CommunityPam's House Blend

Triangle-area residents blog together at conference in Chapel Hill tomorrow

Health willing, I’ll be trekking over to Chapel Hill tomorrow to attend the Triangle Bloggers Conference. Looks like there will be over 120 bloggers there. You’ll be able to liveblog, so I’ll take my laptop, but it kind of defeats the purpose of interacting with people if you’ve got your head buried in your computer, so I don’t know if I’ll fire the sucker up.

I was interviewed on Monday by the Durham Herald-Sun‘s Cynthia Greenlee-Donnell, for an article on the conference. It came out this AM. Nothing earth-shattering (certainly not like John A. over at AmericaBlog‘s kick-ass appearance on CNN last night re: “Propagannon“), but hey I’m still in shock she even found my blog. I’m reposting most of the story here. (Herald-Sun):

On Saturday, the Triangle will host its first bloggercon, a gathering for people interested in blogging, or the highly adaptable form of Web publishing.

More than 120 people have registered, said Anton Zuiker, who co-organized the Chapel Hill event with fellow blogger and UNC lecturer Paul Jones. The conference is sponsored by Jones’ ibiblio.org, and the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Zuiker, who blogs at mistersugar.com, said the level of interest shows that a local “blogosphere” is developing. Blogs, short for “weblogs,” are frequently updated Web pages that draw readers with strong viewpoints and the opportunity to comment.

“The fact that we’re going to get 100 people to come and talk about weblogging is an indication that people are actively blogging and want to talk about the potential uses,” Zuiker said. “A lot of people are intrigued; a lot of people have heard about it” in Chapel Hill and beyond.

Select bloggers have gained national prominence, even receiving passes for the 2004 Democratic and Republican national conventions. Sometimes derided as “pajama jockies,” they’ve have broken major news stories such as the falsification of “60 Minutes”-reported documents about President Bush’s National Guard service.

Saturday’s conference will include sessions on blogging nuts-and-bolts and how to harness the technology for community building. Related programming includes a Feb. 14 talk by grassroots-journalism advocate Dan Gillmor at UNC’s Carroll Hall.

“Blogging can be very ‘what I ate this morning’ or ‘why I don’t like Politician B,’ ” Zuiker said. “But for a long time now, weblogs are being used as a tool for communities. Certainly, weblogs have shown they can be used to get people to donate” for tsunami relief and political campaigns.

Longtime Chapel Hillian and activist Ruby Sinreich values blogs’ pure opinion. “Blogs are written in first person. It’s the most authentic. The more opinions, the better,” said Sinreich. The 30-year-old electronic organizer for a reproductive-rights organization created OrangePolitics.org in September 2003. She moderates the blog, but other people submit messages about Orange County issues from school merger to the UNC freshman summer reading selection.

“In this community, there’s a lot of willingness to engage in protests on the national and even international level. … We have a powerful activist community, but most of us aren’t engaged on the local level,” she said. OrangePolitics.org is “a watercooler for politicos” of a certain stripe, said Sinreich. “OrangePolitics is expressly progressive, and I really wanted it to be explicitly opinionated. One of the great things is having multiple opinions.”

While OrangePolitics is progressive, there are bloggers of every variety and political persuasion. Chapel Hill Councilwoman Sally Greene has a blog (greenespace.blogspot.com). Other area bloggers nitpick about the best North Carolina barbecue or scrutinize why the Tar Heel basketball team lost to Duke on Wednesday.

Bomani Jones of Durham could be called a hip-hop blogger; his weekly posts have deconstructed Beyoncé lyrics and questioned the practice of ghostwriting in rap. The UNC economics graduate student uses his site, bomanijones.com, mainly as a “shameless self-promotion” to drive readers to freelance columns he’s written for other sites.

In Pam’s House Blend, Durham IT manager Pam Spaulding frequently criticizes states’ efforts to introduce anti-gay marriage legislation or amendments.

“During the election, I just felt like I needed to put my voice, my opinion, my frustrations out there for the unheard voices. And sometimes, I felt like I was a solitary voice of color, for lesbians and for women. … I was just sharing my thoughts. It was several months before I even got a comment.” Now she might get 1,200 unique visits “on a good day.”

But Spaulding knows she’s one of many voices and said it’s hard to know when someone’s “doing quality reporting or just mouthing off.”

Born in the late 1990s, blogging is young enough that pundits and activists are still debating its social roles. Is it media watchdog, community builder, a sign of the “post-journalism” world or a more inclusive communications model?

Gillmor, author of “We the Media,” said that blogging has hit on something that the circulation-challenged newspaper industry hasn’t. “The first thing news organizations need to do is listen to the readers and to get out of the old lecture mode and move to something more conversational,” he said.

But Gillmor stressed that most bloggers “don’t aspire to be journalists. Community theater is not professional theater. People do these things for expression.”

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Pam Spaulding

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