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Talks

October 10, 2005

Full text of University of Montana Pollner Lecture 2005

Download PollnerLecture2005.pdf

Link: Pollner Lecture 2005.

Pollner Lecture 2005

Big Media & Little Bloggers:  How Corporate Media Responded to Warblogging Journalists

Dr. Christine Boese

Presented for the T. Anthony Pollner public lecture series, Oct. 10, 2005, at the University Center Theater at the University of Montana, Missoula, through the School of Journalism.

[Note: this is a rough text of the actual talk given, so there may be some
differences in how the material was presented at the time from how it
appears here. cb]

It is an honor to be speaking with you today, and I especially want to thank the Pollner family for the opportunity to be here studying and learning with the students in the Journalism School this semester. I've been hungry for these kinds of conversations, and I hope from this talk tonight, we can also spin off into some discussion topics from the larger questions I raise.

Tonight I'm going to tell my odd story of what it was like to cover the Iraq War with my feet planted in two different worlds: one, the intense 24-hour news cycle of CNN Headline News, and the other, the "always-on," often pajama-clad emerging communication spaces of the Blogosphere.

I'll also discuss my experiences at the same time in trying to build and launch an INTRA-net blog for the Headline News newsroom, behind the company firewall.

I want to use these experiences as a jumping-off point for thinking about the tensions that have arisen between large media entities and these seemingly small and insignificant bloggers. In several classes recently I've referred to this relationship as one of David and the giant Goliath, and the real question is: What does David have in his slingshot that is making the giant sit up and take notice? Because big media is taking notice, from my employer, CNN, if you've seen the recent Hurricane Katrina coverage, to the New York Times and Washington Post, both of which are forging key links with bloggers.

Another question I will use these issues to look at has to do with boundaries and digital rights, rights of free speech, and rights for the ownership of free speech.

But more than just looking at a little piece of software, we are looking at a larger social movement, millions of weblogs forming something called the "Blogosphere," an online virtual landscape peopled with some real characters, carved up into a number of well-worn paths to popular nodes and clusters of nodes, shaping itself into a social and political force affecting the face-to-face world in ways not everyone is aware of.

Gillmor Slide

Dan Gillmor--a journalist formerly at the San Jose Mercury News and now working on a blog-based "citizen journalism project" for San Francisco that's similar to Jonathan Weber's "New West" venture-- chronicles the rise of this grassroots journalism movement within the Blogosphere. One of his favorite things to say in his book "We the Media" -- I'm teaching from it this semester-- is that news should be a conversation, not a lecture.

Some of us would argue that news hasn't always been so lecture-like, but that the media has grown distant from its audiences as mergers and faraway corporate management increased.

Gillmor says this understanding hit him with the revelation that his readers knew more about his subject than he did, and that his reporting was better when he actively sought out their feedback, tips, and insights.

In a newsroom focused on its broadcast content, the words that came out of the anchors' mouths, it seemed to me that more people SAW my words over and over, repeating all day, than heard the broadcast scripts as they vanished out into the ethers.

I kept one eye on viewer email at all times, because viewers would catch my typos or fact errors right away, usually within an hour, while few of my colleagues even noticed. In fast-moving situations, in breaking news mode when everything was going crazy, viewers became my copyeditors.

Some would suggest that a moment of choice has been reached for traditional media, to join the ongoing conversation about news events, to re-enter the reborn public square now located in cyberspace, or to continue to ignore it as just a passing fad.

But journalists should be aware of how the narrative of media actions is being interpreted. Here is one version, told in fable form, which was recently published in a New York Observer profile piece on the founder of a profitable blog-hosting group:

Gawker Slide

This is the story of blogs: Once upon a time, there was the Mainstream Media. The Mainstream Media lived in a tall, impregnable castle, where it paid people to write and paid other people to edit the writing. It printed the results on paper and tossed it down from the balconies, ordering the public to buy and read it.

