Jealous of BlogHer Attendees

Oh well, at least they're putting good notes up. I'm particularly interested in Political Blogging Grows Up and Flame, Blame & Shame so far. I'll probably update this post as I find more links to add and have more to say about the discussions.

UPDATE: post-Blogher to-do lists.

Study of Weblog Ethics

While doing some digging around in Technorati, I found Weblog Ethics Survey Results, a research project by undergraduate students in the School of Communication and Information at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Andy Koh, Alvin Lim, and Ng Ee Soon surveyed 1,224 bloggers' views of four areas of ethics: "truth telling, accountability, minimizing harm, and attribution." They asked bloggers to categorize their weblogs as personal or non-personal and used those categories to foreground their analysis of the data. From their article:

This study explored ethical beliefs and practices of two distinct groups of bloggers--personal and non-personal--through a worldwide web survey. Over a period of three weeks, 1,224 responses were collected and analysed.

Our findings show that these two groups are distinctively different in demographics, blogging experiences, and habits. We also found that there are significant differences between personal and non-personal bloggers in terms of the ethical beliefs they value and the ethical practices to which they adhere.

Non-personal bloggers are typically older males, with more formal years of education than personal bloggers.

Non-personal bloggers tend to have more readers, update their weblogs more frequently, and spend more time on their weblogs.

Their study is making the rounds, but I would have thought more people would link to it. But it's summer, I guess. Susan Herring made an interesting comment that links the study by Koh, Lim, & Ng to some of the BROG studies. While I think Koh, Lim, & Ng have done some fine work here, I must say I'm a little surprised that Jonathon Delacour's thoughtful essay on weblog ethics, which touches on the fact that some people write fiction or creative nonfiction on their weblogs and that a journalism-based set of ethics is too restrictive for them, isn't cited (especially as it's the #1 Google hit for "weblog ethics").

Pregnant at MLA

How'd I miss this Chronicle thread? Wow. Just read the whole thing. A woman going on the market this fall is going to be about six months pregnant at MLA and wonders if she should try to hide it with what I'm guessing would be baggy clothes, so that people would think it was just extra weight. Depending on the capaciousness of a woman's pelvis and her pre-pregnancy weight, keeping it a secret might work, but how messed up is it that we're in a situation in which pregnant women are so tempted to try to pass? Responses are mixed, some evidencing stunning misogyny:

I wouldn't hire someone visibly pregnant. Call it prejudiced, but they're just not going to be single-mindedly devoted to the position.

[. . .]

If you hire a women [sic] about to have a kid you can count on

1. erratic attendance at faculty meetings
2. sporadic participation in committee meetings
3. missed teaching assignments
4. (where relevant) no research activity

What you wind up with is an undependable faculty member that expect [sic] special treatment at the expense of her colleagues. Everyone else has to pick up the slack for the "new mom". What galls me is this new mom has the unmitigated gall to expect a different standard for tenure!

A few years ago our (female) department head instituted a standing policy that no woman with a child under the age of two would be hired. period.

We have never regretted that policy...

[To be sure, some posters on the thread thought this guy wasn't for real. I hope they're right.]

Several sympathizers to the original poster's predicament are expressing the "it's their loss, not yours" and "you wouldn't have wanted that job anyway" arguments. Other posters point out that given the way job searches go, it's next to impossible to prove that pregnancy and/or parenthood was the cause of a woman's not getting hired. The consensus favors (not just in the original poster's case, but for any women who are pregnant or who have children) keeping that information concealed if possible. Is this all we can hope for -- hide it, their loss, not yours? Some of the responses on the thread are heartening, but for the most part, what a downer.

Linkage: mostly outrageous, but two bright spots

Via Copyfight: After a reporter for the Pensacola News-Journal revealed in an op-ed that "more than 10,000 children of Wal-Mart employees are in a Georgia health-care program, which costs the state's taxpayers nearly $10 million a year," and "31 percent of the patients at a North Carolina hospital were Wal-Mart employees on Medicaid," at least one northwest Florida Wal-Mart banned the sale of the PNJ but then lifted the ban. Still, that's pretty awful.

More awful is this story about how lousy U.S. family leave policies are in comparison to other countries (Via Ms. Musings).

The good news is, today's Chronicle has an article about orphan works, which I hope will raise some awareness among scholars about the obstructive qualities of copyright. From the article (link added):

In response to the U.S. Copyright Office's request for comments, Cornell University librarians added up the money and time spent clearing copyright on 343 monographs for a digital archive of literature on agriculture. Although the library has spent $50,000 and months of staff time calling publishers, authors, and authors' heirs, it has not been able to identify the owners of 58 percent of the monographs.

