ConvergeSouth and the future of journalism
Lunch is an informal affair at ConvergeSouth, the conference at NC A&T University held by the local blogosphere and billed as ‘“the South’s first free conference focused on moving North Carolina toward breakthroughs in creativity and diversity on the internet.’” There’s a long table in the atrium of the aptly-named New Classroom Building loaded with bagged meals ‘— sandwiches denoted by the letters T, H, R or V and an assortment of donated goodies that include a bag of chips, an apple and a big cookie.
David Hoggard, Greensboro businessman, onetime city council candidate and curator of Hogg’s Blog, unfurls the plastic wrap from his ham-on-white and sets the sandwich on the table. He’s got a booty bag of freebies at his feet full of gifts for presenters.
This bank of chairs in the atrium is now a star-studded row of Greensboro blogging personalities, not a one of them in pajamas or slippers: Lex Alexander from the News & Record chews his lunch and discusses the nuances of the game of soccer as practiced by four year olds before he lectures on traditional journalistic values to the congregation; Billy Jones, aka Billy the Blogging Poet, has a seat on the end; the blogger known as JW ruminates about her college-age children; Sue Polinsky, the guiding voice of the Southern Rants blog, tries to hold one conversation with the assembled group and another with the voice she hears from the mod-looking earpiece she wears.
They’ve all got them on, all the key people from the conference, these micro wireless earpieces that make them look like the Borg.
Hogg opens the goodie bag at his feet and examines the swag piece by piece: a ConvergeSouth T-shirt; signage and mappage from the Greensboro Convention and Visitors Bureau; a church fan and a cup from the city government; a bevy of A&T merch including a lethal-looking letter opener and a motherlode from the N&R including a hat, a notepad and a smart-looking travel mug.
‘“And that bag is big enough to fit your laptop,’” Sue says.
And laptops are popped all over the room, some people checking email or sites they’ve just learned about at the lectures and others actually blogging as they masticate.
Outside the glass windows Ed Cone, known locally as the ‘Blogfather’ for his work on edcone.com and also his tendency to enlighten others to the way of the blog, schmoozes with fans. David Wharton, UNCG professor and steward of his own blog, ‘A Little Urbanity,’ says: ‘“I didn’t know I was a ‘citizen journalist’ until somebody told me.’”
At this stage in the fresh yet incredibly dense history of blogdom, the question as to whether bloggers are journalists seems to have been put to rest ‘— yes, some bloggers are journalists. But a newer, more complicated query was discussed about an hour before in a forum titled, ‘“Blogs ‘— the Future of Journalism?’”, the question being: Can journalists blog?
Ted Vaden, public editor of the Raleigh News & Observer, says that blogging methodology often includes the dispensation of opinion and that posts rarely have the benefit (or curse) of being seen by an editor before exposure to the light of day, things, he says, ‘“some journalists are uncomfortable with.’”
But the big question of the day about blogging, in my mind at least, is a tad more practical: Is there any money in it?
That beach ball got batted around after lunch in a second-floor classroom of the Crosby building by UNC-Chapel Hill journalism professor Phil Meyer, Belmont University’s Sybril Bennett, spot-on.com’s Chris Nolan and web page translator Martin Heimann. The consensus seemed to be that, yes, it is possible to generate some dough from a blog, but nobody was exactly sure how or even when that day will come for the masses who toil on their machines.
If you can figure that one out, Bennett says, you’ll make a whole lot of money.
There’s a couple of people in the room with their laptops rolling, checking pages, sending e-mails, outright blogging. Is that rude? Who can say in the new era of communication and information dispersal, when news is more urgent than a bathroom run at a beer-drinking contest and twice as copious?
Roch Smith Jr., host of the Greensboro blog aggregator greensboro101.com, would like to know how to shake some dimes from his online efforts. He’s recently added an advertising component to the blogs on his site, though he hasn’t splurged on a Porsche just yet.
But who’s paying for all this, he’s asked.
‘“Foundations,’” he replies, which include the Tannenbaum-Sternberger Foundation and the Joseph M Bryan Foundation.
Foundations. They kick in the dough for the speakers and other expenses. Maybe that’s how to make money from a blog.
To comment on this column, e-mail Brian Clarey at firstname.lastname@example.org.