Then a bunch of people— unpaid, many of them dressed in sleepwear— discovered that they could publish their own writing on the Internet, for free or close to it. Armed with their opinions and raw strength in numbers, they laid siege to the castle: amateur against professional, democracy against autocracy, new against old. The Mainstream Media retreated to an upstairs bedroom and barred the door, as the masses streamed into the throne room, waving Dan Rather's head on a pike.

It's a silly fable, but that is the way many on the outside see journalists-- more aligned with the established powers that be than with ordinary people, like a courtier-class encircling a feudal aristocracy of impossible-to-imagine wealth.

And to carry the analogy of the Middle Ages further, a new class is arising, just as medieval guilds once did, filling a gap, a need to jazz up the moribund or non-existent conversation of the public square, to create a space for civic participation and real debate, not simply pre-digested summaries and side-by-side talking heads spouting opposing talking points.

Indeed, many bloggers are in open rebellion against "Mainstream Media," as they call it, even as they often depend on the products of Mainstream Media to fuel their investigations and debates, a relationship Gillmor points out is actually more symbiotic than oppositional.

Even so, some of the blog-based critique of Mainstream Media may be getting through. Just last week, Jeff Jarvis, Jay Rosen, Terry Heaton, and the TV Newser blog were all buzzing about the comments of CBS News president Andrew Heyward at an industry gathering at the Museum of Television and Radio, where he criticized the "notion of objectivity in mainstream media," AND the "illusion of omniscience," suggesting that the lack of a point of view in traditional journalistic style makes it feel unreal and inauthentic.

My background had already planted me firmly in both worlds as preparations began for the Iraq War and CNN's intensive Iraq coverage. For my Ph.D. study I did a cyberspace ethnography in the 1990s. With the collapse of the dot.coms, I found myself back in journalism, my first career, landing at CNN just one month before 9/11.

SLIDE CNN 911

After 9/11, the Headline News newsroom just seemed to vibrate at a higher key, something I'm sure many of you remember as well. In the time since, I know many of us have gotten a bit numb, and perhaps it is hard to remember certain aspects of that time. Perhaps we've even blocked some parts of it. I want to take you back to that time for a bit here tonight.

I guess for me, the part that's hardest to remember, the thing that shook me up the worst, was the uncertainty that colored everything after 9/11.

For instance, the start of the war in Afghanistan seems like a small thing in light of everything than has come after it, but when I remember that day, sitting on the ticker... well, I was going to the bathroom every half hour. We'd heard a rumor four hours before the bombing started over Kabul that it was going to be the day, the official beginning of hostilities. But the uncertainty had little to do with the war itself. At that time in our newsroom, we didn't know if bin Laden had another terrorist attack prepared, waiting for the beginning of open warfare as a "trigger signal." What we didn't know was what, if anything, would happen after the bombing started. Uncertainty.

That day, I'd called my parents, everyone I knew, and told them to stay home, because anything could happen.

Every shoutdown over the internal PA system of a breaking or updating story would make your stomach muscles tighten. That plane crash in Queens set most of our nerves off again.

The anthrax story in DC was especially hard on me because when I went to bed at the end of my shift that day, I was just exhausted after pumping that three hour raw feed of the press conference directly on the air in headlines, our only live content in breaking news, because weekend material was all taped--

My friend at the New York Times who held my hand through a lot of those days used to call what I did "mainlining raw news."

After the end of my shift I went home and threw up because of that uncertainty. I was going to sleep, but I didn't know what I would wake up to. When I did wake up, two people were dead, but I knew in a different universe I could have woken up to stories of death distributed across the US in mailboxes. I'd heard enough in those press conferences that never made it on the air to know how close we came. I heard and saw the fear in their voices and eyes.

So I had friends in New York, DC, and other places, and after 9/11 we stayed close to each other on Instant Messenger most days, holding each other's hands just as we'd done all day on 9/11.

I had my newsroom-verified sources, but that wasn't enough. I needed to know I had my own links to eyes and ears on the ground in key places. I also manage a private international discussion mailing list. I know where each member lives and activate our network all the time. At that point in my life, it was just important to have my own global sources.

