Carnival Of Blog Coverage

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Carnival #3: The Fight For Online Political Speech

Bloggers were the focus of attention in pockets of official Washington this week, as both the House and the Federal Election Commission pondered changes to campaign finance rules on behalf of bloggers. Neither body ultimately took action, but the press covered the developments as they unfolded.

News.com set the stage with a piece last week on a House committee's approval of legislation designed to largely exempt blogs from campaign finance rules. The House was expected to consider the legislation today but delayed action as concerns about the legislation mounted. Two major newspapers, The New York Times and the Philadelphia Daily News, voiced some concerns in editorials. The Christian Science Monitor and UPI also covered the story.

The Nation explored the behind-the-scenes maneuvering and politics in detail, and at Beltway Blogroll, my blog/column at NationalJournal.com, I took note of the "strange blogfellows" that have emerged during the debate over the past year.

Two other topics I've covered at Beltway Blogroll recently also have been in the news: Wal-Mart's outreach to bloggers and blog ethics.

The Wal-Mart story was hot last week, after publication of a New York Times story that raised questions about bloggers parroting information straight from Wal-Mart's public relations firm. An executive with that PR firm discussed the issue in an online chat at washingtonpost.com, and Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz also covered the story.

The ethics issue arose when a writer at the USC Center on Public Diplomacy penned a piece on bloggers who take free trips designed to promote, say, a destination or a business. I had addressed the issue earlier this year and was quoted in the story. Most bloggers weren't too fond of my take in my first blog entry, and the latest blurb generated more criticism.

Blogging generated a bit of controversy in China recently, too. Word spread that the government there had closed a couple of top blogs, and mainstream media outlets like Reuters were all over the story. The next day, however, Reuters reported that the blogs had reappeared. Apparently that's because the whole story was a hoax -- a fact that China Daily happily reported. Curiously, some Chinese officials started blogging at about the same time.

China Daily also had a recent piece on the increasing popularity of blogging in China, and so did National Public Radio. Similar articles have reported on blogging in Kenya, Lebanon and exotic places like (tongue planted firmly in cheek) Buffalo, N.Y.

Other news from the blogging front the past two weeks:

Government and politics
-- White House adviser Karl Rove has had some praiseworthy things to say about blogs in the past, but he apparently has seen the dark side of the blogosphere, too. The Chicago Sun-Times recently noted this not-so-flattering quote from Rove: "There is so much ugliness and viciousness and fundamental untruths that the blogosphere transmits. It also is a vehicle for ugly rumors, for scurrilous personal attacks, an avenue for the creation of urban legends, which are deeply corrosive of the political system and of people's faith in it."

-- Two members of Congress want bloggers to review pre-war intelligence documents related to the war in Iraq. The documents have been made available online.

-- The Mixed Signals blog of National Public Radio notes a recent exchange about the military and blogging between a House lawmaker and a top general testifying before Congress.

-- A few newspapers have taken a recent interest in the increasing political impact of blogs. The newspaper in Asheville, N.C., ran a piece on blogs and free speech, and the Washington bureau of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch explored the role of blogs in the nation's capital. The longtime statehouse reporter of the Tallahassee Democrat in Florida, meanwhile, tried his hand (or mouth) at audio blogging this year's legislative session. And a New Jersey paper editorialized against the move by one lawmaker there to ban anonymous speech at blogs.

Media
-- "A lame excuse? A case of recovered memory? Or something worse?" Those are the questions Slate columnist Jack Shafer asked in closing the column where he ridiculed former New York Times reporter Judy Miller for arguing that blogs killed her career. Blogger Arianna Huffington offered an equally harsh criticism of Miller's anti-blog whine.

-- Some Washington Post bloggers are paid extra for their online work; others are not. Guess who is jealous of whom?

-- The Seattle Post-Intelligencer announced newcomers to its citizen blogging effort.

International
-- Bloggers are engaged in the effort to convince Iraqi captors to release freelance reporter Jill Carroll.

-- People in Singapore apparently don't have much confidence in blogs as a news source.

