Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Weekend Without Echoes

The Sorensen Blog Summit brought together bloggers from Virginia’s wonderfully varied landscape. From what I could see the bloggers, young and old alike, had a good time. There were also some politicians and some professional writers who were seen as “journalists” for the purposes of the confab.

The word “journalist” was used quite a bit by speakers and questioners. There were attempts to draw a clear line between blogging and journalism. Many of those who spoke of journalists made the word sound rather highfaluting. Some spoke of widely-accepted standards for journalism, as if they were carved in stone and have been around for centuries.

Well, that’s not really the truth. But rather than use this space to expand on the history of journalism, what I want to do now is react to two challenges that two invited journalists at the Blog Summit offered during their remarks.

Michael Shear, of the Washington Post, challenged the bloggers in his audience to try to go a whole week, writing their own copy on their own stories. In other words, Shear was suggesting that most bloggers would be hard pressed to go a week writing original material only.

Gordon Morse, of The Daily Press, challenged the group to write about the stories that the mainstream media are missing, or getting wrong. His point was that bloggers tend to write about the same things, the same big stories that are already being over-reported by the mainstream media.

The words of those two writers have been tumbling around in my head ever since. Both men made good points about the blogosphere, in general.

Yes, the echo chamber effect is a part of the blogging scene that is annoying and mostly a waste of time. It does little to promote discussion. Repeating talking points and buzz words in a hammering fashion seems to be the main reason for some blogs to exist. It’s difficult for me to see that such blogs accomplish much, other than to irritate their opponents and other readers who aren’t part of the snickering club of wannabe propagandists.

On the other hand, there are several Virginia bloggers that I read who are pretty good at writing original material, whether it’s on politics or other topics. So, perhaps Shear and Morse would do well to be more selective about which blogs they bother to read.

Still, I do think that notion of a group of bloggers trying to go for a brief spell without adding more noise to the echo chamber -- by writing original material and not merely cutting and pasting and linking -- is something to pursue. Some bloggers I know are already doing that, for the most part. At times I have saluted some of them in my comments on their blogs.

Accordingly, I’d like to propose that bloggers who want to participate in a little experiment, use the weekend of July 21-23 to show the rest of the blogosphere that it can be done. It would be a weekend vacation from copying, and piling on, and talking points ... a weekend without calling everyone with whom one disagrees a “liberal,” or a “conservative,” as if those are dirty words.

For instance -- for the Webb team it would mean a weekend without using the name, “Felix,” in your posts. For the Allen team it would mean three days without using the word, “flip-flopper,” in your posts. And, if you can't write about those two guys without using those words, and words like them, maybe try writing about something else. Hey, I’m only talking about three days.

This will cost you nothing. Anyone can play. There will be no policeman to cite a blogger who seems to have violated the spirit of the Weekend Without Echoes. All you have to do is say, “OK, I'll try it, too.” Then do it.

SLANTblog is thus challenging any and all Virginia bloggers, of any persuasion, to announce that they will take part in the experiment. Perhaps we could assemble a carnival of the best posts from that weekend, etc. Suggestions are welcome.


The Richmond Democrat said...

I challenge Mr. Shearer to produce a week's worth of original writing while holding a full-time job completely unrelated to political journalism--a full time job that prevents him from attending press conferences where press secretaries provide him with a full, single-spaced page of "notes" to get him started.

Vivian J. Paige said...

Like you, I have been thinking about these things as well. I think this is a great idea. I'm game to give it a shot :)

Bryan J. Scrafford said...

I will definitely take part. One of the main reasons that I began blogging was in order to present my own view on topics. As Wilmore points out, however, that can sometimes be difficult when life besides blogging gets in the way. I think it would, however, be a great idea for all bloggers to at least try this for one weekend. The 21-23 is still a few weeks away, so it does give people the opportunity to come up with some fresh ideas.

Jerry Griffin said...

I'm in. I try to leave the name-calling out of my blogs anyway. As far as original prose, I feel my voice is an editorial one. I became attracted to blogging when I had things to say and the Virginian-Pilot would only let me write one LTE every 5 months and edit it for length. As I comment on the news of the day, my words are my own.

Waldo Jaquith said...

I'm in.

teacherken said...

Gee, I read many opinion writers who use what they read elsewhere as a point from which to present their own opinions. Among those that seem to do so regularly are David Brooks, Charles Krauthammer, Maureen Dowd,... I could go on and on. Not every piece, but a fair amount of their ouvre could be described as commentary on the work of others. So that makes them legitimate journalists and when we act similarly somehow that means we are less worthy? I'm sorry, but I think he's full of it.

