Of Blacks and Bloggers

Mario Armstrong, News and Notes regular tech contributor, and Gary Dauphin, News and Notes Web producer, travel with Farai Chideya into the black blogosphere to respond to questions posted to the show's blog. Topics include how blacks can blog better, how to safely run a personal blog, and the most common Weblogs among African Americans.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

It is back to the black blogosphere. Over the last few weeks, we've received a pile of letters and emails about our blogging while black segment, so we figured we'd take our net tutorial one step further.

To keep me straight, I've reunited with my geek wonder twins. Mario Armstrong is NEWS & NOTES regular tech contributor and Gary Dauphin is the mind behind our News & Views blog. Gary has also worked for AOL Black Voices, africana.com and Black Planet.

Welcome again, my techie brothers.

GARY DAUPHIN: Hi, Farai.

MARIO ARMSTRONG: Thank you. Thank you.

CHIDEYA: So this is so exciting. It's like a little black geek section. I want to give some love to our show's blog, News & Views, which you can access by going to npr.org/newsandnotes and just clicking to the blog at the top. We had been getting amazing love from our listeners and they've been writing in about their own blogs, favorite music.

We got this from Amanida(ph). She said, Farai, I am only doing this because you have encouraged me. I have found the beauty of podcasts and listened to your show every day at my desk. It's so insightful and I learn something. Please keep up the awesome work and insightful coverage.

That, of course, is just pure love, and thank you for that.

ARMSTRONG: Yes.

CHIDEYA: But we get other comments that are questions. Willie Neal III(ph) wrote: Maybe a show topic could be help for non-techies to navigate through the Internet. Maybe you know of a central site that could help point black folks in the right direction.

I want both of you to answer this, but Gary first. Is there a site or are their multiple sites that can teach people things like how to blog?

DAUPHIN: Well, really blogging is one of those things that you learn by doing, and also by reading. So the main thing to do is to go to a site like technorati.com, which is a directory of blogs in general, and do a search for African-American or black, and you'll find literally thousands of blogs done by other black folks about music, movies, politics and so on. And just, you know, find things that you like, find people who are doing things that are stuff that you'd like to do and then imitate it.

CHIDEYA: Now, Mario, on a very practical level, talk us through, just briefly, how you would use something like Blogger to create your own blog for free?

ARMSTRONG: Okay. So for someone that's really new to this thing, it really can be done in three easy steps. And Gary is dead on it. In order to really do this the right way, you have to just dive in and try it. So the first question that you may need to ask yourself is do you like to write, number one, do you like to read. Because if you don't have an interest in those two things, then probably blogging is not for you.

DAUPHIN: Right.

ARMSTRONG: But if you can pass that test, then if you go to, say, a place like Blogger or a place like tightpad.com or wordpress.com, these are all places where you can get a blog for free in essentially three steps. And it works like this, Farai.

You basically sign up with a username and a password. Then you give your blog site, whatever it is, a name and then you start posting. You actually type into a little window, a box. It almost looks like a word document that's just on the Internet. And you kind of type in there and you hit a button that says save and publish, and up it goes on your Web site. Now you have to tell everybody that it's there.

CHIDEYA: So you are basically saying that you can do this quickly and for free?

ARMSTRONG: There should be no hesitation. Folks, do not hesitate. Go to the sites that we're mentioning. It really can be done in three easy steps. There should be no technophobia about setting up a blog. That's why blogging has become so successful, because you don't need to know technical jargon or HTML. That's why so many regular, everyday folks are using it.

CHIDEYA: Gary, we were just talking in this conversation about, oh, you have to tell people it's there. One of the best ways to tell people that your blog is there is by blogging about their blogs, and then they blog about your blog blogging about them. Explain this whole kind of round robin.

DAUPHIN: There's a sort of (unintelligible) circle depending on how you look at it of back scratching and self-promotion in the blogging world. I mean, really, bloggers are people who are motivated for some reason or to say, hey, I have these opinions, I have these ideas, come look at me.

So one of the best ways to do that is to go to somebody else's blog and comment. Each blog has a field where you can basically respond to things. And by responding you can identify yourself, say I have a blog, or also identify what unique things and opinions you have that you have to share.

CHIDEYA: Well, you know, our blog has comments, and that's where we get some of just our best material. And someone recently emailed us and said, hey, we'd like to have a more visible space for comments because - and you know what, Gary, did you and I not just talk about this?

DAUPHIN: We did.

CHIDEYA: We are going to do it. So if it's not done right away, bear with us. But we want to make sure people know that the commenting is just as important as the first post that gets things started.

DAUPHIN: It's News & Views. And definitely, you know, we provide the news and you provide the views.

CHIDEYA: Absolutely. So let me go back to another note from one of our listeners/participants - I don't even want to just use listener because that, you know, once you blog you're part of us.

So this is from Toya Smith Marshall(ph), a seasoned blogger. She says, Hi, Farai, I'm a blogger. My blog started as a personal one, a place I could share my thoughts about the world. Now my blog contains information about all the things that interest me most. And now, by the way, she said, I'm a Western grad, that's Western High School in Baltimore, my alma mater. And you know all about this, Mario.

