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Battle of the Blogs in Santa Barbara

Anonomity and Notoriety On the World Wide Web


The kind of exchange that can only happen in the blogosphere went down on a few of Santa Barbara’s regular online reads in the past few weeks. Aside from a simple back-and-forth between popular online entities, however, the matter shined some light on how blogs are fast becoming a facet of Santa Barbara culture about which fans can be quite defensive. Everybody, it seems, has a notion about how blogs should be written and who should-or shouldn’t-be writing them.

In the comment field for a SantaBarbarasBlog.com post regarding the State of the City breakfast on Thursday, March 29, a mischievous reader apparently posted in the guise of KEYT reporter John Palminteri. SantaBarbarasBlog.com itself made no mention of Palminteri in the initial post, though it did ding Mayor Marty Blum for defending the Granada Theatre project and not mentioning issues such as vandalism or “ethnic relations.” Readers, however, discussed Palminteri’s presence at the event, at times even mentioning analogues to Will Ferrell persona Ron Burgundy. This prompted the Pseudo-Palminteri to comment, “I’m getting a bad wrap for covering the event, wow.”

Craig Smith’s first post up on April 2-titled “Another Reason I Don’t Allow Comments”-discussed how Smith had spoken with the real Palmintetri. Smith related that Palminteri claimed to be a blog reader-but not a commenter on SantaBarbarasBlog.com or on any others. Smith used the Pseudo-Palminteri incident to back up his decision to circumvent the occasional headaches caused by erroneous, misleading, and pseudonymous comments by omitting the feature altogether. Smith wrote:

Policing comments on a blog is like trying to direct traffic in Mexico City. I have neither the time nor the inclination to take it on. As for those who do, I think if someone with high name identification like John purports to submit a comment, the blog host owes it to the commenter and the blog’s readers, to take steps to verify that it’s the real deal.

Indeed, while often a staple of blogs, Smith’s site does not permit feedback that other users can read. His is one of the few major SB blogs not to do so.

Not to be outdone, SantaBarbarasBlog.com keeper “Editor Bird” responded, doubting that Palminteri’s mention about the stray comment could have been “unsolicitated.”. This post praised SantaBarbarasBlog.com readers for their comments and pledged to continue offering itself as a forum for people to debate the day’s news back and forth. Again, readers responded-though notably without anyone seriously posing as a local bigwig. Comments, of course, varied in their tone. Some noted that SantaBarbarasBlog’s open-but-moderated policy was so commonplace that it hardly merited a mention, while others took swipes at Smith and pointed out a previous TV reporter-related post of his in which he discussed the peculiar eyebrow habits of KEYT reporter Joe Gehl.

The matter didn’t blow up into the 805-centered Donald vs. Rosie-style fight that some commenters envisioned it would, but the dust has yet to settle.

Of all people, the News-Press’s own Dr. Laura Schlessinger weighed in on the matter in her April 8 column, in which she praised Bird’s site for being an equal opportunity forum for Santa Barbara residents-or, as Bird put it-“doing the right thing.” Bird re-posted the mention. Readers’ responses varied from out-and-out resentment of Dr. Laura, to high praise, to utter confusion as to how a team-up between their blog of choice and the often divisive personality could have occurred.

Another Local blogger took his turn on the matter at I’m Not One to Blog, But: with a post questioning if someone like Dr. Laura needs an additional medium to publish her words. George wrote:

Isn’t her column in the News-Press (and radio show, and books) enough local exposure? Of course, she doesn’t get much web exposure, given the News-Press doesn’t let non-subscribers get anything for free, so maybe that’s her concern: And wouldn’t someone with her ideas probably be against cloning?

If nothing else, this series of exchanges underscores the importance of blogs in Santa Barbara media. (Hence our own Santa Barbara Media Blog.) If not already gaining in popularity before the News-Press falling out, the medium was certainly cemented by the community’s current need for information. More importantly, because Santa Barbara has come to rely more heavily on online sources than, for example, cities without the relative dearth of reliable printed daily news, many local blog readers are chiming in with their thoughts on the medium, often in intelligent ways that are helping to define exactly what the essence of blogging is. It’s heady stuff, when you think about it. Case in point:

- Must a blog allow comments?

- Should blogs cater to the meek? Or should the famous and already-powerful be included in the effort to present a collective voice?

- Can blogs ever satisfy the need for news that people once expected from their daily newspaper?

Some of these very notions were detailed in the April 9 New York Times article “A Call for Manners in the World of Nasty Blogs,” which mentioned the effort to establish a blogger’s code of conduct by folks like Tim O’Reilly-he who allegedly coined the term “Web 2.0”-and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. The proposed rules, as posted on Wale’s site, include “We do not allow pseudonymous comments, but will allow anonymous ones.”

The debate, no doubt, on what exactly the right way to blog is will continue as long as the opinionated have ready access to a keyboard.

The following comments came from our previous website:

Comment Bubble Comments on “Battle of the Blogs in Santa Barbara”

Blogabarbara really started it all as the most prominent local political blog that was founded 2 years and 2 months ago, for those of us who like the political stuff.

The “Santabarbarasblog” one by “Editor Bird” typically is pro-Newspress and thus has some very weird stuff there, which then encourages favorable mentions by the Newspress writers who have no other friends, which in turn becomes a feedback loop. Also, that moderator does not question comments falsely attributed to public personalities, most blatantly the incident with The Palm described here. That moderator also does not let stand comments that criticize the content or judgment of him; he deletes his critics no matter how substantive the criticism is.