"In 47 cases we were denied permission, and this was primarily because the people we contacted were unsure whether they could authorize the reproduction or not," says Peter B. Hirtle, who monitors intellectual-property issues for Cornell's libraries. "Copyright is supposed to advance the sciences and arts, and this is copyright becoming an impediment to the sciences and arts."

Restrictions on using orphan works, often imposed by risk-averse lawyers at colleges and museums, affect scholarly work in ways large and small.

Right on to that! Finally, G Zombie has it on good authority (see last comment in thread) that an essay in support of blogging will be appearing in the Chronicle soon.

In Memory of Maxine Hairston

In the last seven months, the community of scholars in rhetoric and composition studies has lost three highly respected and admired members: Candace Spigelman, John Lovas, and now Maxine Hairston (see tributes by Rebecca Moore Howard and various others at The Blogora. I couldn't find a general site for Hairston, so for her name I linked to her "Ideas for Grading," which seems to capture appropriately, in her own words, her passion for helping students learn. I never got to meet her myself, unfortunately, but Michael Keene, my advisor from my master's program and a former student of Hairston's, has asked me to post this essay, derived from his essay in Against the Grain. I'm happy to do it:

TAKING RISKS: A Tribute to Maxine Hairston*

Michael Keene

University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Maxine Cousins Hairston, born April 9, 1922, to Louise Hennessy Cousins and Richard Clyde Cousins in Ironwood, Michigan, died July 22, 2005.

Probably one of the most remarkable things about Maxine—to me, anyway, a man who is by his own admission a slave to habit—was her willingness to take risks. To go back to graduate school after her kids were not quite grown, to take on being freshman director at Texas when she knew the folks who gave her the job were giving her what they saw as a glorified secretarial position, to build a major national career on that basis, to first embrace and then become a primary advocate of process pedagogy, to become a strong critic of the literary establishment (“mandarins,” she called them [and worse in the earliest version of “Breaking Our Bonds,” which I got her to tone down]), to be a leader in the separation of the rhetoric and writing program at Texas from the literature program, to take on people she thought were making a grave mistake in introducing politically one-sided approaches into freshman composition, and then to walk away at the top of her career, throw herself into tutoring disadvantaged kids, fighting for the Democratic Party in Texas, and supporting Planned Parenthood, to earn yet another college degree and keep doing her books—what a great risk taker she was! She passed on a little bit of that to me. Here’s a story about one way that worked. This would have been in about 1985, when she was 63 or so.

"The personal," disrupted

I think I just had, to use Sam's term, a duh-piphany. Let me explain. Michelle's comments here in response to the recent pair of articles claiming that blogging will hurt one's career ("the mere act of opening up could cost you a job") made me think all of a sudden about what Mike has been saying about personal writing, and I finally put my finger on something. I'm sure it's blindingly obvious to the rest of you, but here's my new understanding: Due in part to blogging and other kinds of quickly, easily, and widely disseminative self-publication that the internet makes possible, as well as a complex confluence of factors in the social and political milieu (shifting notions of public/private, to offer one example), and the market (imaginary rather than material capital, middle class' living paycheck to paycheck, carrying debt, depending more on the market's caprice*) the context and meaning of personal writing have changed. "The personal" is becoming a site of struggle. To put it another way, "opening up" is set in opposition to "corporate values,"** and I'll admit that "the demonization of the personal" is a strong phrase, but judging from the articles in the Chronicle (and the subsequent forum discussion) and The New York Times, the personal is obviously seen by a lot of people as being to a considerable extent verboten.

So "the personal," in composition theory, can be conceptualized in terms of rights, as something at stake to which students have a right, a right that they should exercise. In the current context, I think one could make a persuasive case for this.

Viewed in this manner, any personal writing, regardless of subject matter, is political precisely because of its status as "the personal," which is in a very dramatic political and economic sense being called into question.

* Not to say that living hand-to-mouth is anything new. I'm probably way off on this point. I'm thinking of stories like Prof. B.'s, just to provide a reference.

** Edited to clarify: not just "corporate values," but one's status or potential status as a producer, one's means to make a living, as well as the right to express publicly an identity other than "worker."

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Apply for this position as a Grassroots Organizer with NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota.

Interview for _Uses of Blogs_

I was recently interviewed for the forthcoming collection Uses of Blogs. They probably won't be able to use everything I wrote, so I thought I'd post the whole thing here as a kind of appendix.


1)What kind of blogging do you do? Do you feel your blogging falls into a particular genre of weblog?