ARMSTRONG: Yes, I do, being in Baltimore.

CHIDEYA: You're in Baltimore. And she said I believe you spoke at my senior day, and I did. And so it's so exciting also to just like the personal aspect of people just writing in. You know, Western High is an all-girls public school in Baltimore and don't make me sing "Dear Western, We Greet Thee," because my voice is crack.

DAUPHIN: Because we know you'll do it, anyway.

CHIDEYA: But it is, you know, it's a whole club in and of itself, but basically Toya is talking about personal blogging. She says she's blogging less personally now, but what about safety? Mario, what should you keep in mind if you're doing a personal blog about putting personal information on the Web?

ARMSTRONG: Yeah. There are some things to think about, right? If you're going to do this blogging thing, you have to understand that it is going to put you out there in the Internet, so that means things about you will be searchable, things that you're saying. People could start to develop maybe a sense of your personality or your character or your stance on issues, depending on things.

So there are a couple of tips. One is you can use a Web site called invisiblog.net. It's invisiblog.net. And this is basically a free, anonymous blog-hosting site. Now, I have not fully reviewed this site, but I've heard good things about it. But that's one place you can check.

Another thing you can do is use pseudonyms when you're signing up. Don't use your real name. Don't use any identifying information when you sign up for your blog to kind of keep your connection, you know, away from it personally so people can't identify it from you.

And then one other last place you can look at is the EFF, eff.org. They have some blogging tips on how to do it safely and securely. Maybe you want to blog about something that's going on in your workplace that you think and feel others should know but you don't want to get in trouble for putting that information out there. And they give you tips on how you can do that securely and safely.

CHIDEYA: A lot of people have been fired for blogging inappropriately about work.

ARMSTRONG: Absolutely. That's what we want to avoid.

CHIDEYA: Yeah. And also I just think personally for me, you know, as a woman and as someone who has blogged for 12 years, I am very conscious about, you know, for example, if I were to say, well, I'm going to such and such a club on such and such a date, you know, that would tell people where I am. And it's not like I think I have some crazy, top secret life. But once you - if you blog about places that you will be at certain times, if you have people who are in your life who you don't really want in your life, you should be very careful about that as well.

Let's move on, Gary, to Lester Spence. He has contributed to the show many times and he runs a blog on black politics and socioeconomics. Is this a popular type of blog in the black blogosphere?

DAUPHIN: Absolutely. I mean, there was a study that came out of Brown a couple of weeks ago that basically looked at a survey of African-American bloggers, and found that black bloggers are incredibly invested in talking about politics, talking about identity, talking about policy, things that affect that African-American community.

So definitely there are lots of political bloggers, but - and anything else, there are relationship bloggers, there are cooking bloggers, there are music bloggers, photo bloggers, people who talk about their cats. In much the same way that our community represents the entire diversity of, you know, opinions and attitude and so on, the same thing goes for the blogging community.

CHIDEYA: I want to move on to yet another comment. And guys, I just have to repeat again it's npr.org/newsandnotes. And we want to hear from you, because these are all from people who wrote in. You can go there and you can read all of these comments in full because we're just reading snippets.

So Ernice(ph), she is a teacher and she has sent us a link to her blog. She says, I've been blogging regularly for two years. I actually had a blog prior to that, but it was part of a class assignment and I was turned off to blogging as a result of that class. Fast-forward one year and I saw a blog used as a communication tool by an instructor with her students. And she got hooked.

And so basically I think it's really interesting, also, to think about - and Mario, maybe you can give us a quick comment on this, and then Gary as well -blogs that exist for specific purposes. Like I'm going to blog for a class or I'm going to blog for a reunion. Are there any things to think about when you have a blog that is not meant to go on forever?

ARMSTRONG: No. I don't think that there's too much to think about. I think you may want to make that known that this isn't a blog that will be around forever. I think one of the things that this points to is openness and transparency in your blog. When you have a blog, you are starting a community, right?

You are starting a connectivity, if you will. And it's good to make sure that it's known that, hey, this connection may not always be here. So we want to enjoy it and embrace it while we can, but let's think about how we can expand beyond just me. Maybe I'm the impetus. Maybe I'm the starting point. But we want it to grow beyond just this one physical place online. So I don't have to feel, like, five years from now I still have to keep this blog going.

CHIDEYA: Gary, what do you think?

DAUPHIN: Yeah, Mario is absolutely right. I mean, it's the same thing in real life. If I'm visiting a town for a couple of weeks, it's a good idea to let the people know that I'm, you know, the people I meet that I'm not going to be around for a very long. So to the extent that you can be as clear, as open, and as transparent as you can, that's the best policy.

CHIDEYA: Well, Gary, that is great advice. And before Mario and I go on to our next tech topic, I want to thank you for joining us and bid you farewell into the blogosphere.

DAUPHIN: Thanks for having me.

CHIDEYA: Gary Dauphin is the man behind our blog, News & Views. He's also worked for AOL Black Voices, africana.com and Black Planet. And Mario, don't go anywhere. We will be right with the subject you and I have touched on before - free and cheap technology.

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