The SPJ National Convention professional development session on blogging didn’t just happen.
“Bubble” also was the word many panelists and participants at the SPJ National Convention used to describe the way blogs — short for Web logs — have grown in popularity during the past three years.
Staci Kramer, contributing editor at Online Journalism Review, moderated the session, “When Blogging Meets Journalism.”
Kramer got things bubbling by asking those in attendance how they defined a “blog.”
“For me, it’s an opportunity to do what I can’t do in my job,” said Kevin Featherly, a heath care magazine reporter who blogs at Featherly.com. “It’s an online column.
I’ve created my own forum.”
Panelist Dan Froomkin, who writes the online White House Briefing for washingtonpost.com, called blogs “wonderfully evolved creatures of the Internet.”
Others called them diaries, open forums, and, as panelist and NYTimes.com editor in chief Len Apcar said, “information delivery devices.”
Interaction, spontaneity and diversity of voice and format mark blogs.
There is no sure-fire definition. In fact, there was no single definition that would explain what all of the four panelists within the far-reaching blog world, sometimes called the “blogosphere.”
Panelist Jen Chung, editor of the group blog Gothamist.com, started her site after sending e-mails to friends with links for them to check out.
“I sort of view Gothamist as the friend at a party who happens to know a lot about New York City,” she said.
Gothamist distills news events, posts photographs and includes entertainment information. It is New York-based but has sprouted sister sites in other metropolitan areas.
Panelist Jeff Jarvis, president of Advance.net and blogger at Buzzmachine.com, started blogging after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He filed stories about the attacks but still had more to say, so he turned to the Internet.
Jarvis said blogs are “nothing but the content of the people” and can give voice to underrepresented groups or topics. For example, he said, small towns can post about local events, such as high school wrestling, which might not make the news pages.
In an e-mail interview after the convention, Apcar shared more observations on the intersection of blogging and journalism. He focused on how blogging could help a newsroom when the phenomenon first began, he said.
“What we have learned is that good blogs take many forms,” Apcar said. “But there is one essential ingredient that pertains to newspapering, blogs and online news sites: There is a hunger for reliable information and for perspective. If you can deliver both, then you’ll have a successful Internet site, newspaper or blog. It’s not that complex. But it is difficult to do well day in and day out.”
Typical descriptions of the average blog also described the mood of the convention session.
It was interactive. It jumped from topic to topic. The tone was informal. People spoke quickly, much like the speed at which some bloggers update their sites. At one point, Chung popped up from her chair to speed the display of links from her blog on a projector screen. Also, rather than using precious seminar time for panelist introductions, Chung and Kramer directed people to a temporary Web site hosted by Gothamist for more information on the speakers.
Kramer said “audience” wasn’t the right word to describe the group attending the seminar, which was set up purposefully to be different from the average conference panel. After the session, she received two e-mails recommending good blog resources, and she hopes to create a site where SPJ members can share blogging wisdom and links.
“We tried very hard not to make it a top-down session,” Kramer said. “It was more open, more interactive.”
Renée Petrina is a graduate student in media studies at Penn State University. She covered the SPJ National Convention in New York City for The Working Press.