake to which students have a right, a right that they should exercise. In the current context, I think one could make a persuasive case for this.

Viewed in this manner, any personal writing, regardless of subject matter, is political precisely because of its status as "the personal," which is in a very dramatic political and economic sense being called into question.

* Not to say that living hand-to-mouth is anything new. I'm probably way off on this point. I'm thinking of stories like Prof. B.'s, just to provide a reference.

** Edited to clarify: not just "corporate values," but one's status or potential status as a producer, one's means to make a living, as well as the right to express publicly an identity other than "worker."

Interview for _Uses of Blogs_

I was recently interviewed for the forthcoming collection Uses of Blogs. They probably won't be able to use everything I wrote, so I thought I'd post the whole thing here as a kind of appendix.

Genre

1)What kind of blogging do you do? Do you feel your blogging falls into a particular genre of weblog?

Well, I blog under my real name, and I don't write much about my personal life; I try to stick to my research and, to a lesser extent, politics. I'm acutely aware of discretion and the invisible line between public and private, and I rarely blog about friends and family. My family members are very private people, and they'd like me to be as well. I know they read my weblog, so before posting, I imagine what their reactions to my words might be. There are also the guidelines “don't say anything that you wouldn't publish on the front page of the newspaper under your real name” and “don't say anything you wouldn't say in front of your grandmother.” If my weblog falls into a genre, I'm guessing it would be a knowledge-log, or klog. I've seen people put links to my site under the heading “Klogs,” so at least some others see my weblog that way too.

2)How do you see blogging genres evolving in the future? Will there be a point when we'll speak of these genres as distinct forms of publishing in their own right – ie a scenario where 'blogging' is no more meaningful a term than 'publishing'?

I think that even now “blogging” is only slightly more meaningful a term than “publishing.” With blogging, the special meaning is that what you're doing is self-publishing without an editor or other gatekeeper. When I first started studying weblogs in 2002, I quickly realized that making claims or generalizations about weblogs was like trying to say that X is true of all books: Maybe you can make a claim about all books, but it wouldn't be a very meaningful one. Jim Oliver, a colleague of mine, has said that a weblog is not a genre; it's a technology. [NB: He may not think this anymore.] I don't know if I agree that generic conventions are all that separate from specific writing technologies, but many genre theorists – including Carolyn Miller, Amy Devitt, Carol Berkenkotter, and Thomas Huckin – have argued that specific social contexts allow communicative genres to emerge and that emergent genres almost always have some kind of antecedent. For example, you'll often hear people compare weblogs to political pamphlets or broadsides, or to personal diaries. Carolyn Miller and Dawn Shepherd (2004) point to the “democratization of celebrity” and its accompanying genres, including talk shows and reality television, as part of the larger cultural and generic foundation for blogging's emergence.

In the future, with the rise of podcasting, vlogging, large collaborative audio projects like [murmur], the joining together of interactive online art and graffiti (Grafedia.net), and who knows what else in the pipeline, there are going to be plenty of other ways to publish besides keeping a text-based weblog. The term “citizen media” is inclusive enough to encompass all of these technologies while still retaining the self-publishing, unedited by larger organizations aspect of this phenomenon.

Democracy

3) How do you conceptualise the blogosphere - is it a network, are there clusters, hotspots? How is it organised?

I haven't done a lot of research using network theory, though I am learning more about it, but based on my experience, I would say there are hotspots where the same people comment regularly, communities form, and readers get to know each other. Bitch Ph.D. and Crooked Timber are good examples of hotspots in the greater academic blogging community, and Chez Miscarriage is one place where a lot of women who blog about infertility come together. I find other bloggers in my referrers, on other people's weblogs when they link out to others' posts, on other people's blogrolls, and in other people's comment threads.

4)How 'democratic' is the blogosphere? What do you think about the idea of 'A-list' bloggers?

