Intro to New Media Studies, Spring 2008

Final Paper

May 6th, 2008 by · No Comments

A Blog, A Blorg, A Bloog: The Anatomy of A School Blog

I’ve been running and reading blogs for the past several years. Starting in 2001 I ran a comedy writing blog and I’ve run it in various different iterations to the present day. I’ve had quite a few personal blogs which I’ve gone through various phases of interest with. In 2001, blogs weren’t highly considered. Teenagers had their livejournals and xangas, and tech geeks had their high falutin blogs discussing tech geek stuff, but they hadn’t made much an impact. Skip to today when the word blog is so ubiquitous we don’t even notice that it sounds silly. At the Mets baseball team website, there’s a link to the MLBlog, all major news organizations have their anchors and newspeople keep blogs. It is my aim to create another blog, a blog designed to be an alternative news outlet for the University of Mary Washington.
Before designing that blog, one must define what a blog is. Though observation of a few varied blogs I think I can find a solid idea of what one is. To look at Dr. Campbell’s blog “Gardner Writes” (http://www.gardnercampbell.net) it (generally) is a regularly updated website running off the WordPress blog software. The content on it is personal in nature to the effect that it is all material that is interesting to Dr. Campbell. A lot of the posts begin at a personal experience and then broaden to a greater point that he wants to make. “Gardner Writes” is an example of a personal professional blog. It doesn’t delve into angsty personal information, both because he’s well aware that his students can read it and write papers on it, and because he probably isn’t of a mind to put that on the internet anyway. Instead it projects an online identity that is both personal and professional. Wonkette, (http://www.wonkette.com) is a political website that I’ve read regularly for some time. Wonkette is part of a greater blog network, Gawkermedia. Wonkette, and Gawker blogs in general, are written with tongue firmly in cheek. These blogs are news blogs, make no mistake, but they offer a strong point of view. To look at a post from April 30th, under the heading “Our Flourishing Economy” the post is titled “Americans Selling All Their Possessions On Craigslist”. Snarky, jerky, and mean spirited. Wonkette doesn’t report news; it gets news from other sources and offers its Wonkette opinion on it. A final blog I’m going to observe is The Colonialist (http://www.thecolonialist.com). The Colonialist is a school blog for George Washington University which follows a similar mold to Wonkette. Its cheeky, but not nearly as cheeky as Wonkette is. Most of the news is from other sources, but on occasion it is known to branch off into personal essays, comic strips, and bits of satire. The Colonialist goes out of its way to give the school newspaper “The Hatchet” a hard time.
Looking at all three of these different blogs, it’s easy to find a pattern that arrives from them. They all come from a strong point of view. “Gardner Writes” comes clearly from Dr. Campbell’s perspective, as a personal blog. “Wonkette” has a point of view that all politics is nonsense and all politicians are fools. “The Colonialist” has the point of view that the administration of the school is failing to provide any actual perspective. Every one of these blogs comes from a place where it addresses the reader in more of a personal light. It isn’t like a formal newspaper article which tries to do its best to seem neutral, but each of these blogs laces every post with a strong personal bent which is what makes the blog worth reading. As McLuhan says “The twentieth century has worked to free itself from the conditions of passivity…” (Mcluhan, 202) He’s speaking of a world where there’s an interaction between the writers and the readers. Blogs provide that through the strong point of view. A newspaper is detached from us, where a blog reaches out of the computer screen and addresses you as someone in the writer’s personal little club.
Mary Washington has had an alt-news blog in the past. Its name was Middlesell (formerly at http://www.middlesell.com now empty). Middlesell went through a variety of faces, it was first a political blog absent of content relevant to UMW, then it started to add UMW content, until it became a rival portal to UMW’s own portal. At Middlesell’s height it had more users than the UMW portal did. In February it closed up shop, due to no user submissions, low traffic, and general disuse. Where did Middlesell go wrong? Certainly there was a sense to it that the webmaster of the site didn’t care much about maintaining it anymore, and that’s true. Beyond that, though, there were a few other reasons. In the final days of Middlesell, the content on the site was entirely user submitted. This might work for websites like Digg.com and Slashdot.org but not for a niche school news website. Not only did this slow down the rate of submissions but it also lead the point of view to be diluted. Looking at an August 2006 version of Middlesell on the Wayback Machine shows a series of articles across three columns written by what appears to be a writing staff. This writing had a point of view of a happy go lucky college information website with articles like “The Art of Textbook Bargain Hunting Made Simple” and “Tender, Juicy Pieces of Advice for Fresh Freshmen”. I would also argue that Middlesell’s kitchen sink approach didn’t do it too well either. In this writing staff era Middlesell, there’s no forum, no user submissions, and the portal replacement is relegated to a few links. The later Middlesell which ran more autonomously had a forum, user submissions, and tried to directly compete with the portal. Middlesell sold out its personality to try to be something much larger, and in doing so it lost the audience that had come to look to it. The conclusion I draw from this is that people aren’t willing to go to blogs to get information they can get elsewhere for the same consequence. You could get everything that was on Middlesell in both iterations elsewhere, but the older version had a draw to picking up this information here over a staid news source. If you remove a personality, you remove any reason for people to look at your material.
Next semester I plan on opening “The Devil Goat”. I won’t be running it, as I am graduating and won’t be able to be very relevant for it. However, I am setting the parameters for it and will preside over it for a short time to see it through in how I believe a school alt-news blog should work based off the conclusions drawn from all the blogs above. First, I believe that it should be updated regularly, which I think is a no brainer. No one is going to a blog that doesn’t look like its updated regularly, and anecdotally, I don’t believe most people use RSS readers. Most tech nerds I know do, but the standard college student doesn’t. This isn’t based off of cold statistical facts, so this could be wrong, but you’re as likely to find someone in this college who can define Web 2.0 as you are to find someone using an RSS reader (not bloody likely). Second, the website has to have a clear point of view, which should make sense because I’ve been pushing that idea this whole paper. The point of view will be similar to The Colonialist’s, one that is wry and satirical. It won’t make targets of students, but it will wryly make fun of targets that deserve it (dumb things the administration does). Third, the website will be hosted on WordPress.com. I prefer clean basic layouts, I think the less that a reader has to go through to get the information they seek, the better. No Flash, no javascript, no heavy images, nothing like that at all. The site’s design will be basic; the content on it will be the draw. Too often do websites try to fool the readers into believing there’s a wealth of content when its just obfuscating it through flashy design. Fourth, a main staple of the updates will be regular updates on the events on campus. Certainly, there is a weekly email, but this will be regular, it will have the wry comments (not mean) and it will be sandwiched between other material that the readers should find interesting.
The Devil Goat will not expect many visitors to it from the start. Or even a semester through. It is to be expected that the audience for it will not find it right away. People tend to be suspicious of blogs. There needs to be a long backlog of posts to prove that the staff can prove their mettle and it has to offer that personality that the readers need to connect to. We’ll promote through facebook, and through the improv shows, but word of mouth will be the blog’s best friend. Next semester the school’s next great alt-news source will appear following all of these ideas. Based off of my observations of other blogs, after a while it should find resounding success and become part of the fabric of this campus.

Original post by crowtrobot

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