Corrections or additions?

This article by Angelina Sciolla was prepared for the May 21, 2003

edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

`Blogging’ for Fun & Profit

You’ve heard the word. Perhaps you even know what it

means. If so, then you are one up on Webster’s, since this new

addition

to our 21st century vocabulary hasn’t yet made it onto the pages of

the dictionary. "Blog," according to an editor at the

Merriam-Webster

Company, "is still too young a word to be added, even with the

quick way technologically-oriented words seem to seep into the popular

culture."

It’s not too young a word, however, to have made an impact on

web-savvy

media consumers. Over the last few years, the blog — short for

"Web log" — has made media stars out of formerly obscure

writers and has become an alternative online source of news and

information

for those fatigued and perhaps even soured by the mainstream media.

It has given newspaper reporters second careers as mini-Murdochs who

opine on the news of the day and provide links to every web news

source

in cyberspace.

The most famous blogger to date is Matt Drudge, the fedora-wearing

Woody Woodpecker of media personalities credited with breaking the

Clinton-Lewinsky story. While the rumors of the affair were

circulating

by word of mouth, Drudge was the first to post them to his site, the

Drudge Report ("Putting the yellow back in journalism"). And

although Drudge’s dirt seeped into Jay Leno’s late-night television

monologues before Drudge fully broke the story, once he did the media

giants followed. Since then the Drudge Report has become the source

of both scandal and breaking news. Political operatives in Washington

ignore him at their peril. Drudge’s blogging success has spun a radio

show as well as every armchair pundit’s fantasy — a book deal.

According to the Washington Post, "Matt Drudge is the buzz of

the media-industrial complex."

So what exactly is blogging? At times the blog takes

on the shape of an online opinion column, or a collection of

journalists’

daily reflections and observations. The Wall Street Journal runs a

blog, for example, that is quite highly regarded. A blog may also

be the daily diary by the famous and not-so-famous. RuPaul has a blog.

So does Melanie Griffith, who claims it helps her deal with the scars

of her drug addiction (and possibly those of her plastic surgeries).

There are blogs on cooking, technology, fashion — even SARS.

Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean will soon launch his

campaign blog. To be sure, his competitors will follow suit and

political

mud-slinging will soon turn to a 24-hour cycle of mud-blogging. There

are also countless personal blog sites, many of which are exactly

as dull as their author’s lives. As the New York Times Sunday Styles

section reported on May 18, more than 3 million blogs are now active

in cyberspace.

If you want to find out more about writing for or launching a blog,

you can stop by the Writers Room of Bucks County in Doylestown, on

Wednesday, May 21, when the organization’s writer-in-residence, Brian

O’Connell, leads a workshop he calls "Wag the Blog." The

three-hour

seminar is designed to familiarize you with the basics of blogging,

give information on how to start your own site, how to set yourself

apart from other bloggers, and how to earn money by posting your

opinion

on the web for the world to see.

A former Wall Street bond trader, O’Connell has written 10 books,

including two Book of the Month Club selections. He operates a

freelance

practice working on books, corporate copy, and magazine articles.

His byline has appeared in national publications, including the Wall

Street Journal, Newsweek, Philadelphia Magazine, USA Weekend, and

CBS News Market Watch. O’Connell’s most successful books include

"The

401(k)Millionaire" from Random House (a Book of the Month Club

selection) and "CNBC’s Creating Wealth (John Wiley), a book that

sold well in 2001.

"Blogs are a great way to find your feet and get used to the rigor

and discipline of writing," says O’Connell. "A good blog

should

be like a newspaper column." However, O’Connell notes, there is

a difference between blogging and ranting. "You can’t just spout

off," he warns. "You gotta do it right."

He acknowledges, however, the fine line between the two, a fact that

unnerves some media observers who wonder if journalism itself

imperiled

by this trend.

"In terms of accuracy and background checks, theoretically you

could do a lot of damage with no one there to check your work,"

O’Connell says. "You need a system of checks and balances."

Yet, as manifest in the New York Times recently, these sorts of

newsroom

dilemmas are not limited to blogging and, in some cases, are a small

price to pay for access to information that seems be to increasingly

overlooked by the major media players.

To blog fans, particularly as the FCC’s proposed deregulation of media

ownership threatens to promote the monopolization of news outlets,

blogging is a welcome alternative to the Big Brother approach to news.

The impact of the blog as a news source was most noticeable during

the war on Iraq when some journalists on the front shared their

observations

online, bypassing the embedded news filters and Centcom briefings.