I attended a panel recently in which Dan Gillmor, author of We the Media, pointed out that there are far more readers in “the long tail” of the power law distribution than there are readers who read the Technorati Top 10, so it's not as though if you're not on “the A-list,” whatever that means (the “higher beings” and “mortal humans” in The Truth Laid Bear's Ecosystem?), no one will read your weblog, or that if you start a weblog, it will be all that much harder to garner an audience than it was four or five years ago. If one thinks of “democratic” in this sense as having equal opportunity to speak and be heard, I believe the blogosphere can be democratic, at least to an extent, if the blogger reaches out and joins a conversation, writes herself into the network (Walker, 2003) by linking to other weblogs, commenting at other weblogs, and making use of trackback.

However, I would argue that the bloggers who get the most traffic are in a privileged position. They amplify the voices of the writers to whom they link and expose their writing to a much larger audience. I am not trying to say that popular bloggers have any particular responsibility to link to, for example, feminist women or people of color, but I believe it's in the interest of a democratic blogosphere to seek out and bring in minority positions and issues.

I also don't think one can talk about the blogosphere without talking about its uptake in mainstream media and its representations in popular culture. In the United States, I find this to be a problem. The bloggers who get the most positive attention from major news organizations as well as opportunities to publish in other venues tend to be white men. Political, filter-style weblogs are masculinized, personal, diary-style weblogs are feminized, and the two types are overly bifurcated. Personal weblogs about parenting [Actually, blogs about personal life, whether the writers are parents or not] are represented as narcissistic and confessional, and blogging has also been portrayed as activity associated with stereotypical teenaged girls (silly, overly dramatic, self-centered). Herring, Kouper, Scheidt, & Wright (2004) found that while a majority of bloggers write personal, journal-style weblogs rather than more impersonal, filter-style weblogs, filter-style weblogs are overrepresented and taken more seriously in mainstream American culture. Insofar as “online” and “offline” life are lived by the same people and can't be separated, I would argue that the discussion about the blogosphere as well as the discussion taking place within the blogosphere contribute to its perceived measure of democracy.

Information

5)How do you evaluate the quality of information on blogs? How much danger is there of misleading information spreading through blogs?

Credibility is very important online. It must be earned, either through “real-world” credentials such as an advanced degree or other evidence of expertise on a topic or through an established pattern of writing with fairness and accuracy. If a blogger publishes something he or she knows to be inaccurate, or is proven later to be inaccurate, it can take a long time to live that down. Writers who take blogging seriously do not want to lose their credibility or their audience, and they tend to correct publicly any errors they make. Most people I know who keep weblogs consciously or unconsciously follow Rebecca Blood's set of weblog ethics. At the same time, though, some bloggers write fiction, or intentionally embellished impressions of real life, and do not want to be held to an ethical standard grounded in journalism (Delacour, 2003). Bloggers feel varying levels of accountability to their readers, so the responsibility of verifying information often falls on the readers. As with any information, print or online, it is best to question facts and interpretations and read critically.

6)Is blogging changing the way we write?

One of my colleagues, Charles Lowe, claims that he can see blogging's influence on Lawrence Lessig's writing style in his most recent book, Free Culture. For my part, I think blogging has helped me to see what kind of writing people respond to best. My writing style has always been fairly clear, but through blogging, I've learned that even in scholarly essays that have set conventions, readers appreciate some creativity and imagination in the form of narrative. I think that has carried over into my other writing. Also, through writing for such a public and vocal audience, I am much more careful about what I say: careful to define my terms and qualify my claims.

What we still need are some longitudinal studies assessing student writing before and during blogging. Composition scholars are studying the influence of blogging on student writing, but the studies that I know of so far have only assessed student writing over the course of one semester, toward the beginning of which students started blogging, so getting a comprehensive baseline assessment of students' writing was difficult. I hope a group of composition scholars will do a longitudinal study on blogging's influence on writing using on a large group of students who are new to blogging, starting with a holistic portfolio assessment of each student's writing and ending with another portfolio. Even then, it will be hard to identify criteria to track and to pinpoint which improvements are directly related to blogging and which are more attributable to students' overall intellectual development. Several teachers would have to evaluate the writing, and students would have to be interviewed at various stages in the study to get a sense of where blogging fits in.

