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Dean's Digital World

By Dean Tudor

The Blight or Boon of the Blogs?

Dean Tudor


The two hottest trends in the wired world of journalism appear to be blogs and RSS.

Bloggers have been around since the first Web site of Tim Berners (the innovator of the Web), but of course they were not interactive. I've had a blog of sorts for years at my Web site, but it isn't mounted daily nor is it interactive. The defining words are "Web log", a sort of diary that was abbreviated to blog. It has to be interactive, to allow comment from the field of readers. You can get software, a Web site, and maintenance for about $99 a year. Microsoft will be incorporating blog construction into its next Windows, Front Page, or Word release. For the moment, you can check out www.blogspot.com which does most of the English language hosting.

The www.blogwise.com site is a free online directory to some 50,000 and more blogs around the world, in about 180 countries. The USA has over 30,000 such sites, UK has over 2,500 as does Canada, followed by over 1,000 in Australia. Most are in English, except for a few in French in Canada and Spanish in the USA. Brazil has over 1,500, Spain over 1,200, France about a thousand (about the same as Italy, the Philippines, and India). You can search by subject keyword, but most blogs are about three topics: politics, news or "blogs about blogs". One of my favourite "blogs about blogs" is Vinography (www.vinography.com) which keeps me posted about what is happening with all the other wine blogs.

The vast majority of blogs, though, read like secret diaries kept by teenagers. But some are important (for their news sources), and they are interlinked as part of the Web. Blogspot alone has about 40% of the blogs listed on Blogwise. All the blogs in the world get indexed by search engines, so they all appear equivalent to the "real" news.

Many journalists, reporters, and writers have blogs. Canadians Norman Spector, Warren Kinsella, and Paul Wells come to mind. Many journalism students have blogs, in an attempt to get noticed. The journalism blogs make it easier for writers to put out stories, without editorial direction or interference. It is a more casual style of writing. And beginning with Matt Drudge, many blogs have taken to blowing whistles or releasing insider stories such as outing fake journalist Jeff Gannon, outing fake Bush documents on CBS, Trent Lott, CNN exec Eason Jordan. Word of mouth travels fast amongst the bloggers.

Indeed the proliferation of blogs is creating some havoc for traditional news sources. These media outlets are losing their audience, especially their young audience (18 - 34, the prized demographic). Thus, to them, bloggers are, as the New York Times described in a headline, "New Media Trophy Hunters". They are portrayed as raffish, "pretend journalists", swarming over a kill. Hey, isn't that pack journalism? Paparazzi anyone? Blogs are not loved by the media, because the bloggers are taking away all the trust that the media used to have. The influence and higher profile of blogs is having a terrific impact. Popularity is being equated with credibility. Bloggers that have links to each other increase their scope and reach, and become cited by others (including newspapers) - such that they can be near the top of search engine results.

Through Blogwise, you can get any blog as an XML or RSS feed (if supported by the local blogger). And this leads me to the next hot trend, the RSS feed. As I mentioned in my last column, RSS means something like "Real Simple Syndication", and it is a continuing supply of news items from all major news sources and blogs to your desktop via a usually-free software package such as FeedReader. You can set the software to automatically download headlines every time you venture out to the Internet. New York Times, CNN, CBC, Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Washington Post, Manchester Guardian, plus foreign language equivalents, will send you their headlines plus a short descriptive paragraph. In no time at all, you've got a bird's eye view of the world news. Then, just click on the headline and you'll be transported to the news/blog Web site. For those sites which require paid-for registration, at least you'll have the headlines and a description.

This means that user-created news gets spread around faster, and there is much more of it available to the world attached to the Internet. All by the miracle of RSS technology which does seem to be going hand in hand with blogging.

There is one nifty RSS feed called KlipFolio at www.serence.com., an Ottawa based firm which uses KlipFolio as a platform. It is free, and its main value is it hums along in the background with pre-shaped "klips" which organize the news reader. It is quite attractive and easy to use. I use it all the time and the headlines just scroll by when I want them. Oh, yes, also weather and sports and wine stuff. I very rarely read the papers anymore, except the Globe and the three free papers whenever I'm on Toronto's public transit.

