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Journalist Discovers Blogging, Laughs

[The part of Marc Fisher will be played today by John Kelly.]

Laughing. Chuckling. Giggling. And, yes, guffawing.

These are some of the things I hear when I turn on my radio in the morning. For some reason, they remind me of blogging.

I've been blogging for all of two days now, three if you count today. And I do, for it is respected journalistic practice to pronounce a trend after accruing only three examples. (See three women in culottes? It's a trend.) So today I'd like to share my inchoate blogging impressions.

But first, that radio laughter. The standard morning radio team today has a couple of guys and a girl sidekick, or a single guy and a girl sidekick, or a main guy and lots of little sidekicks. What they all have in common--whether it's an oldies station or a country station or a modern rock station--is that they are perpetually laughing like hyenas. They make "Click and Clack," the constant chortlers from "Car Talk," seem as sober as a pair of Methodist preachers. And what are these morning crews talking and laughing about? About what was on TV the previous day: "American Idol," "The Apprentice," President Bush's news conference.

These radio teams--Stevens and Medley, Mike and Christine, Kelly and Charla--have become surrogate friends. They represent what we all want to be part of: a tight little circle of buddies who know each other well, crack each other up, and laff, laff, laff. There's nothing wrong with this. (Many newspaper columnists try to do the same thing.) People need connections, even if it's with disembodied voices coming from a speaker.

Which brings me to blogging. Since I do a newspaper column practically every day, I've considered blogging sort of superfluous. I have enough trouble coming up with one kernel of an interesting idea every day, let alone several. But I see the appeal of the blog. Part of it is the removal of the safety net. When I push this little button on my screen that says "Publish," my thoughts are instantly out there, available to anyone (except, possibly, the Chinese). That also speaks to the suddenness, the instantness, of a blog. I don't have to wait for the printing press to heat up.

But what I'm interested in today is the interactivity of the blog, the ability for readers to just as instantly comment on a blogger's comments, and also how a blog is like that morning radio team: How does it serve as a surrogate for the kinds of social interactions that were once common in America?

Robert Putnam is a Harvard professor and the author of "Bowling Alone," a book that examined the decline of "social capital" in America. Social capital is the way in which we are civically engaged--the clubs we join, the neighbors we visit, the water cooler conversations we have. Putnam has measured how this has been in decline-- We don't join bowling leagues--and how this is not good for the country's civic health. When I took a seminar with him in 1999 there was much discussion of how the Internet would fit into things. Were the relationships forged online as "valuable" as those formed face to face? I think the answer is probably "yes and no."

But that's enough from me. Tell me what you think. How do use blogs? What value do you derive from them? What is their relationship with the newspapers that you read? (You do read newspapers, don't you?) Are blogs just laughter from the radio or are they something more valuable? Because I'm interested in this notion of "reverse publishing" (that is, taking what appears online and sticking it in the newspaper), I wonder if you would also e-mail me your comments:

I'm sure there's more I'd like to say, but one thing I have learned about blogs: You never have enough time to write them.

By John Kelly |  March 22, 2006; 7:55 AM ET
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Please email us to report offensive comments.


I got in this morning and saw that you had no comments on your most recent post, which I found ironic and a bit sad. So, let me start off the virtual water cooler conversation by saying "hi"

Posted by: Father of 0 | March 22, 2006 8:58 AM

I read blogs but I sometimes feel a little pitiful for doing it... I sit here in my office alone and read about people's lives half-way across the country who I have never even met! I think a real, live conversation with a human being would be much more fulfilling... however, being a computer programmer does not facilitate developing these kinds of relationships!

Posted by: Jennifer | March 22, 2006 9:37 AM

Don't feel bad, John. Sometimes Marc's posts don't evoke any comments either.

But seriously, responding to your post requires a little thought---at least for me. So I'll have to respond a little later in the day, after my brain cells heat up.

You are a good blogger. The warmth and humor in your voice come through; those are important qualities for this medium, which is a step or two more intimate than the newspaper.

Posted by: THS | March 22, 2006 9:40 AM

I think blogging creates communication, It forces the reader to listen to someone they might not listen to on the street. As a young black man working in the corporate world, I feel like people hear me but they don't listen. When I blog it all people can see is my name, and they have to read my comment in order to give a response. So in a way it helps me get my point across w/o being judged by my color.

Posted by: John | March 22, 2006 9:51 AM

I think it is great to get more views "out there"-- if blogging leads the writer (or the reader) do go one step further and start doing broader research about what is happening in their communities or the world at large-- that is another positive aspect. If it is just a way to "vent and connect" then-- well-- that is not journalism-- but I think it is more valuable than listening to 3 strangers "laffing" on the radio... it is more personal. More cathartic.

But I also think there is a place for professional journalists and the standards that should imply-- I think having a "journalist blog" is sort of a hybrid blog-- will they just throw their training out the window and publish whatever comes to mind? I don't see you doing that... one nice aspect of the blog is of course the instantaneous nature of publishing, and in some situations, that is critical.

