Thursday, March 23, 2006

When Bloggers Meet Normal People

Most of the bloggers I read have two favorite subjects: A) [favorite subject] and B) Blogging. I’m no exception. This medium fascinates me, in no small part because I’m watching it grow and change in real time.

So last Wednesday should have been a candidate for Best Day Ever as a blogger. I was invited to participate on a panel about blogging along with George Nemeth, Ben McConnell and David Giffels from the ABJ. Al Bartholet from WKSU – who also blogs at Folk Alley, moderated.

Unfortunately I was in the early stages of what turned out to be a pretty spectacular flu. I had every intention of taking down a Q and A to post, but in my fevered state simply spaced and stopped writing early in the session. I then went home and crashed for five hours and spent pretty much the next week on my ass.

Still, it was a good time. My memories are a bit hazy and I verged into incoherence a couple of times, but it was worth the pain.

So with the caveat that I was out of it at the time, a few impressions of the day.

The big surprise was the null set of blog knowledge in the room. Leadership Akron is a sampling of the movers, shakers and up-and-comers in the area, but the basic show-of-hands questions at the beginning – “do you read blogs,” “do you know what a blog is?” –drew almost no responses. I’ve long thought bloggers get tunnel-visioned about the ubiquity of blogs, like a frog in a pond assuming the whole world is wet. But I still thought that people were at least sufficiently dialed-in to know what the medium is.

So challenge number one was to bring people from zero to blog-savvy in sixty minutes. We probably spent fifteen minutes on “what is a blog?” Which, given a population of 30 million and counting isn’t an easy question to answer.

The other challenge was balancing between Ben’s business-centered blogging and the more netroots approach of George and me. Answers to the basic questions varied depending on who Bartholet directed the question to.

Ben McConnell’s approach to business blogging can be better read on his Church of the Customer than summarized here.

As for the netroots angle, two things stand out. First is the unexpected blog-friendliness of the Beacon Journal. David Giffels reads the Pages, as does Editorial Page Editor Michael Douglas. At one point Giffels discussed his relationship with Joe at RubberBuzz. If you’ve never been, Joe’s usual blog post consists of a summary of an item he finds interesting in the paper, a pull quote, a link and maybe a quick opinion. Giffels wrote to him at one point early on urging him to be harder on Beacon Journal.

This attitude contrasts with that apparently evinced by the PD’s Doug Clifton earlier in the day. Michael Douglas used a Clifton statement earlier in the day to frame a question – Clifton apparently said that bloggers will never replace the mainstream media and that bloggers are more dangerous because they don’t have the standards journalists do.

I agree that blogs won’t replace the mainstream media, it would be foolish to say otherwise – so foolish in fact that it smacks of strawman argument to bother making the point. What bothers me is the dismissiveness of the comment. So I’m left with the irony that people running my hometown paper like and value blogs, but won’t give us a link, but while the big paper to the north is run by people who view the whole enterprise with suspicion or worse, but have me on three different blogrolls.

As for standards for bloggers, it’s a fair point, one that requires at least a full post to unpack.

So how did all this go over? I got the comments today. They ran from positive – “We didn’t know about all this; how cool” – to not so much – “We didn’t know about all this and were really confused.” No one knows what the future holds for the blog, but one thing is for sure – the potential market is no where close to saturated.


redhorse said...

I find these Leadership workshops fascinating. I still don't know what I feel about them generally, but it seems they take people who may end up being nonprofit board members (read: corporate and individual donors) and teach them about what's needed in a city. But from who's perspective?