So as colleagues were stopping down in the newsroom after their military chemical weapons training in preparation to be embedded with US troops during the invasion of Iraq, I felt helpless, confined.

My problem was that I didn't know whether the military would allow honest reporting, or even if it would restrict sat phone access from within units. I had no confidence that I could get good information out of Iraq. Maybe I'm the odd duck, but events since 9/11 had raised a new skepticism with me, and most of the time I doubted what the so-called official sources were telling us.

Ticker Slide

You could say one reason I'm drawn to be at CNN--- my mother would say it's the reason I went into journalism in the first place-- is that I have a compulsive need to know everything that's going on, all the time.

Working the ticker was a dream job for me. My only real editorial guidance was to read everything in the world and pick out and write as many headlines as I could-- 100 to 150 a day for my afternoon-early evening shift. But it wasn't enough to have that front row seat inside CNN, the raw video feeds of breaking news, electronic access to all the wire services. I was also devouring the blogs, picking up on stories before they made the wires, before they were approved for our air. I couldn't use them, but at least I had the information.

Bloggers were getting ready for the war too-- and sounding off on their intended mission to cut through the misinformation and Pentagon spin in the Mainstream Media and tell the "real story."

But I couldn't help noticing that most of the self-proclaimed warbloggers were armchair quarterbacks, safe in the States. For all the talk about blogging being journalism, I wanted to read bloggers IN IRAQ. I wanted eyes and ears on the ground, more sources.

Kevin Sites Slide

By this time CNN had forced video photojournalist and blogger Kevin Sites to stop posting to his popular blog for the duration of the war. But I wanted someone who wasn't embedded, who could be independent.

[Kevin Sites Sidebar Slides]

Carolina Blog Slide

Anyway, back to 2003. That's when I met two freelancers online who were heading to Erbil, Kurdistan in northern Iraq to cover the war, coming right off a 2-year stint in Bosnia. I was also trying to launch a Headline News intranet blog to allow coworkers to share tips, lore, and advice among themselves.

Introduced through a mutual friend, I approached Josh Kucera and Carolina Podesta with the offer to build and publish their blogs on my domain, serendipit-e.com. I'd also take care of promotion and publicity from the States.

Luckily they were partners and easy to train long distance. I had colleagues in the newsroom would couldn't figure out the software with me sitting right next to them. Both Carolina and Josh had laptops and satellite phones, as well as freelance contracts, Josh with TIME magazine, Carolina with an Argentine news service. While training the journalists to use the software from a war zone, we discussed contingency plans, but decided against outfitting the site for mobile blogging or "mo-blogging" from cell phones. If their laptop access went down, they told me they had access to the Internet at various cyber cafés.

OJO, Carolina's blog, is entirely in Spanish, with a Google machine translation link. Because I don't speak Spanish, we were dependent on her understanding my English, but I became friends with both of them and remain so to this day. Carolina's blog got featured on Argentinean TV early in the war, so her site was easily pulling 1,000 hits a day during the war. A close-knit community grew up around its comments boards, and in 2004 a conference was held in Argentina just about her blog. It has since been published as a book there. As far as I know, it was the ONLY Spanish language warblog by a journalist based in Iraq, something I am immensely proud of. As the war went on, we also started getting hits from Central American and Mexican domain names, readers who found the site through Google or other leads.

Josh First Slide

Josh had an exclusive freelance contract with TIME magazine, so he had to get permission to keep a blog. The editors said it was OK so long as it was noncommercial and he didn't post anything that would be publishable in TIME. That wasn't really a limitation because blogs are different stylistically from traditional journalism. They are more personal, more like letters home, narrative-based slice of life updates, as you can see here.

It's that personal style rooted in a particular point of view that draws so many to blogs. Just as with the more recent hurricane or tsunami blogs, some readers want eyewitness narratives from people who are there.

My reasons for offering to build blogs for Josh and Carolina were personal as much as anything. I wanted to know I had a source on the ground in Iraq that was independent of U.S. military control. I wanted to build their sites because I wanted to read their blogs.