But I still read books, as you can note from the Book Review section in Sources. Three books that recently crossed my path (I got them at a textbook fair) include:

A Canadian Writer's Guide (Third Edition) has been published by Thomson Nelson (ISBN 0-17-641413-4, $38.95). At 384 pages it works for college students, covering the basics of writing, grammar, sentences, usage, punctuation, plus the heavy duty chapters on research essays and documentation, as well as essay exams and applied writing. The latter is new to this edition, with much emphasis on job-related writing skills. Other new material: more information from the Chicago Manual of Style, more on plagiarism (hey, doesn't that tell you something!), and more on literary analysis. A nice package….

Checkmate Pocket Guide (Thomson Nelson, ISBN 0-17-641528-9, $25.95) is a leaner book, actually a 164-page spiral bound paperback, covering much the same ground of grammar, usage, punctuation, style basics, proofreading symbols, documentation (MLA, APA, Chicago, CBE). There's more explanation in the Writer's Guide, but more summaries in this Pocket Guide.

Internet Effectively, a beginner's guide to the World Wide Web (Pearson Addison Wesley, ISBN 0-321-30429-2, $94.95) also has Sharon Scollard of Mohawk CAAT as a Canadian co-author to Tyrone Adams. They want you to expand your current skills by doing effective searches and maximizing your use of E-mail and e-commerce. Along the way the authors go into mailing lists, newsgroups, chat rooms, VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol), and security concerns. RSS, messaging, and blogging are also covered. There is a glossary and a bibliography. It is a very comprehensive book, worthy of your attention for brushing up or learning a new skill.

For the next six months, and for you to chew on until I write again, here are some more of the fascinating trends unfolding in the wired world of the news gathering:

For one, you can go over to yagoohoogle.com and see a comparison between Yahoo and Google search engines. The site has a split screen, allowing you to see at a glance what the top ten sites at each search engine are. This is fascinating, especially when you look at the results and the ranking of the websites.

For another, Google has introduced a service which allows users to search the content of scholarly and sci-tech publications. This is "Google Scholar". Searches can be made of both the Web AND, with special agreements with publishers, part of the "invisible" Web. Results should include dissertations, as well as the usual papers and conference presentations. What's new are the additional factors used in ranking, such as WHERE a document was published and how many other scholarly works cite it. This used to be the exclusive realm of the series of Citation Indexes.

For a third, speech recognition technology has dramatically improved, such as with Dragon Naturally/Speaking (DNS) now in version eight. You can speak up to 160 words a minute. ScanSoft, the owner of DNS 8, claims a 99% accuracy. With fast chips and lots of memory, hardware limitations no longer hold back such major software. And watch out for Pentium Five this late fall…

Yahoo has a unique tracker in its portfolio of news tricks: the buzz. At buzz.yahoo.com, you can find a features reporter's dream - all the new trends and technologies, people, celebrity watching, cutting edge developments, what's in and what's out, and - most importantly - what's happening NOW, TODAY, THIS HOUR. You can even get it all as a news alert.

Still with Yahoo, there is now a "new" Yahoo News site. Yahoo manages to employ both human oversight with automation of the news from multiple sources. The company has agreements to display or link to content from about 100 news organizations, plus about 7,000 additional on-line sources that Yahoo catalogues for information.

In fact, there are many sources of news materials that can be checked on a timed basis. The material can either come to you by RSS or by clever arrangement of keywords. I use the following URLs, all bookmarked of course, to get me data about wines; I check them daily.

You can use these six URLs to get to the site, and then change the search terms to whatever you want to know about on a consistent basis:

<LI><a href="http://news.google.com/news?hl=en&ie=UTF-8&q=wine+OR+winery+OR+wineries+OR+winemaker&btnG=Search+News">Wine news via Google</a>

<LI><a href="http://search.news.yahoo.com/search/news?c=&p=wine+OR+winery+OR+wineries+OR+winemaker">Wine news via Yahoo</a>

<LI><a href="http://www.topix.net/wine">Wine news via Topix.Net</a>

<LI><a href="http://www.allheadlinenews.com/cgi-bin/news/news.cgi?category=wine">Wine news via AllHeadlineNews</a>

<LI><a href="http://www.newsnow.co.uk/newsfeed/?search=wine&x=7&y=7">Wine news via NewsNow</a>

<LI><a href="http://www.rocketnews.com/web/search.jsp?select=News&searchTerms=wine&x=18&y=7">Wine news via RocketNews</a>

Dean Tudor (www.deantudor.com) is a Journalism Professor Emeritus at Ryerson University.


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