Some bloggers are functioning as reporters. Many more are functioning in a fashion similar to those who appear on the op ed pages. Therefore I think the standards applied should be note that of David Broder when he is a reporter, but David Broder when he appears on the op ed page. Some of what he writes flows from his reporting, some does not.

And given how many of these fine opinion writers have taken it upon themselves to comment upon or respond to things they read in blogs, it seems a little odd that print reporters think we should not respond in kind.

For what it is worth
1) I am not primarily a Virginia blogger. I do post, including front page privileges, at RK, and comment elsewhere, but my primary venues are dailykos, myleftwing(also front page privileges) and streetprophets. I usually also crosspost on my own blog, just to say I have my own blog
2) I am most likely to post about education - I do blog as 'teacherken' - and that often requires me to take something in the news and explain it or put it into proper context, especially since many of those who report on the education beat fail to do so, lack the competence or background to do so, or sometimes don't do much more than repeat handouts -- not true of all, but true of far too many
3) I post on what I think is relevant, when I have something to say. As it happens, quite a lot of what I write comes from my own experience and observations, but I refuse to put artificial restrictions on what I write. What if what happens that weekend is a badly reported story about which I can offer corrective information? Do I not have an obligation to get the correct information out as quickly and widely as possible, even if it fell in that artificial window you wish us to observe?

Just the thoughts of one who blogs in addition to all the other facets of his life, which first and foremost concerns his role as a teacher.

F.T. Rea said...


My reaction to Mike Shear’s comments was that he did reveal a defend-the-establishment attitude about the challenge political blogging is posing to the Washington Post’s political reporting and opining. He wasn’t over-the-top with it. But it sounded at times like he was spinning/defending. So, you’re right, most bloggers are not able to spend the time on a story that he does and he acted like that didn‘t matter.

Vivian, Bryan, Jerry and Waldo:

At this point, that makes five of us so far. Will we have just five? Or 25? Or 55? We’ll see. Furthermore, if some folks get their noses out of joint over my board-brush, rather gentle criticism of certain aspects the political blogosphere, which we all know exist, then let ’em. You can’t please everybody...

After all, this is just an experiment to see what will happen. Thanks for your willingness to take a chance, by being the first four to sign on.


It seemed like you were defending something, but it was hard for me to tell what it was. Still, I congratulate you on those front-page privileges, although I can only guess what such privileges might entail. Most importantly, I invite you to join the willing bloggers who will participate in the Weekend Without Echoes (July 21-23). Thanks for commenting.

Conaway B. Haskins III said...

Add me to the list.

spankthatdonkey said...

teacherken is right:

I did not publish a "post summit post", because I got caught up in other "facts of life", other than having a "press secretary" hand me his/her notes to start on.

Mr. Morse contradicted himself at the summit. First he told the story of the "blogger" who got a chance to get some "candid" comments from Larry Sabato (about Harris Miller/Campaign). The blogger, published Mr. Sabato's "offhand"? comment verbatim, and Mr. Morse rightly commented, that "only one time" would that blogger be able to do that.

This cuts to the issue of "access". Big Time News Reporters get it... and are afraid of losing it... and the power to quote, (as us bloggers get access also)

My next point, later in the discussion Mr. Morse "admonished" us bloggers for in effect "kissing up to politicians"... In many cases he is right... We bloggers gain access, and get the interviews.. (but if we bite the hand that "feeds us"?)

Only, I think Mr Morse, was saying, also... You have to be "impartial" in the quotes you (the blogger, or in his case the "journalist") let the public see :-)

Being from the political right, and knowing that I have heard a steady stream of "convenient quotes taken from candidates I favor, and misquotes from candidates of the "left of center" (come on Al Gore vs. Dan Quayle).

I as a blogger favoring my candidates feel... "It's time to get our side of the story out"... Then again, Mr. Morse is also saying, "They are only looking to use you".

Which is always true of a politican. But Candidate/Journalist... with access to each other... who is using whom?

Then again, who are the "impartial blogs vs. main stream media? (print blogs)

The point really being, right wing, or conservative leaning blogs are really a product of the vacuum left by decades of the MSM being blatantly left wing.... It's a fact...

The MSM made Rush Limbaugh...

So concludes my post on the "Sorenson post summit".

spankthatdonkey said...

opps.. in the middle paragraph, I meant to say, I have witnessed conservative candidates misquoted, or if they "stumbled".. (Quayle, as example), and left of center candidates (Gore for example), not relentlessly hounded to the ends of the last drop of ink spilled upon print editions nationwide.... (i.e potatoe vs. inventing the internet)

I think you get my point.. (has any one seen my editor?)

F.T. Rea said...


I'm happy to have provided the space for you to post your post-summit thoughts. OK. Now, are you in on the Weekend Without Echoes (July 21-23), or not?