It even launched a mysterious blogging star — Salam Pax —

an Iraqi who blogged each day from besieged Baghdad and literally

had the world guessing his true identity. As O’Connell says,

"blogging

is a great way to bypass the media monopolies."

Blogs are more than mere opinion columns or diary entries, however.

They can become valuable news digests in which bloggers link to a

number of news sources, wire services, and to other blog sites. Those

who are well connected draw from their Rolodex of informants, while

supplementing their content with established news sources.

Bloggers build Internet "highways" that lead

readers from one website to the next, offering a dizzying array of

information. Journalists haunt blog sites too in search of trends

or emerging stories. Others just search for gossip and under-the-radar

tidbits to share around the water cooler.

But, like reality television, is blogging just another toy of the

voyeur? A way to peek into the psychological window of some celebrity?

"I don’t agree with the voyeurism aspect," O’Connell says.

"Maybe for some, but again a good blog gives something back to

the reader, something meaningful." One of his recommended sites

is Andrew Sullivan’s online blog (www.AndrewSullivan.com),

a site focusing on the journalist’s special spheres of interest:

homosexuality,

faith, politics, culture, people, and most recently the war against

Iraq. Launched in 2000, Sullivan calls his blog "The Daily

Dish"

and uses it for new commentary as well as a place to collect the

opinion

pieces he writes for major publications in the U.S. and Europe.

Clearly a blogging advocate, O’Connell sees the trend as yet another

means to exercise one’s constitutional right to free speech. It’s

also a potential revenue stream.

Generating revenue has been as elusive on blog sites as it has been

on the Internet at large. And in terms of making money, blog sites

work the same way other sites work, relying on banner ads, ad hosting,

with the unusual addition of "begging."

After generating $27,000 in 2001 through online "begging"

("Click here to make a donation"), Andrew Sullivan discovered

just a year ago, that a thinking-person’s book club, combined with

a link to Amazon.com, would give him a percentage on book sales that

adds up to real money.

Key to getting started is the Blogging Network, a company which, for

a small fee, will help you set up your blog and turn it into an

enterprise

by combining your opinion with E-commerce. In column one you’re

selling

your point of view; in column two you’ve got the latest deals from

Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble. As Andrew Sullivan observes, it’s so

easy that "within minutes, you can have a website and post to

the universe any stray, brilliant, or sublimely stupid thought that

comes into your mind."

Not every blog makes money, but there’s a chance your blog might

attract

the attention of one of those big media monsters. Newsweek and CNN

picked up satirist Andy Borowitz’s blog. Now he’s the go-to guy for

pop culture musings.

"Blogging is to the news media what independent film was to the

movie industry in the 1990s," O’Connell observes. (Good analogy.

Michael Moore, the Woody Woodpecker of documentary film, just inked

a deal with Disney.)

"What bloggers do is completely new — and cannot be replicated

on any other medium," enthuses Andrew Sullivan. "It’s

genuinely

new. And it harnesses the web’s real genius — its ability to

empower

anyone to do what only a few in the past could genuinely pull off.

In that sense, blogging is the first journalistic model that actually

harnesses rather than merely exploits the true democratic nature of

the web."

And just as yesterday’s indie film world nurtured today’s Hollywood

top guns, the Internet continues to engender nascent media moguls

as new bloggers pop up every day, waiting to be discovered. O’Connell

is full of encouragement for them.

"Writers have their passions," he says. "I believe there’s

a story in all of us."

— Angelina Sciolla

Wag the Blog, The Writer’s Room, 4 West Oakland

Avenue, Doylestown, 215-348-1663. Brian O’Connell leads. Non-members

$20. Wednesday, May 21, 7 p.m.

Blogs: Good, Bad, & Dull

www.AndrewSullivan.com : One of the more respected

journalist’s

topic-oriented sites.

www.MaxSpeak.org : Commentary on economics by Max B. Sawicky

with ample hyperlinks to source documents.

www.Alternet.org : Independent Media Institute site supporting

alternative news journalism.

www.kevinSites.net Journalist Kevin Sites reporting from

Iraq (popular blog during the war).

www.Daymented.com : A 30-something Seattle indie music fan’s

blog — proof that anybody can do this for any reason.

www.Livejournal.com/users/ffantastik : A senseless

blog, completely narcissistic.

English.pravda.ru Lots of ranting from Russia.

www.Wibsite.com/wiblog/dull/: Site from England claims

the title "Dullest Blog in the World."


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