Trust & Speed. Those were the two main take-aways I received from reading this book:
NLB Call No.: 006.7 HEW [COM] (Computer & IT section)
ISBN: 078521187X

Of course there’s more. I’d recommend this as a good reference for anyone interested in the impact blogs have made in the United States.

p. XV – That although blog-readership is nowhere near those for television networks, “unlike television viewers, most visitors to my site came because they believed I had something unique to offer them. They trusted me. Blog is a book about trust; how old media — mainstream media — lost it and how new media is gaining it.”

I felt that was the crux of the why blogs are important — trust. And I think partly that’s why in Singapore, mainstream media is still a predominant source. Because say what you don’t like about SPH and The Straits Times, they are still a trusted source by many people. So it the government corporate communications. Until something drastic happens, the new & mainstream media scene in Singapore will not go through a revolutionary event, but it will be a relatively slow evolutionary one, as both media come to terms with each other.

Thinking aloud here (from impressions after reading the book):

  • Bloggers have less influence if MSM is still the preferred source.
  • And MSM can only be a preferred source if they remain trusted.
  • The real advantage blogs have over MSM, which MSM would find it hard to duplicate now, is speed.
  • But I think that may also change as MSM adopts “blog tactics” in terms of editorial rigor. Whoever can establish trust (though establishing facts) and maintain speed will be the main contender.
  • Why blogging is so popular: It’s akin to giving everyone the means to print their own news. Of course whether you got the readership was another issue. It’s about “having your last say”.

Hugh Hewitt is the host of a US radio show, and professor of law at Chapman University Law School. Also authored If It’s Not Close, They Can’t Cheat. He’s also a newspaper columnist as well. See also:

The book preface has a concise summary of development of blogs in US context. i.e. Blogs first appeared around 1999/ 2000. They got noticed when they entered politics and journalism “in a big way”, by commenting and raising money for political candidates, and “altered the course of the 2004 presidential election” (John Kerry Vs. George Bush). Another wave was after 9/11 (later referred to as “warblogs”). In 2004, there was “Rather-gate”.

I felt the book gave a very detailed account of how blogs worked in tandem, although not intentionally with mainstream media to influence popular opinion about Kerry’s war time record (and hence how truthful he was). And Dan Rather’s credibility after he insisted that the memo was real, even though there are many credible and reliable bloggers who proved it otherwise. It was a fascinating read of those particular episodes in the US Blogosphere.

Lots of links to blogs.

p.2 “There was no shared plan of attack among the blogs. There was no coordination between them and their allies in talk radio and a few corners of MSM such as FOX News. There was, however, a network and there was an understanding of what mattered — facts — and a desire for speed and, crucially, a target. The destructive energy of the blogopshere is fierce indeed when focused.”

p. 7. How senator Trend Lott was ousted as his party’s majority leader, for making racist remarks which Mainstream Media (MSM) first ignored but momentum was gained when more and more bloggers expressed concern on the matter.

Chapter 2 (p 47 – 59) is also a must-read. It draws a parallel between the Protestant Reformation of the Catholic Church in the 16th century, and the developments in media in the 20th century. Quite a detailed and interesting read as well.

In short – development of the Gutenberg press in 1449 meant a transition from hand-copied text to printed, i.e. speed of disseminating text. That’s the means, like blogs are merely the technology for communication. Then came along Martin Luther who, between 1517 and 1520, authored about 30 works and sold and estimated 200,000 copies on how the Catholic Church ought to be reformed and later making copies of the bible accessible to laypeople (prior to this, access the the written text was restricted — i.e. control of information as power). Then from 1517 to 1524, the estimated publication went over 6.6 million (p.56). Luther had a motive, and used technology as the means (initially unwittingly, for his notes posted on the Church door was copied without his knowing, it seems). Hewitt suggests that “for the MSM, it is 1449 and 1517, at the same moment”.

Chapter 5, on “The meltdown of mainstream media and where its audience went”.

Chapter 6, on “Why do bloggers blog? And why it matters to you”.
p. 105 “What is new about the blogosphere is that there are no barriers to entry to a world offering a nearly limitless audience. Key point: offering, not guaranteeing. Anyone can post, and if it is worth reading, it will be read. There is a vast audience of wisdom/ entertainment seekers. Whether your product is economic analysis, NASCAR boosterism, sexual gossip, or political smack talk, the blogopshere will allow you a chance to peddle your text wares.”

p. 108 “The information monopoly, especially in the world of politics, is shattered because the gatekeepers have lost their authority.”
The author suggests that many blogs will go unread, but page views is not the most important. He suggests that blogs, even with low readership, matters because of “the power of the tail”. Basically it means the collective readership of those low-readership blogs at the end of the tail, exceeds the readership of any one single popular blog.

“Because visitors to these low-traffic blogs are attached to them for some reason — friends, families or coworkers — the impact of the commentary will be higher than if a stranger visits [a high readership blog by chance]”.

p. 118 “A blog swarm around your business or organisation could be catastrophic”.

p. 120 Suggests some strategies to cope:

  • Establish a chain of command. Who’s got the authority to respond if a blog swarm attacks you.
  • An organisation policy on blogs by employees: “I think attempts to ban employee blogging will prove impossible, so it’s best to put out guidelines on the use of company information, best practices, and a warning on what sort of blogging behavior can get you canned”.
  • Transparency: “If a blog swarm arrives, don’t insult the swarm members… Engage senior leadership and put its members on the record. And crucially, admit error as soon as error is evident to you. If in good faith you don’t believe there is error, declare why and repeatedly defend your position with patience, humility, and have a line of retreat open if needed”.

p. 123 Chapter 8 – short chapter on some possible blogs that can be started.

p. 128 Chapter 9 “Blogging you, your product, or your organization to the world”

Suggests that “enemies will find you even if you don’t go looking”. More practical is p 137 on specific steps on “how to go about making friends in the blogosphere”:

  • “Acquaint yourself with the form”
  • Decides who does a good job, who meets your information needs
  • Tell them via email
  • “Throw a junket” [to mean, some incentive, I think]

p. 139, chapter 10 on “Finding a blogger for your organization’s blog”: Talking about external blogger. “The best bloggers have self-selected themselves already… Find who can write and who is ridiculously productive”. Basically suggests a trial and error approach. Sign good confidentiality agreements if necessary.

p. 151 on “key rules of blogging success”:

  1. Post often
  2. Link freely
  3. Be generous in praise and attribution
  4. Don’t be long-winded too often, if at all. Brevity is the soul of blogging when you are getting started.
  5. Paragraphs are your friend
  6. Profanity loses audiences
  7. Avoid feuds and flames wars
  8. At least at the start, skip the comments section (to avoid flamers and nuts) [but I don’t quite agree with this though]
  9. Keep the title short and easy to remember so that it is easy to recall

Recommends Joe Carter Evangelical Outpost (a series on getting started) and Stones Cry Out

Appendices include selected posts from his blog.