Can you hack it?

teacherken said...

often we see on TV talking heads not listening to what political figures say and insisting on pushing whomever is on their program into the frame upon which the talking head has decided, whether or not that is of real importance and regardless of the value of the information offered by the guest.

Several of us have responded that we think your frame is not correct, and yet your response is still to come back to the question you originally raised (which of course is your right, and this is your blog),by asking if we can hack it. I have two responses
1) I at leat have already answered that question in my original comment, that I refused to be limited by artificial strictures such as this
2) the way you phrase your followup question about hacking it is a frame I do not accept -- the implication of that question is that we are unable to abide by such strictures, whereas my response is I refuse to accept your frame, therefore your little quip has an unnecessary perjorative quality to it.

Insider said...

A group of people pledging to be original gives me a chuckle, like Steve Martin's bit, "The non-conformist's oath."

"Repeat after me. I promise to be different and unique."

Like Gordon Morse is one to talk. He writes a June 11 column (not unbiased news...he's a known leftie in this market) and he quoted both the Washington Post and the New York Times in his "original" and unbiased column about all the trouble George Allen is supposed to have getting re-elected. Oh, and Morse wrapped it quoting Time Magazine.

Original writing? The MSM shouldn't ask for whom the bell tolls.

As for me, I write about what's happening in my area. If someone's a liberal activist, I won't say "community volunteer." If someone's a right-wing whacko, I won't say "concerned citizen."

And I'm not going to censor myself from commenting on an issue simply because someone else may have first.

The Richmond Democrat said...

I'm in.

Kevin said...

I will do the blogging world a favor and continue to not blog...only then will I consider my contribuition worth it.

Jason Kenney said...

I'm in. If I blog at all that weekend.

I think that people who are commenting as if they're critical of the idea are thinking that by original content they're being asked to play the role of big time journalists and such when really, no, just don't get caught up in the blogosphere and be original in your thoughts on issues and such. Or even just a walk to the park.

I think that this is a great way for some bloggers to introduce (or re-introduce) themselves to the blogosphere. Pull back the curtain and show the real person and mind behind the blog and the usual links and talking points.

Insider said...

Jason, if that's all that is meant, then I do that every day.

StLmom said...

Count me in.

spankthatdonkey said...

Do you mean, we can not do anything like this for three or four days?

F.T. Rea said...

Conaway, J.C., Jason, StLWorkingMom,

Thanks. The number of bloggers aboard is growing. This is going to be fun.


Yesterday I read, and enjoyed, that post about Lieberman. It makes a good point. I think some Democrats ought to stop blindly accepting that everything that flows out of Kos is wise and righteous.


I’m more of a Groucho Marx fan: “I wouldn’t want to be a member of any club that would have me.”


If you’ll look at the original post, above, you’ll see that I didn’t attack anyone. I named no names (blogs).

Any artist worth his salt knows that when you limit your options for a given piece that makes it more challenging. If you can only use three colors, then you have to really think about how to use them. That’s what this experiment is about, much more than it is a put-down of the copycat style we all see more than enough of everyday.

If you don’t want to participate in the experiment, then don’t.

CR UVa said...

I certainly understand what Shear and Morse are trying to say. Blogs can sound a bit repetitive.

But very few Virginia bloggers are professional. For many, it is a hobby that brings in little or no money. We do not have a large publication backing us with money or promises of publication. As much as I would love to place some more original information in my blog, I am fairly limited in what I can do with my other obligations.

However, even though I will not be attending the upcoming summit, I may try to change my blogging a little during that proposed time. Maybe try to step away from current events or hot topic debates and touch on some neglected topics. I cannot say that they will run entirely original (on the contrary, they may include more sources), but at least it might avoid a further echo within the Virginia blogosphere. And it will be rather interesting to read what comes of this period.

I'm Not Emeril said...

I'll accept that challenge, F.T.

I seldom do a "piling on" type of post as you describe it, but for that weekend I will concentrate more on completely original material.


Vivian J. Paige said...

I've got a list going in the sidebar of my blog. I'll add folks as they come on board.

Jason Kenney said...

I certainly understand what Shear and Morse are trying to say. Blogs can sound a bit repetitive.

Of course they do. Starters, there are more of them. Second, we're not full time journalists nor are we under any real legal or corporate obligations to be original in our content by avoiding potential plagarism or citing our "competition" as a source. We're also more regularly updated so we appear to be making a lot more noise than the MSM but that's because, well, we can.

I think people fail to realize that blogs are not and may never be a genuine media outlet, nor may a genuine media outlet ever be a blog.

Not targeting ya, cr uva, just going off on a tangent.

F.T. Rea said...


Thanks. Glad to have you aboard. Yesterday, I read your “Why I Can Never Be A Democrat” post, and I liked it. You made a point that the donkeys ought to think about.