If they say that journalism is the first crack at writing history-- maybe blogging is the "freewriting-- rough draft-- citizen's reports on history" ???

Posted by: kb | March 22, 2006 10:23 AM

My friends and I (all actual adults just living far from each other) use them as ways to keep up with each other's lives/in touch with each other and to have the kinds of conversations we might have were we all sitting in the same place, which, to me seems almost like a type of social capital which could never have existed before.

In terms of journalism, it's great that it gets a conversation going between reader and journalist, but the anonymity of the Internet probably makes it very easy to express the most extreme reactions. To me, it unfortunately seems like it's led to a lot of hostility between journalist and reader.

Posted by: jj | March 22, 2006 10:39 AM

Thanks for getting the conversation going. It's already interesting. I hadn't thought of the effect of blogging on the BLOGGER, only on the BLOGGED. And I'm heartened to see that you guys are savvy consumers of information. I guess I wouldn't expect anything else.

That my posting was a bit scattershot this morning I attribute to one other aspect of blogs: the omnipresent deadline. At least in newspapers you have one firm deadline a day. A blog has no deadline, or rather, it has a constant deadline. As I was rushing around this morning--taking out the trash, taking my daughter to school--I knew I only had a finite amount of time to sit at the keyboard before my first appointment of the day. But that's the beauty of the Web, right? One person's unformed and nonsensical is another's fresh and raw.

Posted by: John Kelly | March 22, 2006 11:05 AM

I found that a couple of my high school friends had LiveJournal blogs, so I created an account, and found many more friends whom I hadn't seen in many years. I'm back in touch with a lot of people now because of it. I just had another old friend find me last night, months after creating my account.

I started out using my blog to rant about things that irked me, almost like a diary; I expected others to read it, but I really wrote it for myself. Now I often post the things my 4-year old says that crack us up, or what I am up to in my daily life, since that is in turn what I like to hear about from my friends.

No offense, John, but I'm kind of ambivalent about journalist's blogs; I usually enjoy frequent columns and the Live Online chats quite a bit, and the blogs fall somewhere in between those two in tone, content, and level of interaction. Because of that I also enjoy the blogs, but with the presence of the other two formats, I'm not sure I'd miss the blogs terribly at this point if they disappeared. Not that I want them to, but I don't necessarily check them every day, only when I see a "headline" on the home page for a blog post that interests me.

I suppose if it allows you to contribute more frequent, shorter "columns" upon which we can comment and read other comments, it's kind of a good thing, but I still don't feel that invested in them keep posting good ones until we're hooked! :D

Posted by: The Cosmic Avenger | March 22, 2006 11:09 AM

I have also just recently "discovered" blogs. A few years ago I read one or two non-journalist blog posts and thought "who cares?" and didn't look at blogs again until recently. Now I have to confess, I'm rather hooked on reading them. As far as non-journalistic blogs go, my reaction to most blogs still is largely "who cares?". Most blogs are poorly written, boring and terribly narcisstic (What I did today, what I said today, what I ate today, what I thought today, what I think about me today, what others think about me, etc.). There are a few incredibly interesting blogs out there though-- I recently became fascinated reading the blogs of young people in Iran. Such a window onto the world. Every now and then a real gem springs up. I supposed this justifies having to wade through the mostly junk-filled blogosphere.

I'm also ambivalent about journalistic blogs. I think even the best writers are often well served by having an editor. While hearing a journalist/author's inner monologue has a certain vouyeristic appeal, I often think to myself that it would be much more interesting and satisfying as a reader if the writer in question would take the thought expressed in the blog and spend time developing it and polishing it in a way that most non-professional writers can't. Otherwise it seems more like intelligent cocktail party chatter without the cocktails. As a reader, I think I'd rather read a thoughtful analysis of, say, real child-care statistics, trends, and alternatives than what the author did when her son had a fever and whether folks think she was right or wrong to drop the kid off at day care (yes I am talking about the "On Balance" blog from today).

I'm both fascinated and repelled by the "anything I think/say/do is potentially important enough to be shared with the world" ethos that informs both journalistic and personal blogging, as well as the voyeuristic tendency that fuels blog reading. Even as I type this comment, I am driven partially by my desire to have my opinion heard, recognized, commented upon-- is this human nature and a normal part of person-to-person communication or is it the much lamented "me" orientation of my exhibitionist generation coming through? I also agree with the previous post that allowing readers to talk back really changes the dynamic: many blog comment boards are downright rude and nasty. I don't know what I think about it all-- I tend to think the more honesty and communication the better, the more voices the better, but is this real communication and what tangible social benefit does it provide? I do know the blogosphere has a strangely addictive allure, and despite my persistent feeling that there is something fluffy and illegitemate about blogging, blogs have already demonstrated their tremendous power to inform (consider journalistic blogs that have broken big stories) and enlighten (as I was by reading the blogs of 20-somethings in Tehran). I suppose like any other medium, it can be as awful or sublime as we choose to make it.

