Saturday, April 10, 2004

Lifestyle

Blogger’s choice

Dan Webster - Staff writer

Doug Hughes gets up every morning as early as he can. Like most of us, the deputy prosecutor for Spokane County typically showers, shaves, dresses and eats breakfast.

But unlike most of us, Hughes also blogs.

Confused? Don't be. Blogging isn't some sort of exercise, no variation on Pilates or Tae Bo. The word blog is simply a contraction of the computer-geek term Web log.

Ever keep a personal diary? Ever write letters to the editor? Ever write postcards home detailing the sights that you've seen on your summer vacation? Blogging, depending on your personal interests, can mean any or all of the above.

Only you're penning your thoughts on an Internet site.

Hughes' interests, which show up on a site titled SpoVegas, consist of whatever happens to be on his mind when he sits down every day at his computer keyboard.

The 28-year-old attorney has used his blog to complain about the limitations of cable television coverage, preview an upcoming concert by a rock band, applaud the beginning of baseball season and deliver blistering remarks about the River Park Square controversy.

And he did all that on Wednesday morning between 7:42 and 8:23.

You can see more of what Hughes cares about by going directly to his site ( www.spovegas.com), or by going to www.spokesmanreview.com.

SpoVegas is one of the more than 50 blogs written by Inland Northwest writers listed on The Spokesman-Review's Web site.

Ken Sands, The Spokesman-Review's managing editor of online and new media, began linking to area bloggers in February.

“Journalism traditionally has been reporters and editors performing the gatekeeping function,” Sands says. “We decide what the news is. But with the Web, now everybody has the ability to become published.”

Just how many blogs are out there? According to a recent USA Today story, as many as 7 percent of the estimated 146 million adult Internet users may be writing their own blogs. That means that as many as 10 million Americans could be posting their thoughts on the Web (other calculations put the number at around 2 million).

And instead of fighting the trend, Sands believes that traditional journalism should join the crowd.

“Rather than be afraid of it or work against it, we should be going with the flow,” Sands says. “If this is where our communication is going as a society, we should try to figure out how to facilitate it.”

Sands has split the blogs listed on www.spokesmanreview.com into three groups: news and opinion, personal journals and expatriates.

That last group, Sands says, includes “people who used to live here or people who are traveling, foreign exchange students or a teacher who is a spending a year teaching in Japan” (see Mary's Japan Blog, written by District 81 special education teacher Mary Naber).

SpoVegas author Hughes is one of 11 bloggers whom Sands specially features because of the group's overall quality, diversity and each writer's willingness to update his or her site on a regular basis.

“It takes a lot of work,” Hughes says. “I'm surprised at how much. Probably an hour a day or so.”

That's a lot of effort for an online journal that, Hughes admits, is read mostly by friends and family. But it is a creative outlet, a way, he says, “of riffing on the stuff that I am reading.”

And, he says, “I think every blogger has the fantasy of being Andrew Sullivan or somebody” -- and here he affects a Walter Cronkite-deep voice -- “who taps into the vein of the real American voice.”

Sullivan, by the way, is a journalist, author and former editor of The New Republic magazine whose blog ( www.andrewsullivan.com) is one of the most popular in the nation, averaging nearly 46,000 visits a day.

Most bloggers, Sands says, are more likely to get 46 visits a day.

So why do bloggers do it? Pioneer blogger Rebecca Blood ( www.rebeccablood.net) theorizes that, aside from the narcissistic exercise of writerly self-absorption, those who keep with it end up becoming better, and more complex, thinkers. By reconsidering their own opinions, she wrote, they ideally “become less reflexive and more reflective, and find (their) own opinions and ideas worthy of serious consideration.”

As for why someone might want to read another person's online musings, Blood says the answer is simple sociology. A blogger's thoughts, she wrote, “pieced together over months, can provide an unexpectedly intimate view of what it is to be a particular individual in a particular place at a particular time.”

The blogs listed on www.spokesmanreview.com offer a variety of such views.

Kristen Hoppe, 31, of Coeur d'Alene, for example, writes about current events -- the war in Iraq, threats to Internet freedom, the Atkins diet -- but does so in short posts that link to other Internet sites and stories.

In her post about the Atkins diet, she wrote, “This is what it looks like to the three of us not currently on it.” And then she linked to a Dave Barry column.

“I am not, obviously, good at putting together my thoughts,” Hoppe says. “I have opinions, but I could never get them across on paper, so I don't even bother trying.”

She says that she has about a “solid six or so readers.” But, she adds, the occasional stranger comes through, too. And in any event, she says, “I'm reaching people across the country, and I'm shocked that they actually read this and care what I think.”

It doesn't shock Sands, who says that “There are large communities being built up everywhere of people who want to have these conversations outside of mainstream media.” Members of those various (and often very different) communities do Web searches on key terms that interest them -- “Iraqi war,” for example, or “Janet Jackson's breasts” -- find a site and post a comment of their own.

Visualize it as one big Internet bulletin board. Other area blogs featured on The Spokesman-Review's own version include:

• Zana Morrow (Gemini Wench) -- Morrow is a self-described “disillusioned” 21-year-old Spokane Valley resident who “works as a phone jockey whilst spending her free time harassing the fine people at 24-hour eateries.” Her brand of humor is best described as R-rated.

• Russ Lipton (Coffeehouse at the End-of-Days) -- Lipton returned to Spokane after a 20-year sojourn and preaches at Christ Community Church. Claiming to have “been forced into political conservatism by reality,” he says he still is “open to argument.”

• Elizabeth Kissling (La di da) -- Lipton is a professor of communications studies at Eastern Washington University who, as a fourth-grader, supported the presidential campaign of George McGovern. She says she began blogging in 2001 so that she “would have a place to comment about things in the news that annoy, amuse, interest or infuriate her.”

• Remi Olsen (The Shrine to Remi Olsen) -- Olsen is a 26-year-old Norwegian now living, he says, somewhere in the Inland Northwest. His sense of humor was best displayed on April 1 when he posted news that the INS had withdrawn his green card and was throwing him out of the country.

“This time tomorrow I'll be on a plane to Cuba,” he wrote, “and the next update you'll see will be typed from Fidel's back yard.”

Was he just joking?

Go to his blog and you can see for yourself.