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The blogosphere grows a year older, wiser

by Brian Clarey

“Any of these bloggers ever been sued before?” I asked

Could it have been a year ago when I sat at the dinner table and posed this question to Ed Cone? It must have been, because it was celebrity dinner night at ConvergeSouth, and here we are getting ready to do it all over again.

ConvergeSouth, for the uninitiated, is Greensboro’s homegrown electronic media extravaganza. Last year, its first, it was a cordial gathering of bloggers, journalists, videographers, tech geeks, visionaries, closeted political junkies and a few bona fide newsies banded together in a cluster of rooms at NC A&T to’… learn from each other’… to drive the bus of the fledgling online medium a few more miles’… to give a stamp of credibility to the set that was once dismissed as the “pajama and slippers crowd” by’… well’… by people like me who work in what people like them call the “dead tree media.”

I recall that meal fairly well, though I am sometimes confounded by short-term memory problems of my own doing: a private dining room on the first floor of the Greensboro Biltmore Hotel; sensible lighting; red wine and green salad and’… was it chicken? Among my dining companions were Randall Gregg, publisher of the Raleigh Chronicle and a friend to YES! Weekly even before we got our first issue off the presses in January 2005; some guy named Mr. Sugar; and Ed Cone himself, the writer who, through encouragement and example, launched a thousand blogs.

I remember being pulled in different directions that night – a story I was working on about Grimsley homecoming forced me to sandwich the dinner between a halftime practice and the homecoming dance later that evening. I was also a bit put out – I’ll be honest – because I had signed up for a seat at Cone’s table before Amanda Congdon, onetime host of the Rocketboom video blog and possessor of a physique that inspired the wankers at gawker.com to christen her with the nickname “Juggy McJuggerson,” had agreed to host a table of her own at the Minj Grill the same night.

I remember the day – a Friday – for many things. I had a chance to finally meet John Robinson, editor of the News & Record and a man for whom I once worked, after his lecture on the future of web journalism but I wussed out at the opportunity because we had just run a story criticizing him for his paper’s coverage of the Truth and Reconciliation business and he was not pleased by this. I heard UNC-Chapel Hill journalism professor Phil Meyer, an old-school newshound if ever there were one, expound on the possibilities of the new technology when married with the traditions of formal communication. It was also the day I found out that Grimsley High Principal Rob Gasparello went to the same high school as I did on Long Island, but that is neither here nor there.

The most important thing I learned that day, with the knowledge that kids in high school dance like they’re paying/getting paid for it coming in a close second, was that this form of communication is for real. It’s not a fad – though many bloggers have dropped out of the race, there have been many more who have stepped up like soldiers in the Russian Army during WWII who picked up the guns of their fallen comrades. It is not illegitimate. And, for many, it transcends the label of “hobby.”

Oh there are hobbyists galore in the blogosphere, to be sure. But while those who toil in print journalism solely as a side-item distraction kind of piss me off, the bloggers who hold everyday jobs (and, often, extremely specialized gigs) lend a sort of credence to the form, like outsider art or novelists who have but a single roman à clef in them.

And for every 20 hobbyists, I estimate there is somebody out there doing it for cold, hard cash.

Blogging, I learned on that cool, crisp day last year, is for real.

As proof I offer the fact that I troll the blogs each day – looking for insight on local happenings, using them as tip sheets for the things people are talking about, searching for feedback on the journalistic output from our own bustling newsroom.

And, I notice, I now regard bloggers in much the same way as regular citizens regard’… us, actual professional journalists: they are a nuisance that I can’t do without; a “low” art form that, were it not so captivating, I’d disregard out of hand; and, sometimes, the best way to get a story out to the people immediately and with real impact and insight.

A lot has transpired in the blogosphere this past year, especially here in Greensboro where the form is alive and flourishing. And, getting back to my lede, a number of bloggers have been sued for things like libel, invasion of privacy, defamation and negligence, though not in our fair burg.

But hey, all of us who toil in the printed word know that’s the price of doing business. Blogging is no different.

At any rate, I’ll be out there at ConvergeSouth this Saturday without the burden of a cover story to pursue. Hopefully’… probably’… I’ll have another epiphany about online media. I’ll surely make some new friends and run into a bunch of old ones. And I’ll definitely walk out of there knowing something I didn’t when I walked in.

To comment on this story, e-mail Brian at editor@yesweekly.com.

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