'Old Media' Critic Tries to Capture Blogs' Essence
The Big Book of Blogs
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
This week on MORNING EDITION we're asking a cosmic question. If a tree falls in the blogosphere, does it make a sound, a sound that makes sense?
(Soundbite of various audio blogs)
INSKEEP: This week marks the 10th anniversary of the phrase Web blog. This is as good an excuse as we're going to get to pause and sample a fraction of the millions of blogs that are out there. We know that many of you don't read blogs, maybe even think they all sound like this.
Unidentified Woman #1: I know they say Nicole Kidman had some kind of plastic surgery or at least botox. But me, I believe it when she says she hasn't had anything done, at least not to her face.
Unidentified Woman #2: Anyway, Jacki(ph) is so stuck up ever since she got her first boyfriend. We're on our way home from school and I'm like, you want to come over?
Unidentified Man #1: And I'm going to put this paper in your mouth, right? But I think duct tape is really overrated. I mean, it has a practical value, but what about the other kinds of tape?
INSKEEP: So that's the blogosphere we think we know. But Renee Montagne met someone who found something more.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
I spoke to Sarah Boxer, a former reporter for the New York Times who spends a year at her computer trawling the Internet for blogs that were compelling enough to make the leap, get this, into a book, an anthology.
Ms. SARAH BOXER (Editor, "Ultimate Blogs: Masterworks from the Wild Web"): I was very skeptical about the idea of putting blogs into a book. First of, bloggers love to do linking, putting in chunks of other people's text, video, these kind of things. So when you read a blog and if you can't have the links there, it's sort of like you're hearing one half of a conversation. The other problem is timeliness. A lot of the blogs that people know of are political blogs. And if you try to put this in a book, they spoil basically.
MONTAGNE: So Sarah Boxer looks for blog post that wouldn't go bad. What made the cut? A lot of good stories, anecdotes.
Ms. BOXER: These are stories that are telling of the time, but they are also things that will not spoil if you cannot remember what moment they're talking about.
MONTAGNE: Give us an example of one that you think is especially good.
Ms. BOXER: Well, this is, I think, especially good. This is a blog called Midnight in Iraq. It's a marine in Fallujah. But the story is anything but heavy politics.
MONTAGNE: And again the blogger's name is Jeff Barnett, but here it's an actor who's reading the excerpt.
Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (Reading) The PX staff has the tendency to overestimate how much of a particular product they can sell. And sometimes it's just weird, like panties, lacy black women's panties. Underwear that looks too uncomfortable to pick up, much less wear in a combat zone. The PX has a rack full of these displayed strategically between the Under Armour and the corn chips. My first reaction was disbelief since their obvious intended use is outlawed in the combat zone. What do panties go for in the states? Hell, I don't know, but I'm guessing at least a dollar.
Ms. BOXER: This was the fun of doing a book is really discovering what is this thing called bloggy writing, or is there a thing called bloggy writing? Ones you removed the links and you removed the timeliness, it's just its own thing.
MONTAGNE: It's interesting to talk about the blog that's having a sort of literally quality and value. We recorded one blog that's in your anthology. It's called Old Hag. And the blogger's name is Lizzie Skurnick. Let's listen to her here for a moment reading part of a poem that she wrote.
Ms. LIZZIE SKURNICK (Blogger, Old Hag): This is a poem I posted on my blog during the wiretapping scandal. Since it's, a best, a minor sin to cock your ear and listen in, should we condemn the NSA for simply caring what we say? Think: Eavesdropping the global nation hardly counts as a vacation. For all the dish you get on whether Brit and Kev are done forever, there's teenage girls in a dispute if Dave is hot or merely cute. In fact, it's comfort - albeit cold - that someone's with us while on hold.
Ms. BOXER: This is one of the things that she does. She reviews often for the New York Times. She actually has a book of poetry. The thing that's interesting about her poetry is that it does have something of the Web. I mean, she mentions Brit and Kev. Later in the poem, she talks about Gitmoing spam fast in the news and out of the news references. It's poetry but it is also bloggy poetry.
MONTAGNE: One thing that are blogged also, though, illustrate is that people don't just use the blogosphere to launch their careers.
Ms. BOXER: Right.
MONTAGNE: In fact with her, the blogosphere is one more outlet as it is for many people.
Ms. BOXER: But I think that she did feel that she reached people that she would not have reached had she not been blogging. And it is interesting to me that even bloggers who professed to be kind of against the mainstream media really want to be sort of part of that. It's still something to go for.
MONTAGNE: Although one of the things that does standout in your anthology is that there are good stories out there that you would only find, probably, on the Web.
Ms. BOXER: Yes there is one here, a guy by the name of Raed Jarrar, and he is an Iraqi. He now lives in the states. And he had an amazing story that I don't think you would find anywhere else about a T-shirt.
MONTAGNE: And here he is reading from his own blog.
Mr. RAED JARRAR (Blogger): I went to JFK to catch my Jet Blue plane to California. Two men approached me. One of them Inspector Harris showed me his badge. He said people are feeling offended because of your T-shirt. I was wearing my T-shirt, which stated in both in Arabic and English we will not be silent, (Arabic spoken). I said I'm very sorry if I offended anyone. Isn't it my constitutional right to express myself in this way? Inspector Harris answered: You can't wear a T-shirt with Arabic script and come to an airport. It's like wearing a T-shirt that reads I'm a robber. I'm going to a bank.
MONTAGNE: It would seem from these - just a couple of examples we've used that the blog might lend themselves to liberal or left wing in politics in a way that a talk radio has long lent itself to the right wing. But there are blogs and plenty of them that have a sort of strong right of center stance.
Ms. BOXER: Oh, there are lots of them, and they are some of the more prominent ones, and this is just my sense. But the left wing ones tend to be easier in a certain way to excerpt that they are longer, sort of, arguments and the right wing tends to have this kind of gotcha moments that, you know, there is one line that gets passed around and passed around until they get noticed by the mainstream media.
MONTAGNE: Are you now a convert? Do you have favorite blogs that you visit regularly?
Ms. BOXER: Yes, I would say I'm a convert. And I think that just the exercise of trying to get these things to fit in a book really makes you realize just how different it is to write for a blog. I mean, these people are uncensored. They really don't feel like they have anybody looking over their shoulder. They're just out there.
MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.
Ms. BOXER: Thank you for having me.
MONTAGNE: Sarah Boxer is the editor of the new book "Ultimate Blogs: Masterworks from the Wild Web."
INSKEEP: She spoke with our own Renee Montagne. Our conversations continue tomorrow when he hear how some bloggers are censored or do have people looking over their shoulder and what they do to get around it.
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