-- Terry


Thanks, again.

Kevin said...

The funny thing is that other bloggers are now advertising this event, which is fine, but they are creating the echo-chamber Terry's wants to avoid.

Maybe I'm pointing out the obvious...

spankthatdonkey said...

I'm in, all original stuff, only reference for historical fact checking...

I am hosting the Carnival of Cordite this weekend, so obviously my submitters are exempt... From "F.T.'s Decree"

F.T. Rea said...


Looks like irony is coming to the party, too.


Thanks for joining the three-day (July 21-23) experiment.

Shaun Kenney said...

I'm most definitely in.

Jennifer said...

I am in- a lot of things I have been interested in doing and too busy to do, so this provides an opening. Thanks.

Rick Sincere said...

I think I already do this. This week alone I've reported on the naturalization ceremony at Monticello and a book forum at the Cato Institute featuring the editor of a newly-published volume called "The Quotable Jefferson."

To be sure, I recycle a lot of my old writing (see my July 4 piece on Idi Amin and the raid on Entebbe) and refer to other bloggers, but I think most of the material on my blog is largely original. That includes the reviews I write of plays and musicals.

That said, I like the capacity of blogs to quote swaths of material from other sources and respond to it (whether to criticize it or "echo" it). I like being able to link to other articles so I don't have to quote everything. And I like the idea of linking together disparate sources that contribute to making the same point. The immediacy of a hyperlink is both valuable and tantalizing, though it can be an invitation to abuse or misuse (or sheer laziness).

I guess I'm in.

CG2 said...

I'm in.

skippy said...

and in a related story, the pot challenged the kettle to go a whole week without being black.

F.T. Rea said...

Shaun, Jennifer, Rick, Claire,

Thanks. This is snowballing ... it's going to be interesting to see who will swell up to stand against it. Who will quietly try to tamp it down? And, which new players will take off and think for themselves.


That’s a good line. I hope you haven’t discovered a hidden agenda. Like most in my grizzled age-group, I hate it when I lose such things.

Kris Amundson & Bob Brink said...

We're in.

SEMI said...

Thank you, F.T. I am so in. (see my post.)

Craig said...

I'm game, but then again I generally try not to just echo things that I have read elsewhere as much as possible. For example right now I am running a multipart series on the state budget that has taken a lot of time researching the raw numbers that the mainstream media has been way too lazy to bother doing.

Thomas Krehbiel said...

Great, great post. Count me in.

bladerunner said...

I challenge Micheal Shear to stop writing articles that are slanted toward the GOP. And to stop pretending to be neutral reporter when you are no different than a Chris Matthews type of MSNBC, who actually came out and admitted that he voted for Bush. Maybe do some research on Tom Davis and find out how really misleading he has been to the voters of the 11th District in Va. He's been in long enough to have some skeletons. Although it'll be tough for you, because someone at your paper has an unholy alliance with Tom Davis.

F.T. Rea said...

Del. Kris Amundson, Del. Bob Brink, SEMI, Craig, Thomas,


If the Weekend Without Echoes experiment does nothing else worthwhile, the project has helped to promote a healthy conversation examining the purpose of blogs, and what bounds there ought to be, if any, in the blogosphere. It appears it has already created some strange bedfellows.


I doubt Mike Shear reads SLANTblog much. So, if that comment of yours “really” was intended for Shear’s eyes, you probably ought to use a more direct approach. He has a blog.

If all you wanted to do was vent ... I hope you feel better. As for the content of your comment, I have no comment.

Maud de Valerie said...

I think bloggers serve a different purpose from traditional journalists: both a watchdog function, AND an opinion/perspective function--journalists give us the news, bloggers analyze it.

So, why should there be competition? Bloggers aren't out there (it's not our job!) independently investigating the doings of government and business. Instead, we are doing what journalists CAN'T do--interpreting their reportage. Giving people a handle by which to think more critically, from a different point of view. Blogging provides analysis of the news.

It's not (or shouldn't be) competitive with traditional journalism, but a complement to it. It's not an echo, it's a light shining. Journalists should be glad someone's paying attention!

F.T. Rea said...

Maud de Valerie,

I'm glad that my stuff is being looked at by someone called, "Maud de Valerie." You're giving SLANTblog some class. But I still don't know what your point was. What's wrong with originality?

David said...

Ok, I'm in too.

Bill Garnett said...

Include me - even though I feel sarcasm is an effective means of communication.

I do agree that we as a country need to harness this new tool of blogging to the common good -- and not as just another tool in the divisiveness that has led to a dysfunctional government and a cynical citizenry.

We as a nation need to converge on common needs and values and bring a community spirit to solving our common problems.