Thanks to the Guardian Newsblog, I've discovered Baghdad Girl, an English-language blog by a 13-year-old named Raghda Zaid. It's utterly charming (she's an accomplished cat-blogger) but also alarming. We are still accustomed to the distance that print and even TV give to events overseas; we get sound bites from the people affected by war or disaster, but not much more.
A blog like Raghda's brings us right into such people's lives. With a few words and some photos of her cats, she takes us past the talking-head reporters and the now-standard images of exploded cars. The war is happening to real people, including 13-year-olds.
Thanks to Danish journalist Hans Henrik H. de Lichtenberg for tipping me off to Newspaperindex, a database of online newspapers around the world. Whether you're a Web journalist or just a news junkie, you should find this a very useful resource.
It's not your typical expatriate blog, and it's not laid out for optimum online reading: long, long paragraphs interspersed with occasional photos. But Metroblogging Bangkok: Phuket Disaster Relief: Day 2 will give you a powerful sense of what a post-disaster cleanup really involves.
I can't imagine a mainstream media story coming close to this kind of coverage. But be warned that the material is extremely graphic.
Dan Baum has a fascinating article in The New Yorker about the US Army's painful but promising transition from a top-down, one-way "instrumentalist" communication model to a two-way interactive online communication model. Soldiers on the ground in Iraq are now using websites to share their experience and lessons learned with colleagues still in training.
Educators are still slow in understanding the significance of the interactive "constructivist" model as an inherent trait of computer-based communications. While I consider the US Army the greatest single educational institution in history, it's clearly just as hidebound as most of us civilians. But Baum argues that Gen-X officers and men are more imaginative, and less respectful of hierarchy, than their Boomer superiors. They also take the Internet for granted, so the interactive, "horizontal" constructivist model is something they've grown up with.
Whatever your views of the war (and mine are highly negative), this is an important glimpse into the way the Web is changing us.
Lloyd Lemons asks: "Why do we capitalize Weblog, or is it Web log; Website, or is it Web site? How about blog, or Blog?"
This is one of those vexing questions, and I'm not sure I know what my own views are. In the 1990s it was easy. "World Wide Web" is a proper noun, and "the Web" was clearly an acceptable short version. So it seemed logical (as if English usage were ever logical) to capitalize "Website," "Webwriter," "Webtext," "Webmaster," and so on.
Unlike German, something in the English language doesn't like too many capital letters. (Don't get me going about my students who say they've always been good in "english.") So people began to write "website," "webwriter," "webtext," and "webmaster," and they look perfectly OK that way. We can refer to the Web itself with a capital letter, but words derived from it do fine in lower case.
The current issue of Columbia Journalism Review has a long, thought-provoking essay by Evan Cornog called Let's Blame the Readers. His focus is on newspapers and their ever-shrinking readership, especially among young people.
But it's not because hip young folks are swarming to online journalism. Cornog notes that only 11% of young Americans consider the Internet a major source of their news. The reasons are more subtle, and more depressing, than most journalists want to think about. Very much worth reading.
I've published another article in The Tyee. The Big One Here is about the magnitude 9 earthquake that hit British Columbia in 1700. Geologists have learned a lot about it, and therefore about what the next Big One will likely do to us.
I tried to keep my sentences and paragraphs short, and to use subheads to lure readers further into the article. Let me know if you read all the way to the end...and especially if you didn't.
Meg Weaver has a pessimistic take on the magazine industry: more and more copycat magazines, fewer and fewer readers. Is Magazine Readership Hitting a Brick Wall? The numbers suggest they are, and I wonder if Web content is distracting print-media readers. Or are people just reading less?
Whatever the answer, it's worth pondering by those of us who write for the Web.
As a writer and teacher of writing, I always look forward to Lake Superior State University's yearly list of Banished Words. And somehow I wasn't surprised to find "blog" and all its derivations on the 2005 list.
Granted, it's a graceless and cacophonous word, coined by someone too bone-lazy to say "Web log." And now that I think of it, Tim Berners-Lee should have thought twice about naming his creation the "Web." The purpose of a web, after all, is to halt travel and permit killing the traveler. The system we use is supposed to expedite travel and leave the traveler better off for the journey. ("Journey," by the way, is also a banished word!)
At the risk of being banished for another neologism, I suggest we're stuck with blogs because of "crystallization." Typewriter keyboards had many different layouts until QWERTY crystallized them. Computers had many different operating systems until Windows ruined life for all but us fortunate Mac users. So "blog" is now built into the language, just as "Web" is.