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B.U.M. 2007 - Some thoughts

The Bloggers United Meeting (B.U.M. 2007) was held last Saturday. It was described as:
"a social and networking event with a preliminary brainstorming session between the 4th & 5th estates to embrace and engage the blogging phenomenon in Malaysia... An event in conjunction with World Press Freedom Day on 3rd May." (B.U.M. 2007)

There is a full list of other related posts here: so I don't have to collate them myself :-) Thanks to whoever did that!

It was a very interesting event, with informative talks by a variety of experienced bloggers and journalists who shared their experiences in relaxed atmosphere. A big thanks to the organisers!

One of the questions that came to me was - what defines a 'blogger'? For example, Rocky Bru gave an update on the National Alliance of Bloggers (All-Blogs) and said that "all bloggers" can become members, so I wondered - does that mean I can open a blog today and become a member tomorrow? Or do I have to have had a blog for certain time? Do I need to have to have regular postings too?

It seems to me that an important aspect of the public debate surrounding blogs at the moment (with the MSM and the (Malaysian) Information Minister criticising blogs as unreliable) also relates to a definitional issue - what defines a 'journalist'? Does s/he have to work for, or be published in, a recognised news organisation? Or is it the published material itself that defines the journalist?

When an article is published in a newspaper, we can be reassured that it has gone through at least one level of checking - so we tend to trust articles written in newspapers to the extent that we trust the institution of the newspaper itself (or TV News, or whatever). Anyone can write whatever they want in a blog, it's true, but Marina Mahathir made a very pertinent point when she said that comments "balance out bias": this works to a large extent in blogs, if someone writes something completely inane, there is likely to be someone who will come along and criticise it.

On the other hand the blogger can delete/deny any comments they want. In addition, I think that people tend to cluster around blogs that reflect their own opinion: so anyone who is attracted to a blog because of its content, will tend to find themselves in the company of like-minded people, thus reinforcing whatever opinions they have.

[Some more anthropological/methodological points in the extended post... click below]
That meeting was also my inaugural 'real' anthropological field session - I took notes, tried to meet people and ask them if they'd like to do interviews at some point (luckily, everyone was welcoming and supportive) and then next day wrote up field notes. It made me think:

• Don't forget to put the memory card in your camera!! Duh! Which explains why there are no photos here...

• How little I know about doing proper fieldwork

• How much should I write here? Maybe bloggers will read this, and then be more self-conscious and change their behaviour accordingly (aka 'Hawthorne Effect' overall)? Maybe I'll write something that annoys someone, and then they won't want to talk to me? In other words, how much self-censorship should I do (given that we all engage in some, in all situations)?

• A related point is that most, if not all, bloggers are educated and literate people, who will be able to understand what I'm doing and observe me, the observer, in my ongoing research. So in a sense it's well different from 'traditional' anthropology where the researcher is visible, but his/her thoughts remain invisible, and usually get published in relatively obscure publications in a language foreign to the people being talked about. Well, it strikes me that I have to take advantage of this, and I hope that this blog will be a tool for engaging and incorporating bloggers contributions to this anthropological research. In a theoretical sense, this blog can become a dynamic tool for embodying reflexive practice.

• Something Rikey (@ Wattahack ) said to me made a lot of sense too - that studying blogs is something like shooting at a moving target. I expect my PhD to take me about three years, and in three years time who knows what the blogosphere will be like? Well, I was aware of that before, and it is partly what interests me, but it does raise certain issues... It's not a new concept to anthropology though, as viewing cultures as fixed bounded entities has long been rejected as unrealistic; but as Rikey said, it's the speed of change which is the issue.

• Finally, thanks to Paul, I have had to think about an ethical issue relating to the use of comments on this blog, and blog posts/comments in general. He has a Comments Policy which mostly makes sense to me. But I wonder about one thing: if people post things on the internet, doesn't it make it part of the public sphere, and therefore do I need their permission to quote them? Could I just have a blanket statement saying 'By posting here you agree to these terms... (i.e. that I can quote you)', or should I get individual permission from everyone? I have done the greater part of a paper on a 'Blogwar' in the Singaporean blogosphere, and have quoted different people in many places... the idea of chasing them all up to get permission gives me shivers... :-O

Anyway, enough for now: have a nice day :-)

Works Cited

B.U.M. 2007. 'Welcome!'. April 2007. 20 May 2007


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