Wednesday, February 21, 2007
A “frustrated” journalist, a former San Jose Mercury News reporter, a liberal who started blogging to fill what he saw as a void of Bush critics, a self-described “gadfly” critical of campus leaders.
These are a few of the hundreds of bloggers living in Berkeley who say their work supplements traditional media while remaining free from the restrictions of conventional journalism.
Students, faculty members and city residents have joined the city’s blogging community in droves: Berkeleyblogs.org lists 125 blogs based in Berkeley. The actual number of blogs is much higher, however, especially with students making up 38 percent of the blogging world, according to a Pew Internet & American Life Project report published in July.
Many of these bloggers see themselves as journalists outside of the strictures of a newspaper, covering issues that otherwise would not get reported and expressing viewpoints that do not get enough attention.
But this type of blogging is in the minority: only a third of bloggers consider their work journalism, according to the Pew report.
The bloggers said that because it costs nothing to keep a blog, aspiring writers can tailor their posts to specific audiences and create quality niche journalism.
“We don’t have to pander to the lowest common denominator,” said Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas.
Because services like WordPress, Movable Type, Blogger and LiveJournal are free and easy to use, they also allow a large number of voices to be heard. Twelve million American adults keep blogs, according to the Pew report. The blog search engine Technorati tracks 68 million blogs worldwide.
“I’m excited about blogging because it lets people who don’t usually have a soapbox to get heard,” Moulitsas said.
But not everyone is so excited about the democratic nature of blogging, including Berkeley resident Andrew Keen, who will soon publish his book “The Cult of the Amateur” which criticizes “citizen-journalism.”
“(Blogs do) away with the traditional filter of the media: editors, fact checkers,” said Keen, who runs an online chat show called AfterTV. “It’s dangerously direct.”
While many blogs serve more as public diaries of people’s lives, the four blogs featured here are aimed at wider audiences, with specific purposes in mind.
The most famous and visited Berkeley blog is the unapologetically liberal Daily Kos
(http://www.dailykos.com), run by Markos Moulitsas. The blog covers national political and policy issues, including the 2008 elections, Iraq and evolution.
Moulitsas started Daily Kos in 2002, which he called a “very politically stifling time.”
“If you criticized the president at the time, it was considered to be anti-American, it was considered to be treasonous,” he said.
Moulitsas said at the time there were no prominent liberals criticizing the administration.
“The so-called liberals in the media were silent,” he said.
Since then, the blog has risen to an eminent place in liberal politics, and has been seen as a major force in recent elections.
Blogs, he says, were a response to the media’s reporting of sound bites at the expense of analysis and to a lack of critics in the traditional media.
“The blogs showed that there was a market for strong liberal voices,” he said.
Daily Kos receives nearly 500,000 visits a day, according to the Truth Laid Bear Blogosphere Ecosystem, which tracks blog
Book reviews and literary news can be found at Ghost Word
blogspot.com,) where freelance journalist and visiting UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism lecturer Frances Dinkelspiel says she looks to supplement the book sections of local newspapers.
“While there is a vibrant literary community in the Bay Area, the newspapers don’t cover the scene very well,” she wrote in an e-mail.
Dinkelspiel started Ghost Word after attending a fundraiser for the Berkeley Public Library two years ago.
“I talked to so many wonderful authors and I wanted to tell people about the evening and the books,” she wrote. “I love books, my friends love books and I thought it would be fun to illuminate that life.”
Dinkelspiel said after giving up traditional journalism for freelancing, she missed the ability to publish easily.
“As a daily reporter, you just come up with any story you want to do and you can publish it,” she said.
Freelancing requires a lot more research and preliminary research without the guarantee that the story will be published, she said.
“The good thing about blogging is that you can still hopefully write intelligent thoughts on issues and you don’t have to find an intermediary to say your words are okay,” she said.
Dinkelspiel is currently writing a biography of her great-great-grandfather, Isaias Hellman, a UC regent, founder of the University of South California and president of Wells Fargo.
Musings on love, war, religion and the pace of modern life can all be found at Philosopher-at-Large (http://philosopher-at-large.blogspot.com,) run by Interdisciplinary Studies lecturer Americ Azevedo.
Azevedo said he started the blog two years ago after years of using the Internet in different forms to publish his thoughts.
“I’m in some ways a frustrated newspaper columnist,” he said.
Azevedo hopes his blog will act as a “virtual lecture” and stimulate students to critically reevaluate their lives, he said.
One of his recent entries argues that “we need to adjust our clocks to fit human needs, not human needs to fit the clock. Airlines need to run on schedule. But human beings should just ‘show up’ and move on as they will.”
When asked whether he thought students should follow their natural clocks at the risk of being late, he equivocated for a few seconds before saying, “I do, actually. I’m very understanding about people who are late.”
Azevedo said he directs students to his blog when the posts are relevant to the course and is trying an experimental collaborative blog called Tech Talk 110 for his computer science course this semester.
There, he hopes, students will be able to engage in a larger, more interactive conversation about class material.
This is not the first time Azevedo has experimented with the Internet, as he was one of the first to make his lectures available by Webcast.
Graduate student Justin Azadivar’s blogging focuses on ASUC coverage and, in his words, “whining,” at his
blog Beetle Beat
“I’m a complainer, I guess you can call me a gadfly,” said Azadivar, who uses the pseudonym Beetle Aurora Drake.
Azadivar said he views his role as reporting local news that is not being covered by other media.
“I think the most effective thing for a regular blogger like me who isn’t really that connected, powerful or well versed in the world is to cover things locally,” he said. “Anything broader than local politics will already be covered by many people.”
“The big thing locally I cover is the ASUC,” he said.
Most of Azadivar’s complaints target student government, and he has taken a recent interest in the Graduate Assembly.
“Ah! The good old Graduate Assembly. Never afraid to demand more power at the cost of fairness,” Azadivar wrote in a recent post.
Azadivar said he hopes to bring about greater accountability.
“I don’t think (ASUC senators) bother to accept their position as accountable to us, the students,” he said.
Other Blogs in Berkeley
• The Great Seduction
Critical of the changing media.
• Brad DeLong’s Semi-Daily Journal
Economics professor on national and economic issues.
• The Catalytic Triad
A critical look at education.
• Not A Soccer Mom
An English woman’s take on Berkeley.
Student bloggers on campus issues.
• Walking Berkeley
Stories of Berkeley neighborhoods.
• The Berkeley Experience
The point of view from a co-op.
• The Daily Clog
From the Daily Cal staff.
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