Blogrolling On a River

By: Wayne Robins

On the Line Column

If you need to prove that everything old is new again, look no further than the mainstreaming of Web logs.

Also known as “blogs,” these are Web pages on specific or general subjects, updated frequently with links to related material, the newest on top. Blogs were once the domains of code geeks who wanted to express themselves after a hard day’s morning, noon, and night toiling for the Masters of the Dot-com Universe. Rebecca Blood, herself a mistress of the blog universe and author of The Weblog Handbook: Practical Advice on Creating and Maintaining Your Blog, to be published in June by Perseus, defines a Web log as “a coffeehouse conversation in text, with references as required.”

The best-known newspaper blog is one many of us refer to simply as “Romenesko.” Jim Romenesko’s MediaNews (http://www.poynter.org/medianews) is considered by Blood (http://www.rebeccablood.net) to be the model for a great blog.

“Anybody who does a Web log should study what he does,” Blood said of Romenesko. “He’s a master of getting to the heart of a story in just a few words. He’s very funny, not snarky, but not afraid to be a little bit snide. He’s got a good eye for what’s a good story, and then there’s his pithiness: He tends to put the punch line first, then goes to more detail.” A good blog will do that: Grab you with a hed that tells you almost all you need to know, and that ability is one of Romenesko’s gifts.

Rather than merely reading about themselves on Romenesko’s site, some newspaper sites have been running their own blogs. Dan Gillmor, technology columnist for the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News, has his own blog, eJournal (http://www.dangillmor.com), from which “news and views, culled and edited” appear on a Merc News site (http://www.bayarea.com).

The most interesting development in newspaper blogs is at the Providence (R.I.) Journal‘s pacesetting site (http://www.projo.com), where staffers have started not one but two new blogs. One, Dave McPherson’s, is called Net Runner. The other, Subterranean Homepage News, reflects the rock ‘n’ roll passion of its author, Sheila Lennon. Like many blog authors, Lennon gets hers done by cutting back on her sleep, since her “day job” is producing projo.com’s ample features. Aside from its title (an homage to a Bob Dylan song), Subterranean maintains an ongoing headline for digital music copyright issues. But it’s not only rock ‘n’ roll. “What interests me is that many people go to projo.com to read the Journal online from AOL, and these readers may not have been anywhere on the Net except AOL,” Lennon said. “We hope the links in Dave’s and my Web logs will take them places that will enhance their understanding of what’s being reported beyond the mainstream.”

A good blog is idiosyncratic, with links to indigenous pockets of individuality on an increasingly homogenous Web. And if you’re looking for a business model, don’t. There isn’t any.

Yet the appeal may be priceless. The New York Times‘ “Circuits” section on March 28 ran a story on how “Fun Is Hard to Find” online these days and noted, “Among longtime Web surfers … blogs are often cited as the last bastion of interesting material.” Now that’s a value-added proposition worth blogging about.

It’s a Virtual Blog Jam!

Belo, parent of The Providence (R.I.) Journal‘s projo.com, has had preliminary discussions about offering Providence-originated Web logs as channels to other Belo sites. Want The New York Times‘ version? No problem! Its content will be available to blogs using the Radio UserLand 8.0 content-management system.

Even Google (http://news.google.com) is blogging: It directs users to links on topics such as business, entertainment, and technology. The rub? There’s no human interaction: Headlines are chosen by “a mathematical algorithm,” according to InternetNews.com.

The human touch is essential, in fact, a requirement for a true blog. “Web logs are first about personality,” said Jimmy Guterman, editor and publisher of Media Unspun (http://www.mediaunspun.com), a media-news site that combines original reporting and blogging. They also can function as a way for professional journalists to express themselves without editing: Consider the highly opinionated Andrew Sullivan (http://www.andrewsullivan.com). “You get him totally unfiltered, from his brain to the keyboard,” Guterman noted.

OpinionJournal (http://www.opinionjournal.com), is edited by the crafty James Taranto. Rebecca Blood (see story above) said it is a good blog technically, but too much the online attack dog for The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial page: “There’s no thoughtful consideration of another point of view.” But ain’t that blogging?

On the Run…

Some other blogs onto which we log: “The Spike Report” (http://www.ojr.org/ojr/spike), of the Online Journalism Review, “roams the Web like an uneasy spirit, seeking out items of interest in online magazines and journals.”

Drudgery? Can’t forget Matt (http://www.drudgereport.com) or his Bizarro-world counterpart, the “Drudge Retort” (http://www.drudge.com).

Also, iwantmedia (http://www.iwantmedia.com), Slashdot (http://www.slashdot.com), Boing Boing (http://boingboing.net), and Blogger (http://www.blogger.com), the home of Wayne’s Words (http://waynerobins.blogspot.com), which, of course, is a new kid on the blog.

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