True North

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

BSE and Some Points on Blogging

There is a rule in blogging that you are never supposed to have more than one topic in a post. I'm going to break that rule here using (what I hope to be) a clever segue.

I have wanted to put something together on the BSE issue for sometime now and, since it is back in the news again, I was considering doing a post last night. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to do the full verification I usually do so I almost decided to do a "slapshot post". A slapshot post is one where you just write it off the top of your head trusting your memory instead of doing the usual documentation and verification. I call it a slapshot post because, as in hockey, it's often off the factual net but usually in the general neighbourhood of it. For better or worse the old academic researcher that still lurks in the back of my mind and acts as my blogging conscience smacked me on the head with the old adage that "Good enough rarely is".

I remember when I was a kid playing hockey (back in the days of stone tablets). Slapshots were just coming into use in the NHL but they were still rather controversial especially for kids. Our coach didn't tell us we couldn't use a slapshot but he did tell us that, if we took a slapshot, we had better hit the net with it because if it we didn't, we were coming off the ice. That's a policy that bloggers and more than a few "professional" journalists should consider implementing. So no slapshot post on BSE. And just as well because it is too important an issue to be off the factual net. As a teaser I will make the following points:
1) I believe BSE is much more prevalent than most people think it is and/or are willing to acknowledge;
2) I believe there is evidence to suggest it is found in more species than we are officially being told;
3) I believe the issue has been totally and completely mismanaged by virtually everyone from the producers to the federal government.
And you will just have to wait until I have the time to document a serious post on the subject for more.

The intellectual tangent I went off on about 1:00 am while thinking about all of this left me with some interesting thoughts on the ethics and practice of blogging that I thought I would pass on to any new or would be bloggers who might happen by.

Anyone who has been blogging for any length of time - as in more than a week - already knows that putting together a long, well documented post takes a lot of time. As an example, my two part post on water exports and diversions that was posted long before most of you knew this blog existed. You can read part 1 and part 2 in the archives. I have known 90% of the information in that post for decades but writing it, verifying the accuracy of everything in it and finally editing to get rid of my ponderous academic style took about 6 hours. I'm getting faster as I get back into writing again and better organized but it still takes time.

If you want to blog about anything more serious than your squabbles with your boyfriend or Friday cat blogging, there are three sources you should check out. Steve Gilliard's blog. The archives at billmons' Whiskey Bar (the lights flickered back on at the bar over the weekend by the way). And Dave Neiwert's work at Orcinus. It doesn't matter if you agree with what they say. Just look at the way they craft and document a post. Steve is trained in journalism, Dave is a journalist, I think billmons' background is in technical writing and mine is in academic research. I don't put myself in the same league with these three but what we do have in common is that someone beat into us to document, document, document. People will always be able to dispute your logic and question your conclusions. If they are ever able to poke holes in your facts, you're doing something wrong.

Bloggers get a lot of flack from so called professional journalists for not being objective, spouting opinions rather than facts and for being biased. Recent events have shown that this pretty much boils down to a case of "People who live in glass houses shouldn't practice the shot putt indoors". Of course we're biased - everyone is. It's impossible to completely put aside the perceptual grid that determines what you perceive and how you interpret it no matter how hard you try. I have never tried. Rather than pretending I was totally unbiased when I was doing academic research, I used to do something unusual (at least for that time) and put a preface in every piece of research I did explaining my biases and initial assumptions so that people would have an easy way to check to see if I was manipulating the data to suit my predilections. No one ever accused me of manipulating the data but I was always up front about where I was coming from. Perhaps some of the people who work for Faux news and the New York Times should try that approach.

Bloggers don't have to hide our biases or claim to be "objective". We also don't have to yield to anyone when it comes to accuracy and thoroughness in our posting. Just make sure, if you decide to take that slapshot, that it's on the net.

By the way Steve Gilliard is working on a series of posts on the art of blogging. I can't wait.

10 Comments:

  • Thanks -- I got to this post from Blagh's weekly cavalcade and it was well worth the trip.
    I myself tend toward the slapshot, too much so probably, but its fun anyway, isn't it?

    By Blogger CathiefromCanada, at 11:33 PM  

  • I think there is room for a range of styles in the blogosphere. Every blogger you noted is great Mahigan, but other greats follow a very different style. Compere the work of Gilliard and Neiwart to Digby and Atrios, and you see very different approaches but also significant substance.

    A "slapshot post" - and I like that term - can convey a certain sense of outrage, delight or disbelief that a more scholarly approach loses. They are a bit more visceral, and probably reveal a bit more of the blogger's personal side. I tend to combine this style myself, while probably leaning more toward the slapshot. Ah well, variety is the spice of life, eh?

    By Blogger Timmy the G, at 10:46 AM  

  • Cathie - Thanks for the kind words.

    Timmy - I agree with you on variety. I think one of the things that causes us some problems is simply that bloggers tend to wear a lot of different hats. It's often not obvious which one we're wearing at any given time and sometimes the lines get pretty blurry.

    I do a lot of opinion pieces, some "research" pieces and the odd one that's purely frivolous. Most "serious journalists" don't do the hat juggling routine the way we do.

    Of the 3 I mentioned, Neiwert is far and away the most serious and is one of the best real journalists working in any medium but I have a kind of love/hate relationship with him because his writing is almost never fun or enjoyable to read but it's so damn good I have to read it.

    If you go back to my very earliest posts in the archives, you will see (unsurprisingly) that Gilliard is True North's unofficial blogfather. It is quite likely I would not be blogging today if not for Steve. I tend to do many of the same types of things but I doubt you will find many Canucks who can go over the top the way a New Yorker can.

    Anyway, this whole subject is something I find interesting and I would like to see a good wide ranging discussion somewhere.

    By Blogger mahigan, at 11:27 AM  

  • Geeze, Louise, and pass the Cheese (canuckehead variety only)....

    ...there are rules in blogging?

    Nice site and btw, Billmon's historical background is in financial/straightjourno, more recently finance inhouse tech to pop wizardry....

    Agree that Gilliard is stomping on the terra these days and due to yours and other recommendations will try to spend some time at Orcinus.

    By Blogger Gazetteer, at 5:20 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger Gazetteer, at 5:20 PM  

  • Your blog is great! It's hard to find blogs with good content and people talking about Technical Writing these days! I have a secret Technical Writing Exposed if you want to come check it out

    By Blogger Squirrel, at 12:01 PM  

  • I found a lot of useful info about Technical Writing on your blog - thank you. I also have a new Technical Writing Tips blog - please click over and have a look

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:19 PM  

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