When blogging, face the conversation

Oct 22, 2006

Published in the Raleigh News & Observer, October 22, 2006

For years, both my grandfathers regularly sent typewritten letters to their family members, who were scattered from coast to coast. Grandpa Sisco invariably recorded his daily schedule — early morning walk, daily Mass, evening supper out with Grandma — while Grandpa Zuiker crafted adventure chronicles about fishing trips to the Outer Banks.

I became a writer because they wrote. And then, with the Web, I became a blogger.

Today, when I post entries to my weblog, I’m doing just what my grandfathers did with their letters. I’m sharing my habits, my travels, my observations, my political frustrations, my career hopes and whatever else I choose to record or express during the course of my day.

Because a weblog is almost always open to the public to read, First Amendment protections and responsibilities apply just as they do to traditional media. As I explain in my Blogging 101 sessions, we’re protected and confined by the same rules as journalists — libel, copyright, decency — and we should follow the same guidelines of truth, accuracy and transparency.

Most bloggers, whether they be professional writers or not, are also committed to good grammar, precise spelling and good form, and they strive for consistency in style and voice.

But we haven’t agreed on a blogger code of ethics, and we never will. That’s because anyone can be a blogger, and a blogger can be anyone. In America, we don’t require artists or novelists or songwriters or talk show hosts or cell phone conversationalists to swear on a code of ethics for their chosen medium of expression. Don’t think that bloggers will be the first.

Blogging, at its best, is a conversation. A blogger writes an entry, often linking to Web pages with what other people are saying, and any other person in the world can respond with a comment beneath the original posting. Some bloggers like to scream into the wilderness, but the majority of us use our blogs to share our thoughts and patiently listen to the reactions.

Of course, that commentary can lead to blogging at its worst, with bloggers and commenters alike being downright mean.

In rereading the letters of my grandfathers, I have yet to come across a single sentence in which they wrote an insulting or derogatory thing. Sure, they were writing private letters to family, but they knew they’d be facing their relatives at the annual Sisco Picnic or Zuiker Jamboree.

And so it is with my blogging. I write as if I’m going to meet my audience the next day, and I only write what I’m prepared to defend. If there must be rules for blogging, let’s leave it at this (golden) one: blog about others as you would have others blog about you.

Here in the Triangle, we’ve formed a group called BlogTogether, and under that umbrella, we regularly get together in twice-monthly meetups, occasional parties and an annual conference. Greensboro, too, has a proactive group of civic-minded bloggers who just hosted the excellent ConvergeSouth conference about building online communities.

These efforts put us face to face with our fellow bloggers, and we learn to see each other as the diverse and multi-faceted individuals we all are. The more strident that political dialogue becomes in our country, the more important it is we learn to face each other with respect. Bloggers who meet the people they blog about keep the Web from getting too impersonal.

When my grandchildren some day read my blog archives, I hoped they’ll enjoy my writing and find honor in how I expressed myself. I want them to be just as proud of me as I am of my grandfathers and this sheaf of old letters.

— Anton Zuiker lives in Durham and blogs at www.mistersugar.com. Find more information about BlogTogether events, including the January 2007 NC Science Blogging Conference, here.

Anton Zuiker

© 2000 Zuiker Chronicles Publishing, LLC