Interview transcript

Interview transcript

One thing I’ve learned from Dave Winer is that it’s always a good idea to put one’s own transcript of a media interview on the Web, just to make sure that one isn’t, er, misrepresented by Big Media. Not that the nice chap from Ireland’s Sunday Tribune would do such a thing, of course. Still, here’s the transcript:

Q: How did you come to be doing a blog?

A: I’ve been keeping a private online diary on my personal web-server for years (since about 1996 I think) — mainly because I needed a kind of working notebook where I could put notes on stuff I was reading and thinking about. In particular, I was afraid that I’d ‘lose’ or forget important stuff, so I put a search engine on my private online diary and that turned it into a terrific personal resource. But basically it was like a lab notebook. The one thing my private diary didn’t do very well was organised archiving, so in the end I decided to use Radio Userland to do it for me, and at the same time to make the diary public.

Q: I know many people have been blogging for years, but why do you think that blogs have become so ubiquitous in the past 18-24 months?

A: Two main reasons:

1. Software arrived to make it easy for non-techies —, Moveable Type, Userland Radio.

2. 9/11 in the US generated a huge desire for expression and discussion among Web users. Mainstream media were no good for that. And the old Internet newsgroup system was useless because it was too polluted by porn, spam and flaming. So weblogging grew to fill the gap.

Q: What can blogs do that traditional reporting cannot?

A: Offer views that are not mediated through the normal editorial (and therefore ideological) gatekeepers of ‘official’ journalism. But I think too much is made of the distinction between Blogging and journalism. Most Blogging is commentary, not reporting. In some areas (e.g. technically arcane), Bloggers are real subject experts and I would always prefer their judgment to that of amateurish reporters (no matter how well-intentioned or conscientious).

Q: Blogs reflect a wider diversity of opinions and views than traditional reporting and media products do. They also operate under fewer quality and accuracy checks and balances. What is your view of that balance between a multiplicity of voices and an impression of less reliability?

A: I’m not unduly impressed by traditional media standards, nor should you be. I see no evidence of a concern for accuracy in the Sun, Daily/Sunday mail, daily/Sunday Indo, Fox News, etc. When was the last time you noticed an accuracy check in the Sun? And even BBC reporters (so we find from Hutton) don’t keep shorthand notes, or check stories against second independent sources!) Blogs vary in quality and objectivity. But mostly they are commentary of one kind or another, not reporting, so the quality/reliability issue doesn’t arise.

Q: What, in the blogging world, has most impressed you in the last 6 months?

A: The most impressive development is the widespread use of RSS feeds to enable Blogs to link up, and the evolution of software like NetNewsWire which enables Blogging to become more than the sum of its parts. I’m also watching closely the way the Berkman Center at Harvard has taken on Blogging as a way of enriching academic and public discourse. And of course there is Governor Dean’s Campaign, which is making inspired use of the Net — and includes Blogging. See Deanspace.

Q: What, if any, blogging tricks is the mainstream adapting and adopting for its own uses?

A: Mainstream media shows no signs yet of understanding what’s going on. In part that’s because Blogging is way outside the big media paradigm.

Q: Many of the very early WWW sites, back in the mid 1990s, were basically online journals, detailing a person’s life or interests or hobbies. Is there a fundamental difference separating blogs from these early sites?

A: Yes. Those early ‘weblogs’ were really just collections of links to ‘cool new stuff’ appearing on the burgeoning infant Web. Contemporary Blogs are more personalised, less technical and often just introspective.

Q: Why is blogging so important? What role does it now play in the wider social context?

A: It creates a space for public discussion which had been closed up by the dominance and control of Big Media. It re-enables what Jurgen Habermas called the ‘public sphere’. Healthy democracies need such spaces.

Q: What is a bad blog?

A: What’s a bad diary?

Q: What is the Irish blogging scene like? Is it having any real effect on Irish public/political life?

A: Don’t know — the person to ask is Irish Times journalist Karlin Lillington, who has a lovely Blog called techno/culture

Q: Why do you blog?

A: To express ideas that matter to me, and to let a few friends know what I’m thinking about.

Q: Is doing a blog not just a modern form of ego-fuelled vanity publishing?

A: That’s Big Media’s prejudiced view. Partly reflects a contempt for ‘ordinary’ people (i.e. “what could Joe Public possibly have to say about anything?”) and cynicism (“why would anybody write for nothing?”) Misses the point entirely.