Contrast it all with Blogabarbara, which has evolved quite a consistent policy on ethics for verifying the identify of real-name commenters, as well as not letting a comment get too egregious and ad hominem and off the point. The crap there gets cut.

Blogabarbara also has written extensively on the purpose and need to maintain anonymity, by both the moderator and the commenters. Obviously that has been working, considering how aggressive The Wendy has been trying to discover the identity of host Sara De La Guerra.

Some “politicians” who have been criticized anonymously at Blogabarbara and elsewhere had Cried Foul, but those same politicos would still keep their secrets as they work “behind the scenes” to attack their enemies from the rear and exact their revenge. Thus, anonymous and pseudonymous comments are the Great Equalizer to those who are not so politically powerful. A different context, though, is when someone comments under his or her real name, but then gets criticized anonymously or pseudonymously. That is just plain cowardice to put it nicely.

In short, these blogs really reflect the priorities and, yes, biases, of their editors, as that is what the “moderators” or “hosts” really are. Some of the editors are more of a tradtional journalist than others, reflecting the national evolving trends that blogs fit on a spectrum.

Readers also should think about the distinction between news and opinion that accepts comments, versus the original context of a blog as a weB LOG like a diary. Entering comments actually is a more recent feature for most blogs.

Besides the Indy Media Blog, which is a Poodleyicious mix of breaking news and, yes, snarky opinion, Craigsmithsblog is the closest blog to be like true journalism. Smith receives lots of tips he never pursues, seemingly because they are a bit too unconfirmed or unverified, and also because they have been reported elsewhere.

Again, the self-destruction of the Newspress has accellerated the rise of local blogs (across the full spectrum) to be a source of news and information.

The replacement of the NewsMess was inevitable (especially considering their blatent refusal to make their web site all it could be like their competitors have been doing), but this demise of the NewsLess only has been occurring far more quickly since 7/6. Web-based news would have taken over eventually, but now is just happening more quickly since the NewsMess cut off its head and now is running around like a nerve-induced dead chicken.

And then there is Edhat.

Posted by First District Streetfighter | April 13, 2007 07:02 PM

On-line media is exploding in Santa Barbara thanks to The Wendy, but print papers will still dominant because web doesn’t yet pay the bills. The Indy isn’t going to invest so much in web that newsprint ads are cannibalized. The NP’s incompetent management is allowing the Indy to expand both print ads and web stories at the same time — have its cake and eat it too. The page count in the NP Sunday real estate section is dropping from around 100 pages each week and the Indy page count is soaring from around 100 pages to about 150 pages this week. While Wendy fiddles, her newspaper burns.

Posted by Anonymous | April 13, 2007 08:09 PM

True to form in blogtopia and straight journalism, the debate is far more interesting than the original story, but the immediacy and flatness of the world in blogging is the lure for citizen participation—all of us.

We’re tired of top down functioning. Heirarchy. The inaccesibility of the editor behind the stone wall. Blogs give us access where we might not normally perceive we have access in face-to-face life. It’s not just conversations with those chosen for the interview, those deemed important to the story. It’s conversations with those affected, interested, marginalized, accidentally forgotten (“why didn’t we think of her…?”)

This is why print journalism is waning in the face of digital news media, and they are scrambling to figure out how to keep their piece of the pie.

We the people prefer to have conversations, relationships, rather than heads talking at us telling us what to think. This is the backbone of blogging. Relationships. Even in straight news blogs, If I am able to comment and participate, I’m a happy camper, and I’ll abide by my own ethics (be nice, get to the point, don’t take it personally).

I say open up the comments and get an intern to to deal with the snarks. Although I enjoy Craig Smith’s blog, it feels like a movie theatre with no audience. What good is reporting if there’s no response, no commentary, no civil society doing what they’re supposed to do—participate.

Worry about whether we can be civil is part of the package. Manage it. Post your comment policy and let real conversation flourish.

For more reading on the subject of journalism and access, and anonymity read a local guy with a blog that sits on top of the world and speaks to all of us: Doc Searls (a journalist by training, experience and default) www.doc.weblogs.com. Read Naked Conversations. Read Cluetrain Manifesto.

Posted by Lisa | April 14, 2007 09:11 AM

I’m all for blogging as civil, reasoned interaction - opinions are fine, but fact-based debate is so much more interesting. Although I put my real name out there, I’ve come to appreciate the value of some of the anonymous postings, when they are informative and reasoned.

Unfortunately, some people take the opportunity to hide behind anonymous postings and be really nasty - not sure it’s a Santa Barbara disease, a leftwing disease, a rightwing disease, or a human disease that infects some but not all, but IMO it is a serious disease in that it discourages real communication discussion. Even people posting or writing under real names suffer from this sometimes - see today’s NewsPress letters to the editor for someone named Lisa calling people ostriches and otherwise ridiculing those who are not of the same opinion as she on climate change and the causes thereof.

If real discussion is to occur, let’s ditch the sarcasm, name-calling, insults, character assassination, and other impediments to useful communication. Disagreement can be civil.

Posted by Robert C. Meltzer | April 14, 2007 11:26 AM

The Blogs are fun and I enjoyed that bickering between Craig Smith, the Palm, and SantaBarbara’s Blog. Makes for a good read/recap here too! There are some kinks to work out in the blog world, but they are good for the community a I often get a laugh and a good column from Craig Smith. Support the blogs!

Posted by sallyc | April 14, 2007 02:57 PM

Agree with Sally on the need to support them. Between the blogs mentioned above, we have a good mix of columnists, news, entertainment and information. And all for free. The only thing I can’t find are local sports scores.

Posted by Goleta Jim | April 14, 2007 03:43 PM

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