Technology

7)How do you make your blog? Do you use RSS, and if so, how? Do you use Trackback, and if so, how? Do you use metablogs such as Daypop or Technorati, and if so, how?

My weblog runs on Drupal, which features a built-in news aggregator. I use aggregation for the same reason most people do: It makes it easy to keep up with a lot of weblogs and other frequently-updated sites. I use trackback too, but not every time I link to someone. I try to imagine a reader perusing a post on another weblog a couple of years from now. If I consider my participation in the conversation to be significant enough to be co-archived on my site as well as someone else's, I'll send a trackback. In recent months, spammers have been abusing trackback, but I have no plans to get rid of it on my own site; I think it's a great way to join posts together.

I search for my blog on Technorati, too; sometimes I don't catch weblogs that link to me in my referrers. Technorati is a good tool for finding out a little more about your audience. The tagging in Technorati is valuable as well, but when I browse folksonomies, I tend to go to del.icio.us or de.lirio.us.

Personal

8)Who is your audience?

My longtime, regular audience consists of academics in my discipline, rhetoric and composition, feminist women, and friends and family, but I can see from my referrers that a lot of other readers find my weblog in Google searches. When posting, I try to anticipate what search terms in my post might lead to my weblog. This exercise in anticipating search terms, taken with my trying to imagine how readers will react to what I write, helps me fine-tune what I say and use terms carefully. If someone finds my weblog in a Google search for a specific term, I don't want him or her to come to my weblog and find misinformation or sloppy thinking.

9) Why do you blog?

I've always been a pretty open, extroverted person, and my weblog is just an extension of that quality. I blog because it's a good way not only to get my ideas and scholarship into circulation and get feedback on them, but because it's a good way to make new friends.

10) What impact has blogging had on the rest of your life? Has it been dangerous/detrimental to expose your life to complete strangers in this way?

Blogging has had a significant impact on my career, for the better. Because of my weblog, reporters have interviewed me, I've been invited to give lectures and review manuscripts for scholarly journals, and I was even offered a scholarship to the Internet Law Program, sponsored by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Harvard Law School. A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education warned graduate students that blogging almost certainly will hurt their careers. I hope that won't be the case with me. I rarely mention coworkers, family, or friends when I blog, and when I do, it's innocuous and complimentary, so I haven't gotten in trouble for anything I've written. I enjoy reading other people's personal writing, but I don't do too much of it myself. It's emotionally risky, even if you do it anonymously; readers can make remarks in comments that hurt regardless of whether or not your real name is connected with the writing.

Article in Pittsburg Post-Gazette about parent blogging

In today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, there's a good article about mom and dad blogging. It's the most thoughtful treatment of the topic I've seen in a mainstream news publication, partly because Cooper Munroe, the author of the article, is a mom and a blogger herself. I'd post some quotations, but I'm having a hard time deciding what to clip from it; just read the whole thing.

Bloggers need not apply, redux

Nice follow-up to the Tribble article -- The New York Times' "Career Couch" features Write All About It (at Your Own Risk). Bloggers just can't get a break (emphasis mine):

Q. You've embraced the daily catharsis of blogging, but given the recent spate of blog-sparked workplace controversies, you're worried that posts about work may jeopardize your job. How can you pontificate about your career in a manner that doesn't end with an unemployment check?

A. The safest way to approach blogging about work may be not to do it at all, said Nancy Flynn, executive director of the ePolicy Institute, a training and consulting firm in Columbus, Ohio.

"Blogging is such a subjective form of expression," Ms. Flynn said. "What you think is a silly little comment could get broadcast into cyberspace, hurt the wrong person's feelings and put you at risk of reprimand or something worse."

[. . .]

Q. What about seemingly harmless musings?

A. Posts about everyday issues like cubicle cohabitation or communal office refrigerators should not cause much trouble. Sometimes, however, it does not matter what you write - the mere act of opening up could cost you a job.