Well, I blog under my real name, and I don't write much about my personal life; I try to stick to my research and, to a lesser extent, politics. I'm acutely aware of discretion and the invisible line between public and private, and I rarely blog about friends and family. My family members are very private people, and they'd like me to be as well. I know they read my weblog, so before posting, I imagine what their reactions to my words might be. There are also the guidelines “don't say anything that you wouldn't publish on the front page of the newspaper under your real name” and “don't say anything you wouldn't say in front of your grandmother.” If my weblog falls into a genre, I'm guessing it would be a knowledge-log, or klog. I've seen people put links to my site under the heading “Klogs,” so at least some others see my weblog that way too.

2)How do you see blogging genres evolving in the future? Will there be a point when we'll speak of these genres as distinct forms of publishing in their own right – ie a scenario where 'blogging' is no more meaningful a term than 'publishing'?

I think that even now “blogging” is only slightly more meaningful a term than “publishing.” With blogging, the special meaning is that what you're doing is self-publishing without an editor or other gatekeeper. When I first started studying weblogs in 2002, I quickly realized that making claims or generalizations about weblogs was like trying to say that X is true of all books: Maybe you can make a claim about all books, but it wouldn't be a very meaningful one. Jim Oliver, a colleague of mine, has said that a weblog is not a genre; it's a technology. [NB: He may not think this anymore.] I don't know if I agree that generic conventions are all that separate from specific writing technologies, but many genre theorists – including Carolyn Miller, Amy Devitt, Carol Berkenkotter, and Thomas Huckin – have argued that specific social contexts allow communicative genres to emerge and that emergent genres almost always have some kind of antecedent. For example, you'll often hear people compare weblogs to political pamphlets or broadsides, or to personal diaries. Carolyn Miller and Dawn Shepherd (2004) point to the “democratization of celebrity” and its accompanying genres, including talk shows and reality television, as part of the larger cultural and generic foundation for blogging's emergence.

In the future, with the rise of podcasting, vlogging, large collaborative audio projects like [murmur], the joining together of interactive online art and graffiti (, and who knows what else in the pipeline, there are going to be plenty of other ways to publish besides keeping a text-based weblog. The term “citizen media” is inclusive enough to encompass all of these technologies while still retaining the self-publishing, unedited by larger organizations aspect of this phenomenon.


3) How do you conceptualise the blogosphere - is it a network, are there clusters, hotspots? How is it organised?

I haven't done a lot of research using network theory, though I am learning more about it, but based on my experience, I would say there are hotspots where the same people comment regularly, communities form, and readers get to know each other. Bitch Ph.D. and Crooked Timber are good examples of hotspots in the greater academic blogging community, and Chez Miscarriage is one place where a lot of women who blog about infertility come together. I find other bloggers in my referrers, on other people's weblogs when they link out to others' posts, on other people's blogrolls, and in other people's comment threads.

4)How 'democratic' is the blogosphere? What do you think about the idea of 'A-list' bloggers?

I attended a panel recently in which Dan Gillmor, author of We the Media, pointed out that there are far more readers in “the long tail” of the power law distribution than there are readers who read the Technorati Top 10, so it's not as though if you're not on “the A-list,” whatever that means (the “higher beings” and “mortal humans” in The Truth Laid Bear's Ecosystem?), no one will read your weblog, or that if you start a weblog, it will be all that much harder to garner an audience than it was four or five years ago. If one thinks of “democratic” in this sense as having equal opportunity to speak and be heard, I believe the blogosphere can be democratic, at least to an extent, if the blogger reaches out and joins a conversation, writes herself into the network (Walker, 2003) by linking to other weblogs, commenting at other weblogs, and making use of trackback.

However, I would argue that the bloggers who get the most traffic are in a privileged position. They amplify the voices of the writers to whom they link and expose their writing to a much larger audience. I am not trying to say that popular bloggers have any particular responsibility to link to, for example, feminist women or people of color, but I believe it's in the interest of a democratic blogosphere to seek out and bring in minority positions and issues.

I also don't think one can talk about the blogosphere without talking about its uptake in mainstream media and its representations in popular culture. In the United States, I find this to be a problem. The bloggers who get the most positive attention from major news organizations as well as opportunities to publish in other venues tend to be white men. Political, filter-style weblogs are masculinized, personal, diary-style weblogs are feminized, and the two types are overly bifurcated. Personal weblogs about parenting [Actually, blogs about personal life, whether the writers are parents or not] are represented as narcissistic and confessional, and blogging has also been portrayed as activity associated with stereotypical teenaged girls (silly, overly dramatic, self-centered). Herring, Kouper, Scheidt, & Wright (2004) found that while a majority of bloggers write personal, journal-style weblogs rather than more impersonal, filter-style weblogs, filter-style weblogs are overrepresented and taken more seriously in mainstream American culture. Insofar as “online” and “offline” life are lived by the same people and can't be separated, I would argue that the discussion about the blogosphere as well as the discussion taking place within the blogosphere contribute to its perceived measure of democracy.