Most of you know that the same company that owns CNN, Time Warner, owns TIME magazine. My supervisors at CNN Headline News knew I built and kept blogs, but given my on-air anonymity and relative unimportance to the news gathering process within our organization, my extracurricular activities weren't seen as a conflict to the performance of my duties as a ticker-writer. I largely refrained from commenting about my employer on any of my personal blogs out of ethical considerations.

MacDonald's Slide

So Josh wrote about what folks talked about in cafes, about porn movie houses still open in Erbil after the war started, about having to fight with TVnetworks trying to kick them out of their hotel rooms. To give you a flavor of the posts from that time, here's Josh's post from March 17, 2003.

War Panic Slide

War Begins 

The Other Side 

March 17, 2003


War Panic in Erbil

Today is the first official day of war panic in Erbil. Yesterday everything looked much like it has since I got here. Today many shops are closed, there are fewer cars in the street and people tell me their neighbors are fleeing the city for towns further towards the Iranian border. My translator's family all left for their hometown of Koy Sanjak, which is closer to the Iraqi lines but which they feel is less of a target. Shop owners are emptying their stores, putting their stuff in more secure locations in case there are looting during the war.

Most people are afraid of chemical weapons. As you know, this area was attacked hundreds of times by chemical weapons during the Anfal campaign of the 1980s. The most notorious incident, in Halabja, was 15 years ago this weekend. Over 7,000 people died in that one attack. Now people here are afraid that it will happen again. But people aren't preparing much. Very few people have gas masks – other than the foreigners, of course. There is a military market here in Erbil, and I went a couple of weeks ago to stock up. I bought four German-made masks (for me, Carolina, our driver and translator) for $150, a little out of the range of ordinary Iraqis. The dealer told me the only locals who bought the masks were the richest ones. "The poor people want to die," he said. "The rich people want to live 200 years." One political party today was giving out leaflets on how to make a homemade gas mask. You take flour, coal and salt, wrap it in a cloth and hold it over your mouth. . . .

Posted by Josh at 05:46 PM |Comments (2) |TrackBack (0)

Salam Pax, Raed, Riverbend etc Slides to Juan Cole

Other Iraq warbloggers were starting to get publicity in the mainstream media leading up to the battle of Baghdad as the stories of the Baghdad Blogger, Salam Pax, and the Back to Iraq blog sites put the issue on the national news agenda.

Josh's Slide

Josh's blog was well written and visual, as he uploaded his own snapshots. I'd gotten it featured on most of the other "armchair warblogs" in the States.

Then it got written up by Hiawatha Bray in The Boston Globe (Bray 2003), The Boston Globe article appeared to mock TIME, suggesting that the writing and topics on Josh's site were more personal, immediate and compelling than what TIME was publishing from him.

The day after that article came out, March 25, 2003, TIME demanded Josh stop posting to his blog, just as CNN's Kevin Sites had also been forbidden to post to his blog as it started gaining popular acclaim prior to the war.

Many may remember the flurry of blog stories on the eve of the "Battle of Baghdad" in 2003. Salam Pax had stopped posting at Dear Raed and many blogs echoed the fear that something had happened to him (he later re-emerged, safe). Kevin Sites and Joshua Kucera had been asked to suspend posting.

Agonist Slide

Sean Paul Kelly at Agonist.org was accused of plagiarism. The end of Josh's active posting was disappointing to me. Josh's style of first-person observation about the price of gas or the porn movie houses ruined me for the rehashing and linking styles of many of the US-based warblogs.

I still wanted my independent source on the ground, so I offered to host the site behind a firewall, so he could keep posting for a small group of family and friends. Josh felt even that would get him in trouble with TIME, so he didn't want to risk it.

Meanwhile, Josh's readers were in an uproar over what happened. Traffic on Josh's site shot through the roof as its closing was written up prominently in The Wall Street Journal, on the MSNBC site, and in a depth analysis article in The Chicago Tribune.

Rudi Slide

So while I was putting in six-day weeks, 10-hour days as part of our intensive Iraq war coverage, I was also caught up in the ongoing drama that saw mainstream media's war coverage challenged by this upstart blog phenomenon.