Posted by: New Blog Reader | March 22, 2006 12:33 PM

Mostly I just respond to other peoples blogs to tell them how stupid I think they are. I find criticism of others much more therapeutic than self-criticism. I tried self-loathing but it didn't work as well for me as loathing others. I broke all the mirrors in my house, and then I broke all the windows on my neighbor's house. My only friends are the chat hosts. Of course, none of them have ever met me, other than John Kelly, but he stopped posting my questions because the water pressure in my house was better than his. Check out his new blog at It totally soaks!

peace to all my brothers and sisters,

Posted by: jim preston | March 22, 2006 12:46 PM

I also have a blog for keeping up with friends - the assumption about blogs so often seems to be that they're about pontificating and whatnot. But I avoid opinions about events of the day, because I'm a reporter and I'm carefully avoiding the appearance of bias. So mostly I write about, like, how I drooled buckets during a nap and transferred the dye on a blue decorative pillow to my hand. Because I'm sure *that* wouldn't hurt my professional reputation at *all*.

Posted by: h3 | March 22, 2006 2:02 PM

I think Jim Preston speaks for many of us when he writes "I just respond to other people's blogs to tell them how stupid they are." His is probably the first post this week that isn't stupid (except for John Kelly's which have a nice innocent, deer-in-the-headlights naivete about them), so I probably shouldn't be responding to it. After all, if you can't say something offensive, why say anything at all?

I wonder if the medium could be more for humor, less for loathing?

Posted by: Blog Watcher | March 22, 2006 2:17 PM

Ya know, it was neat to read your comments about interactivity because my husband and I were just talking about the Post's LACK of interactivity a little bit ago. There's a new blog and we think it doesn't meet the standards of excellence that we see elsewhere in the Post. We'd like to tell someone, and have all readers see it. So the only option I could find to do that is a letter to the editor to the PAPER. There is no place where I can send an e-mail that subscribers AND editors will read and editors will respond. Well, I guess I could wait for a chat with whomever's running the dot-com Post world, but that may be a while. I knnow they had one the other day, but I was too late... sigh. If the Post wants to be interactive, it needs a place where people can write in, on anay topic, and get answered and also get read by everybody. That's what I think.

Posted by: Sharon in Foggy Bottom | March 22, 2006 3:01 PM

Love your columns John and I agree that you've made the leap to blogging quite nicely. I do appreciate the opportunity for more of a dialogue with the WPost columnists.

I don't usually read journalist's blogs, but I do read blogs related to my profession (librarian). It's a great way to keep up with developments and compare notes with colleagues. It's not a replacement for face to face networking but it does expand my world exponetially.

Posted by: CMC | March 22, 2006 3:54 PM

I discovered blogs as a knitter. I've had a website for about 10 years, but found that there's a very large, very social needlework community. I know that may sound nerdy to some of you, however--it works. People have 'met' friends via blogging and then become friends in real life. It's actually a lot of fun, and has caused me to start my own blog, to share and keep up, in addition to the website I already had. It's great, because people can share experiences and inspire one another--whether or not they ever meet or correspond.

I think it's partly a way to have a website without slogging through html--I have no issue with writing it but I know others do.

And, it's a way to share--rather than sending out status emails of touristy stuff I did on my last business trip, I posted photos and directed family and friends to the blog. Much more 'real-time' than the website interface.

Posted by: MB | March 22, 2006 4:21 PM

You've reminded me again what a smart readership we have at The Post. And I'm not just sucking up to you. You've given me a lot to think about. Thanks.

Posted by: John Kelly | March 22, 2006 5:21 PM

I work for the government, so I don't have time to blog.

PS: This post will self-destruct in five seconds.

Posted by: Worker Bee | March 23, 2006 2:19 PM

A group of friends and I all got blogs on LiveJournal a year after we graduated from college as a way to keep up with each other. It works remarkably well. And, we can respond to each other after a considerable separation in time as if the other person had just said it. It becomes a real conversation (one person's current blog post has generated over 20 comments so far).

Posted by: ES | March 23, 2006 5:10 PM

As an introvert, I really love blogs, online journals, and the like. There are many people with whom I'd have fallen out of touch long ago if not for the Internet. I can post my thoughts or rants in my own journal and know that my friends will read them when they feel like it, so it's not intrusive like the telephone. No, I don't consider online-only relationships as close as the ones I have in person, but many of my in-person friends have blogs, so it's just an added dimension to those relationships.

I do enjoy journalists' blogs, too, because they're not edited or screened, and because of their interactive nature. I've emailed you and other journalists in response to columns before, but I always feel a little weird doing it because newspaper columns are really a form of one-way communication, from you to us. By their very nature blogs invite responses from readers. I've also noticed that some journalists are a lot more free-form and interesting in blogs than in their regular columns where they have to conform to space and content restrictions.

Posted by: Tina | March 23, 2006 5:37 PM

Of course, now I'm wondering...has this experience made you want to get a permanent blog of your own once your colleague gets back from wherever he is?

Posted by: Tina | March 23, 2006 5:44 PM

funny ringtones

Posted by: | September 3, 2006 4:27 AM

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