[. . .]

Q. What about blogging anonymously?

A. If your employer can prove that you wrote critical posts, it may be able to dismiss you.

[. . .]

Q. What if you don't use your blog to discuss work?

A. Keeping work issues off your personal blog does not mean that your employer won't hold the blog against you. "It doesn't matter if you blog about skydiving or pornography," said Daniel M. Klein, a partner at the Atlanta law firm Buckley & Klein. "If your employer feels the blog makes you a poor representative of their corporate values, the executives have the freedom to disassociate themselves from you."

Laws prevent employers from acting against employees on the basis of race, ethnicity, sex, age, religion or disability - and, in some places, sexual orientation. Many workers have few other protections, employment lawyers said.

I don't know what to say; I can only sputter something containing the words "free speech, technically, I guess." Unbelievable.

Redesign time

A new design was long overdue. This one's from Too Good to Be True, Sweet Valley High #11. The dark-haired vixen in the picture is Suzanne Devlin, Elizabeth and Jessica's cousin from New York. The two families arrange it so that Suzanne comes to spend a week with the Wakefields, and Jessica goes to New York to stay with the Devlins. Long story short, Suzanne wreaks havoc on Sweet Valley, attempting to seduce beloved teacher Mr. Collins and claiming he sexually assaulted her (*cringe*), and Jessica, who has been left on her own by the jet-setting Devlins, is in over her head with those fast big-city boys. I attached the original cover to this post, so click the title if you want to download it.

I don't know how long I'll keep this one up, but I needed a change.

UPDATE: This one's for...well...let's just say someone begged me to make this my banner image.

Bonk. Bonk. Bonk.

Yeah. That's the sound of my head banging against the wall of my office as I take short breaks from reading this thread at The Chronicle. Plenty of people, it seems, agree with Ivan Tribble. In case you don't feel like reading through the whole thing, common arguments in the thread include "there's a difference between having a private life and putting it out there in public" and "the hiring process is confidential, we don't take minutes at these meetings, and this person is going to be here 30+ years, so we should be able to use our discretion and maybe, yes, pass on candidates who blog." There was also this comment:

My experience is limited, but while I do have well-rounded colleagues who publish, the only colleagues I have had who were sufficiently into another field to devote the kind of time a blog requires (or attended Star Trek conventions, or was into sailing at a substantial level) have done this sort of thing at the expense of scholarly output. In at least 2 cases I know of people who did just the research needed to get tenure, and afterwards the hobby took precedence over the scholarship. Obviously this is what tenure means in a contemporary context, but if a department is trying to elevate its profile, the committee may look for signs that a candidate may have SUBSTANTIAL competing interests.

There's that assumption again -- a common one -- that blogging and scholarship are mutually exclusive. I certainly don't intend to single this poster out, only to say that I've heard this argument plenty of times, and I'm concerned about it. Of course I think academics should be able to write to a reasonable extent about their (our) personal lives without fear, but obviously many professors on hiring committees don't know a lot about research blogging, and I don't think we've done enough to communicate these other uses of weblogs. Academic bloggers who use our weblogs as research tools really need to get the word out that knowledge management is an increasingly common use of weblogs, and that using weblogs as research tools not only often opens up doors for scholars but also can reflect very well upon the universities where they work. I hope another professor on a hiring committee writes a rebuttal titled something like "Rollin' Out the Red Carpet for Bloggers" or "Bloggers We Wuuuuv You."