5)How do you evaluate the quality of information on blogs? How much danger is there of misleading information spreading through blogs?

Credibility is very important online. It must be earned, either through “real-world” credentials such as an advanced degree or other evidence of expertise on a topic or through an established pattern of writing with fairness and accuracy. If a blogger publishes something he or she knows to be inaccurate, or is proven later to be inaccurate, it can take a long time to live that down. Writers who take blogging seriously do not want to lose their credibility or their audience, and they tend to correct publicly any errors they make. Most people I know who keep weblogs consciously or unconsciously follow Rebecca Blood's set of weblog ethics. At the same time, though, some bloggers write fiction, or intentionally embellished impressions of real life, and do not want to be held to an ethical standard grounded in journalism (Delacour, 2003). Bloggers feel varying levels of accountability to their readers, so the responsibility of verifying information often falls on the readers. As with any information, print or online, it is best to question facts and interpretations and read critically.

6)Is blogging changing the way we write?

One of my colleagues, Charles Lowe, claims that he can see blogging's influence on Lawrence Lessig's writing style in his most recent book, Free Culture. For my part, I think blogging has helped me to see what kind of writing people respond to best. My writing style has always been fairly clear, but through blogging, I've learned that even in scholarly essays that have set conventions, readers appreciate some creativity and imagination in the form of narrative. I think that has carried over into my other writing. Also, through writing for such a public and vocal audience, I am much more careful about what I say: careful to define my terms and qualify my claims.

What we still need are some longitudinal studies assessing student writing before and during blogging. Composition scholars are studying the influence of blogging on student writing, but the studies that I know of so far have only assessed student writing over the course of one semester, toward the beginning of which students started blogging, so getting a comprehensive baseline assessment of students' writing was difficult. I hope a group of composition scholars will do a longitudinal study on blogging's influence on writing using on a large group of students who are new to blogging, starting with a holistic portfolio assessment of each student's writing and ending with another portfolio. Even then, it will be hard to identify criteria to track and to pinpoint which improvements are directly related to blogging and which are more attributable to students' overall intellectual development. Several teachers would have to evaluate the writing, and students would have to be interviewed at various stages in the study to get a sense of where blogging fits in.


7)How do you make your blog? Do you use RSS, and if so, how? Do you use Trackback, and if so, how? Do you use metablogs such as Daypop or Technorati, and if so, how?

My weblog runs on Drupal, which features a built-in news aggregator. I use aggregation for the same reason most people do: It makes it easy to keep up with a lot of weblogs and other frequently-updated sites. I use trackback too, but not every time I link to someone. I try to imagine a reader perusing a post on another weblog a couple of years from now. If I consider my participation in the conversation to be significant enough to be co-archived on my site as well as someone else's, I'll send a trackback. In recent months, spammers have been abusing trackback, but I have no plans to get rid of it on my own site; I think it's a great way to join posts together.

I search for my blog on Technorati, too; sometimes I don't catch weblogs that link to me in my referrers. Technorati is a good tool for finding out a little more about your audience. The tagging in Technorati is valuable as well, but when I browse folksonomies, I tend to go to or


8)Who is your audience?

My longtime, regular audience consists of academics in my discipline, rhetoric and composition, feminist women, and friends and family, but I can see from my referrers that a lot of other readers find my weblog in Google searches. When posting, I try to anticipate what search terms in my post might lead to my weblog. This exercise in anticipating search terms, taken with my trying to imagine how readers will react to what I write, helps me fine-tune what I say and use terms carefully. If someone finds my weblog in a Google search for a specific term, I don't want him or her to come to my weblog and find misinformation or sloppy thinking.

9) Why do you blog?

I've always been a pretty open, extroverted person, and my weblog is just an extension of that quality. I blog because it's a good way not only to get my ideas and scholarship into circulation and get feedback on them, but because it's a good way to make new friends.

10) What impact has blogging had on the rest of your life? Has it been dangerous/detrimental to expose your life to complete strangers in this way?

Blogging has had a significant impact on my career, for the better. Because of my weblog, reporters have interviewed me, I've been invited to give lectures and review manuscripts for scholarly journals, and I was even offered a scholarship to the Internet Law Program, sponsored by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Harvard Law School. A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education warned graduate students that blogging almost certainly will hurt their careers. I hope that won't be the case with me. I rarely mention coworkers, family, or friends when I blog, and when I do, it's innocuous and complimentary, so I haven't gotten in trouble for anything I've written. I enjoy reading other people's personal writing, but I don't do too much of it myself. It's emotionally risky, even if you do it anonymously; readers can make remarks in comments that hurt regardless of whether or not your real name is connected with the writing.

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