Entertainment
-- George Clooney is no blogger and doesn't want anyone to think he is, so The Huffington Post had to remove the entry it manufactured and attributed to him.

-- Bloggers beat their journalistic counterparts to the punch in reviewing a stage production of "Lord of the Rings" in Canada.

Business
-- More companies are deciding that blogging may not be such a bad idea after all -- and it might even help the bottom line if they do it right. Another piece calls the concept "blogging the brand," and a third article said blogs can be viable marketing tools. Bloomberg also had a story on corporate blogging. All the interest might explain why the blog software maker Six Apart is selling business-friendly blog tools.

-- That said, human resources experts said employee bloggers still need to be careful of what they say and do online. That's because it is still possible to get fired for blogging.

-- Newsweek profiled "blog king" Jason Calacanis, who made millions of dollars last fall by selling his upstart blogging company to America Online.

-- Federal Computer Week compiled a list of tech blogs for its readers to peruse.

-- A newspaper in Florida gave a plug to Technorati, the blog search engine, in an article headlined "Deciphering Blogs from the Blech."

Miscellaneous
-- Last week's Carnival of Blog coverage noted some of the controversy surrounding MySpace, a blogging service popular with young people. One concerned parent tackled that subject in a newspaper column about the "MySpace monster" last week, while a newspaper in Tennessee penned an article on what parents can do to help clean MySpace.

-- Blog-based books, or "blooks," now have their own award, the Blooker Prize. "An Army of Davids" isn't eligible for the prize, but that blog-authored book continues to generate interest. Both the New York Post and TCSDaily reviewed it recently.

-- There also have been recent blurbs about blogging and philanthropy, and blogging and tourism.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Carnival #2: Youth + Blogs = Trouble

One of the best attributes of the blogosphere is its ability to empower everyone to say what they think or post whatever they please. But when immature people seize that power, trouble is sure to ensue. Some of the recent news coverage about blogs provides the evidence.

In Denver late last month, for instance, police arrested a 16-year-old boy for posting to the MySpace blog network photographs of himself holding handguns. He posted the photos the same day he was suspended from a high school in the same district as Columbine High School, which was the scene of an infamous shooting in 1999. In Michigan, 15 to 20 teenagers faced school disciplinary action after they posted photos of themselves at drinking parties.

Another student is facing child pornography charges for posting pictures of two underage people have sex. In Greenwich, Conn., five female students were arrested for allegedly posting to the Xanga blog network a threat aimed at deterring another student from testifying in a drug bust against one of their friends. Two other MySpace-related incidents also have been reported recently, one involving graphic threats against a student and the other about the arrest of two men suspected of sexual contact with minors arranged through the social-networking site.

Such espisodes, especially the ones that might endanger children's lives, are occurring often enough that public officials are taking notice. A school in Washington state recently held a forum on protecting children online, including by monitoring their blog activities. Some schools also have blocked access to blog communities like MySpace and Xanga on school computers. Universities, corporations and others also are getting into the blog-monitoring practice.

The jump from high school into college does not necessarily make one wiser when it comes to thinking twice before blogging, either. A university blogger in China, which is known for its repression of Internet freedom, landed in trouble for criticizing a journalism professor. Plus in Canada, allegations of "cyber libel" are becoming more common as blogs become more popular.

As has been the case with the Internet as a whole, the blogosphere can be used for good or evil. The evil tends to get more attention in the mainstream media, but sometimes we journalists also take note of the good news.

In Pennsylvania, for example, a psychology professor is requiring her students to monitor blogs as a better way to understand adolescent behavior in the information age. The Indianapolis Star has a positive story about blogs on campus. And The Harvard Crimson has an article on a new blog networking effort aimed at sharing ideas, communicating events and increasing campus-wide discussion.

Flashback to Carnival #1

My first roundup at the Carnival of Blog Coverage recapped the recent buzz about declining readership in the blogosphere. A handful of blog fans in the mainstream media dismissed that notion in follow-up articles.

