Monday, July 30, 2007

The New Ohio.com, Pt 2: The Blogs

The Web 2.0 version of Ohio.com includes some "community blogs." Among these are two political blogs, one from the right and one from the left. Each blogger has been posting quietly for nearly a week now.

As of now each blog reads almost like a caricature of a blog. The lefty is all anger and out there; the righty brims with smug condescension. On the left we have Blog of Mass Destruction (If I were Matt Hurley I'd sue the bastard) written by The Reverend. On the Right is The Political Guru by a blogger going by the same nom de blog.

According to disclaimers in the "About" section, both blogs are entirely independent:

    This blog is written by a private citizen who has no connection to the Akron Beacon Journal or Ohio.com. In no way does what he writes reflect the opinion and views of the Akron Beacon Journal or Ohio.com. We do not edit or censor these blogs. The views and opinions belong to the author of this blog. We invite you to comment on their postings
At first blush, I was unamused. OK, at first blush I was a little hurt that, despite corresponding with a number of reporters, I didn't get a call. After chilling on that and reacquainting myself with my humble place in the media landscape, I still wasn't impressed with the blogs. So I wrote a somewhat snotty email to a contract address (I asked three times "Where did you get these guys?") The reply is somewhat illuminating:
    This month we took a big step and opened our doors beyond the newsroom to engage our community in voicing their opinions by blogs, reporting and publishing news and photos. We identified the two bloggers you currently see in our forums. We felt that they had intelligent comments and presented two different points of view. Since we were doing away with our forums - we asked them if they would be interested in blogging. Both agreed and this what you see today. They do not get compensated by us - nor do we edit them - we have asked them to "keep it clean" in that there is no profanity or offensive discussions. We set them up on our blogging platform so we can track the traffic to the site.
First, lets consider the news that they are doing away with the forums. Can't say I disagree with the decision. I never travel far into the forums without despairing over the generally harsh and negative tone, and especially the casually racist invective. I am a little surprised to be getting the news in an email as I haven't seen it in the ABJ yet. So if you heard it here first, blow Joe Hallet a kiss for me.

Back to the blogs. As the email says, neither blogger was blogging before the ABJ got in touch. And it shows. Mass Destruction lurches from conspiracy paranoia (Was Pat Tilman Murdered?) to name calling (The GOP: The Party of the Tiny Penis.) Aside from the blogger believing things that I don't, the blog simply isn't persuasive. When I write, my intended audience is people who haven't yet made up their minds. The effect of this blog on undecided readers would be, well mass destruction.

Political Guru is more sober, though not above childish swipes. PG's major problem is that he neither argues nor writes well. OK, he doesn't argue well and writes horribly. Blogs are often rife with typos in posts, what with the limited time and resources and all, but he writes the following in his profile
    I am also very active in today's politics, as being as what you might call middle aged, and having young children, I still follow the belief that one person can make a difference and so can you.
There are at least three sentences in their, desperately searching for periods so that they can escape their road gang shackles.

More bizarre, he writes back-to-back posts that contradict. One upbraids Hillary Clinton for suggesting in the last debate that Barack Obama would meet with unsavory regimes without preconditions and in the next he lauds Romney for attacking Obama with essentially the same charge.

All in all, both blogs are exactly what the blogosphere doesn't need more of: echo chambers full of piss, vinegar and regurgitated national blog material. Normally, I give new bloggers a little breathing space to find their voice. But I really care about blogging as a means of improving political discourse, so a media organ like the Akron Beacon Journal holding these up as examples of what political blogging is disturbs me.

Aside from the obvious suggestions embedded in the critiques (tone it down, think about persuasion, mix in a style manual), I have a couple more as someone who has been doing this a while.
  • Link more. Both blogs cite information without including links. Not only a breach of blog decorum but it ultimately undermines the argument.
  • If you get information from a national blog, say so. I can't stand it when I seen an argument laid out, then click on the link and find out it's not a newspaper, but a blog that laid out much of the argument already.
  • Stop pretending you are the only blogs in the state. Neither blog has independent Ohio blogs on the blogroll. Forget the Pages, no BSB, no RAB, nothing. Political Guru I write it off to inexperience, but lots of people are going to take it as MSM arrogance.
  • Yes, about that MSM thing. You are part of it now, for both good and ill. As the comments rack up, understand that you wear the same gloss as the Beacon. Deal with it.
  • At the same time, you are now part of the long, proud tradition of American journalism which we complain about only because we know it can be better. Conduct yourselves with a level of professionalism and be the mass media you would want to consume.
  • Be transparent about where you are coming from. It's OK for PG to favor Mitt Romney, but say so. And for God sake, since both insist on being anonymous, if you are working, or even volunteering, for a candidate, let the audience know. Assume the truth will out and stay ahead of it if you want to maintain credibility.

5 comments:

redhorse said...

So if you heard it here first, blow Joe Hallet a kiss for me.

That's your 8th or so killer line of the day. Well done.

Matt Hurley said...

I'm more of a "don't get mad, get even" kind of guy... I leave the suing to the experts... :) ...but thanks for the suggestion.

Pho said...

Ooh, if there is going to be "getting even," I'll bring the popcorn.

McKee Stewart said...

Thanks for the summary.

I like the new ABJ page - simpler navigation.

As for the blogs, I haven't read them yet. Continuing to comment without knowledge, I'd say the ABJ is taking a risk by picking folks out of the comment forums rather than trying to enlist some locals with a track record.

It would have been pretty simple for the ABJ to review the work of some of the established locals, and greatly increased their chances of getting a better out the chute product.

Forum commenting is a different medium. It's a one hit response to an established thread. It's not building an independent case.

As for Matt "Payback's a b*tch" Hurley, I'm willing to show up and hold his coat.

Jill said...

Ditto on the Matt H. thing. Flattery and all that aside, they just should not have done it.

Otherwise - the effort sounds tabloid and Rupert Murdoch and, I fear, what the WSJ is going to sound like pretty soon simply because people continue to make that style of presentation something that sells. Escapism, blaming everyone but themselves and arrogance with no knowledge.

Bad, bad, bad.