The challenge was to try to make meaning from conflicts between the two different universes of discourse, one severely restricted by mass media assumptions about the patriotic attitudes of US audiences, and the other, in the Blogosphere, situated much more firmly in the discourse of international media coverage, which differed significantly from U.S. war coverage in its skepticism toward the dominant U.S. point of view.

Discuss slide

Knowledge Workers and Information Management

But let's step back and be philosophical for a moment, to look at blogs and what happened here in terms of this dance between corporate entities and what gets published on blogs.

Some media companies see knowledge and employee management as asset management for the Information Age. That's what journalists have become,"knowledge workers." We're people who arrange and push around bits of information.

Blogs could be a tool to help corporate media "manage" its "intellectual assets" in an information-based economy, the way I was trying to do in building that intranet blog for my coworkers.

My goal had been to try to increase information sharing within the company, particularly in our newsroom. Josh was also providing me information to do myjob as a knowledge worker, but from outside our newsroom.

It has been said that companies are increasingly concerned that the greatest assets of the firm are walking out the door every night at the end of their shifts, the assets that live in the knowledge workers' heads.

If understood as formal publishing ventures, there is a model for thinking of blogs, the kind of model that would put TIME magazine in the right for protecting its own publishing venture from a rival or competing publishingventure by shutting down Josh's blog. But are these formal publishing ventures?

Blogs COULD BE the wolf in sheep's clothing in the dance because they help create different kinds of artifacts based on those information assets. While many say blogs don't have the heavy-duty authority and credibility of edited and vetted media content, they do add voices to a media mix, creating a form of contingent knowledge, rather than capital-T truth.What effect does contingency have on the idea that there even IS a capital-T truth in the first place?

I could tell you how contingent truth became on the headline ticker through the Jessica Lynch story in Iraq as it unfolded in breaking news. I have headlines I saved from that time that I must label as "False" because they came out in the first hour of that story.

They were appropriately sourced, and true as I knew at the time, confirmed rom multiple sources--all of which turned out to be wrong. I had Jessica with multiple stab and gunshot wounds. I had a very different narrative of events connected with her rescue than what actually took place.

Contingent knowledge spread out through both intranet blogs and more public, journalistic or topical extracurricular blogs of journalists, experts, or other writers create a kind of knowledge commodity that exists outside conventional economic systems of value, a knowledge commodity that acknowledges its contingency and limited point of view up front.

In that sense, blogs are more honest and perhaps more "true" than I was on the ticker.

Slide HLN

La perruque, or the Wig

Some companies take possessiveness of worker intellectual products a step further and claim all items on a worker's hard drive should the employee leave the company.

Marshall McLuhan's theories show that a hard drive, like a book, is an extension of a worker's mind. How much of a worker's intellectual activity can a company reasonably claim to own? If telecommuting, can the company lay claim to all writing one does at home?

In the case of personal blogs of journalists, we see Time Warner saw the need to stop the non-professional publishing activities of Kevin Sites and Joshua Kucera, implying that a different economy or value system is superseding money in this information marketplace.

But those are the kinds of instances savvy lawyers might think to cover in a standard non-compete clause. What if Josh were writing letters home to his family, writing many of the same kinds of things that did appear in his blog? Could he keep that password-protected blog, a private and personal intranet, ostensibly for his family and friends (and a few hundred others) to access?

Is it the intellectual content of Josh's brain that Time Warner coveted, or the fact that the blog allowed him to reach an audience that hurt the future viability of one of the largest media chains in the world?

Or was it his use first person point of view, standard for blogs, in such a marked contrast to the depersonalized style of TIME reporting?

De Certeau Slide

The French theorist Michel de Certeau writes of a diversionary workplace tactic called "la perruque," or "the wig", an analogy from the factory shoproom floor. This thing called "the wig" is something of a ruse, a way to be creative with factory scraps, making things for one's personal use. Here's what de Certeau has to say about it.