Privacy, blogging, ethics, and oh yeah, that Chronicle article

I recently ran across Bloggers' Expectations of Privacy and Accountability: An Initial Survey, published in the April 2005 issue of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. One theme that jumps out at me is the researchers' findings about how blogging affects bloggers' careers; I found it especially pertinent in light of the now-infamous Chronicle article (my emphasis):

When asked to explain the kinds of problems they had encountered because of materials published on their blogs, respondents described the following situations:

A message that I posted insulted a co-worker at a non-profit where I work. The non-profit suspended me from my work for three months.
- a male blogger from New York

I got 7 extra weekend duties for criticizing an army officer, even though I didn't name him, but merely alluded to him on my blog. - a male blogger from Singapore

A TV station that I worked for […] found my writings about people at the station, from a personal standpoint and said that I had spoken to some in a (subjectively) non-flattering light. After seeing these public entries in my blog, I was fired.
- a male blogger from North Carolina

These stories echo those found on newspapers and magazines about bloggers who have lost their jobs because of materials they published on their sites (Bray, 2004; Phillips, 2003; Sarnataro, 2003; St. John, 2003). Clearly, the notion of what defines "socially acceptable behavior" on blogs has yet to be collectively defined.

[. . .]

Bloggers write not only about themselves but often also about other people with whom they interact. When asked whether they sought other people's permission to blog about them, 66% of respondents almost never asked permission, and only 3% said they always asked permission first. Interestingly, only 9% of the survey respondents said they never blogged about people they knew personally. Thus the great majority of respondents write about people they know but most of them never ask their permission to do so. Furthermore, no correlation was found between how private the content of an entry is and whether authors ask permission to write about the people they know. In other words, respondents who tend to write about more private situations or experiences do not ask permission from their friends or acquaintances any more frequently than those who do not write personal entries.

[. . .]

Will companies read candidates' blogs before making hiring decisions, similar to what happened with Usenet newsgroups in the past? One of the respondents in the survey alluded to this kind of situation:

Early on in my job hunt, I applied for a low-paying job and then agonized [on my blog] over whether to take it. The next day, I noticed several hits to my journal from that employer, and they never called me back. I have no way of knowing for certain, but I suspect my blog post may have cost me that job.
- a female blogger from Massachusetts

[. . .]

Despite the emerging privacy strategies described in this study, authors reported having difficulty negotiating privacy boundaries under certain circumstances. The workplace is one setting where such problematic situations regularly occur. Bloggers' privacy boundaries in the workplace have yet not been clearly established, either socially or legally. As the quotations in the previous sections illustrate, this is one area of conflict that greatly affects bloggers, at times resulting in authors being fired from their jobs. It is likely that, while disagreement over what constitutes acceptable blogging material persists, bloggers will continue to be reprimanded and employers will continue to be frustrated by their employees' blogging activities.

[. . .]

One recommendation that emerges from the findings of this study is that companies should share the responsibility of articulating what constitutes acceptable blogging behavior and what they see as problematic practices. Some companies have already started to enunciate blogging guidelines for employees. A few companies have posted written policies concerning personal blogs on their Web sites, including clear, point-by-point suggestions addressing issues that are sensitive to the company but that may not occur to employee bloggers when they choose to discuss matters related to the company's technology or business.8 Such policies could serve as the first step in a broader process of negotiation between employers and employees as blogging practices continue to evolve.

Now I'd like to point toward some of the considerations in the AoIR Ethics Report:

One broad consideration: the greater the acknowledged publicity of the venue, the less obligation there may be to protect individual privacy, confidentiality, right to informed consent, etc. (p. 5)

[. . .]

A broad consideration: the greater the vulnerability of the author / subject - the greater the obligation of the researcher to protect the author / subject.(p. 5)

[. . .]

Alternatively: Are participants in this environment best understood as “subjects” (in the senses common in human subjects research in medicine and the social sciences) – or as authors whose texts/artifacts are intended as public?

If participants are best understood as subjects in the first sense (e.g., as they participate in small chatrooms, MUDs or MOOs intended to provide reasonably secure domains for private exchanges), then greater obligations to protect autonomy, privacy, confidentiality, etc., are likely to follow.

If, by contrast, subjects may be understood as authors intending for their work to be public (e.g., e-mail postings to large listserves and USENET groups; public webpages such as homepages, Web logs, etc.; chat exchanges in publicly accessible chatrooms, etc.) – then fewer obligations to protect autonomy, privacy, confidentiality, etc., will likely follow. (p. 7)

That's it for now.

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