Eric Zorn of The Chicago Tribune, for instance, challenged the apparently wishful thinking of his own newspaper, which published an editorial after the recent readership polls. National Journal media critic William Powers, who works just a couple of floors up from me, also did his part to counter the anti-blog buzz, as did Jason Fry of The Wall Street Journal. Washington Post Internet columnist Frank Ahrens also penned a piece in response to the surveys.

Other recent articles have covered banking and blogging, lawyers and blogging and trucking and blogging. Here's a detailed look at blog coverage since late February, divided by category:

Government and politics
-- U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla., has a public-relations team that is funneling information to blogs focused on military efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq and in turn directing Internet traffic back toward the military's CENTCOM Web site. CENTCOM also is podcasting now.

-- A blogger used the Freedom of Information Act to gain access to orders issued by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

-- The bid by Pennsylvania Republican Rick Santorum for another six-year Senate term is being covered in thorough, and sometimes personal, detail by critical bloggers. And AlterNet asks, "Can Blogs Revolutionize Progressive Politics?"

-- Not every candidate should have a blog, if you ask Michael Turk, who up until last year headed the e-campaign efforts of the Republican National Committee. I'm having fun tracking candidate blogs at National Journal's Beltway Blogroll, so I hope candidates ignore his article.

Media
-- A columnist in Helena, Mont., imagined a world without blogs -- and he didn't like it.

-- Slate Editor Jacob Weisberg compared bloggers to "a hen sitting on the eggs, incubating the story while there's nowhere for it to go."

-- Journalism professor Jay Rosen of PressThink and his students launched a new blog venture called Blue Plate Special. The first issue includes a list of the best blogging newspapers and facts about those efforts, as well as features on blogging efforts at the Houston Chronicle and USA Today.

-- MarketWatch profiled blogger Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine. Another blogger admitted to being pleasantly surprised that New York Times write David Carr is not such an old fogey when it comes to blogs. And The Washington Post published a profile of Confederate Yankee Bob Owen.

-- If you want to know what blogs the "famous media" read, visit Extreme Mortman, where my former National Journal colleague Howard Mortman is regularly listing the favorites of MSMers. Those who have participated so far include Jeff DuFour of The Hill, Howard Fineman of Newsweek, John Harwood of The Wall Street Journal, Walter Shapiro of Salon, Roger Simon of Bloomberg and Jake Tapper of ABC News.

-- The Center for Citizen Media reported on a new service called BlogBurst that aims to syndicate blog content to newspapers.

Book reviews
Two books by bloggers are about to be released, and both they and their authors are getting plenty of press. The first tome is Army of Davids, by Instapundit Glenn Reynolds; the second is Crashing the Gate, by Jerome Armstrong of MyDD and Markos Moulitsas Zuniga of Daily Kos.

Reynolds will be at the National Press Club in Washington on Monday to promote his book, which recently has been reviewed by ABC News and The Philadelphia Inquirer. In addition, journalist/blogger Ed Cone interviewed Reynolds at EdCone.com last month. Crashing the Gate, meanwhile, has been reviewed by The Nation, and MSNBC mentioned the book in a profile of Armstrong.

Both books also have been the subject of multiple reviews by bloggers, and at MyDD, Armstrong invited readers to join a conversation about Crashing The Gate.

International
-- The Chinese government may not be fond of its people blogging, but officials have come to realize the power of the blog. AP reports that the government has created lawmaker blogs in an attempt to boost public interest in the figurehead parliament and companion advisory board.

-- The government of Pakistan is blocking access to blogs that have invited people to post images of the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

Business
-- If you're looking for a new job, the best place to look might be the employee blogs in your favorite companies. "[B]loggers do a lot of chitchatting about work-related issues that can be a gold mine of information for job hunters," the Houston Chronicle reports. BusinessWeek Online also has "The Inside Story on Company Blogs."

-- Companies are incorporating blogs into their public-relations campaigns as they try to create buzz around products. And apparently blogs already have enough power that specialized companies are trying to quantify the impact of blogs on businesses.

-- The ECT News Network examines the relationship between retailers and customers who blog.