[The wig is]…the worker's own work [is] disguised as work for his [sic] employer. It differs from pilfering in that nothing of material value is stolen. It differs from absenteeism in that the worker is officially on the job. …The worker who indulges in la perruque actually diverts time (not goods, since he uses only scraps) from the factory for work that is free, creative, and precisely not directed toward profit. ...he cunningly takes pleasure in finding a way to create gratuitous products whose sole purpose is to signify his own capabilities through his work and to confirm his solidarity with other workers or his family. (1984, pp. 24-26)

Doesn't that sound just like what bloggers are doing, minus the Industrial factory setting?

In other words, "the wig" is a form of poaching from the workplace by only appropriating products that are to some extent invisible and unvalued or undervalued in the workplace.

In an information marketplace peopled by knowledge workers, the "scraps" that the worker diverts come from the firings of her own mind, just as Josh's blog consisted of the "leftovers" he perceived TIME did not want to publish. Josh told me at the time that it seemed to him TIME was not so much concerned with getting a first shot at his best observations as much as it didn't want anyone else to be able to see his cast-offs.

At issue are boundaries, partitions information workers would seemingly have to erect inside their own brains between work for their employer and work for themselves.

Perhaps a reporter might say, "TIME magazine is renting my eyeballs right now. No one else is allowed to use them for the moment…" New boundaries are coming up for negotiation.

There was something I blogged a few months ago. I need to follow up on the story to make sure it hasn't changed in the time since, but the initial announcement was that the Red Cross was claiming copyright ownership of ANY writing done by ANY of its volunteers while working on a Red Cross site. That would include the poem written during lunch hour, the letters home to your mom that you were going to turn into an epistolary novel, and so on. It sounds simply outrageous, which is why I have to follow up on it. It seems too silly to be able to stand.

As blogs enter the mainstream from the margins, they are bringing along this ruse of "the wig," with interactive participants who may be experiencing the goals of a more democratized technoculture and media. Journalists consume and produce news. Now it turns out citizen journalists consume and produce news. All these lines are blurring.

Many people claim that blogs are leveling the media playing field, and that that is why the big Goliath's are rightfully wary of the little Davids with their slingshots.

Blog Distinction Slide

By design, blogs are oriented toward active dialogues, news as a conversation between co-participants, rather than a passive audience. Traditional journalists repeatedly cite their credibility as a point of honor, something to take pride in, and they should, but what if that credibility and sense of authority is inadvertently casting our audiences into the role of perpetual children waiting to be told what to think and believe by credible authorities?

What if by staking a professional claim in journalistic authority we are actually encouraging audiences to shut down their critical thinking capabilities and be passive consumers? Are we doing our audiences a service by keeping them so childlike?

When speaking at the recent Montana AP Broadcasters Association Meeting in Billings this past weekend, I fielded a comment from an attendee who rightly felt some bitterness for the often-strong criticism traditional journalists could get at the hands of hyper-aware bloggers. Sometimes criticism is unfair, and it often is hard to take, just as it is for artists, playwrights, novelists, musicians, and so on. But for my part, I'm encouraged by a formerly passive audience that's getting uppity, that's talking back, that's critical. To my mind, it means the audience is becoming less childlike, less naive, perhaps less reliant on believing everything the media says as a god-like authority.

And what does a parent do when a child starts to grow up, maybe reaches those awful teen rebellion years, where the criticism is often unfair and hurtful? Does a parent try to push the kid back to age five and say, "Shut up and do what you're told because I'M the authority here"?

I suppose you could try, but it probably won't get you anywhere.

The blogs created by journalists during the Iraq war had the potential to release voices as "humanized" knowledge-makers with a claim on power that can force many media institutions to change with the force of awakened and empowered creativity, and dialogue, even as other institutions react strongly and resist change.

While corresponding with Josh through our several weeks of notoriety before the Battle of Baghdad, he told me something that I came to understand was very important to him. After TIME shut the blog down, Josh was clearly disturbed by the anti-mass media ranting and the level of anger against big media corporations in the comments field of his blog. He strongly resisted becoming a poster child for the independent journalism movement. Josh said he had been trained to focus on the story and not to become the story.

Still, he said, in four years working as a freelancer overseas, he had never gotten as much feedback and interest in his work as he had during the Iraq war through his blog. His writing was being published by one of the largest circulation newsmagazines in the West, yet his blog audience cared about him, worried about him, gave his work constant dialogue and feedback. He was blown away by it.

I know I was affected by it as well, but in a different way. I'd never met Josh or Carolina face to face, but as the war moved closer to Erbil, I found myself worrying about them, involved in their stories, in their blogs. If I didn't hear from them by email regularly, I became very anxious. There was a human face, a level of personal involvement, with war correspondents breaking through the impersonal barrier of the affectation of the journalistic voice.

I also came to understand the very real barriers against posting to our intranet blog, barriers ingrained in the CNN workplace culture and probably many workplace cultures. People in low-end positions striving to move up can be afraid to speak because it can hurt their chances at promotion, despite honest management encouragement.

These are also people who are exhausted, overworked, dragging themselves through stressful television shifts that push them to the limit. After their show gets off the air, they head out the door or to another training session.

To post is to have a voice, and to have confidence in that voice. I encountered people who froze up staring at the "Post to Blog" button on our blog, despite working at terminals every day.

Our in-house blog still has value as a database, a shell to hold training materials, style guides, and official policies. It is more easily searched or cross-referenced than the file on the mainframe that holds these materials. But that’s top-down communication. The grassroots empowerment with our blog never happened.

As an alternative, I tried to interest friends in the newsroom in creating personal blogs, offering to help, still puzzled at the reticence of professional writers in developing an outlet for what they did best. My best guess at why so few took up my offer has to do with the learned impersonal tone of mass media journalism, a tone that erases the author's point of view. These are writers who spend every day at work trying to erase their biases and points of view, to make their writing voice sound like the voice of the anchor of the show they are on. It seemed like once they’d lost their voices it was hard to get them back.

Conclusion (de Certeau slide)

To conclude tonight, I want to return to Michel de Certeau, who also writes about workplace practices that live in the margins as a kind of "textual poaching," writing:

Reading introduces an "art" which is anything but passive. …The procedures of contemporary consumption appear to constitute a subtle art of "renters" who know how to insinuate their countless differences into the dominant text. … Today this text no longer comes from a tradition. It is imposed by the generation of a productivist technocracy. It is no longer a referential book, but a whole society made into a book, into the writings of the anonymous law of production. (1984, p. xxii)

The practices of bloggers seem most clearly described in this quotation. While de Certeau has to look hard to discover how the seemingly passive readers find ways to "poach" on the dominant texts as a form of resistance, blogging during the Iraq war seemed to bring the resistance into the open, as a more open rebellion.

As a practicing journalist, Josh Kucera was not typically someone in such open rebellion, although many warbloggers outside of Iraq were. Josh resisted becoming a "poster child" for the independent media movement. Even so, with his quiet and observant posts from Erbil, Josh was "insinuating countless differences into the dominant text."

Ironically, in my position from inside CNN Headline News, covering the war on the headline ticker at the same time, I was also most clearly implicated and complicit with the "anonymous law of production" de Certeau mentions.

I was part of the dominant text the bloggers were resisting, one of its many authors.

And as for my point of view in this talk, Josh would resist my interpretation of events here as well.

Last Josh Slide

So to close, I'll let Josh have the last word, with the text from his final post on The Other Side.

March 28, 2003

The last word

I know I said I would stop posting to the blog, but I want one last word. Somehow to my more recent visitors I have become a symbol of the independent voice being stamped out by the corporate media. Ironically, I get many more visitors now that I'm shut down because of references all over the net to my "silencing." A journalist never likes to become the story himself, and I feel that I'm being used against my will as an example of the nasty American media monolith. I'm happy to be an American and I'm happy to work for the mass media. And I was happy to have this blog, and I would be happy if a lot of people read it and enjoyed it for what it is rather than as a symbol of something bad. Thanks. Peace.

Final Q&A Slide

October 10, 2005 in Talks | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack