Arsenal of bloggers

Those who read this column will know that I once confessed to blissful and wilful ignorance of the blogosphere. I knew that something called blogging existed, but I had never taken the trouble to find out what exactly it was as I felt it didn’t affect me or, rather, that I had nothing to benefit from it.

That’s a how dinosaurs always respond to new inventions, of course: bury your head in the sand and hope that the new thing will go away – be it a threat or a possible opportunity that manifests itself in a challenging form.

When colleagues at The Times suggested I read their own blogs – I’d never read a blog, mind you – I reluctantly did so. And I began to change my mind about the whole darn thing.

But then again the more I immersed myself into blogging, the more I felt somewhat vindicated.

Not so long ago I participated in a “debate” at the recent Highway Africa, a conference that attracts journalists and other media types from all over Africa. For the past 11 years participants in the Highway conference have been converging on Rhodes University once a year, to chart trends in media, and share ideas and thoughts on how best to serve the industry.

You will note that I put the word debate in quotes. This is for a reason. What should have been a debate on columnists versus bloggers between myself and Vincent Maher, a veteran blogger and journalist, ended up being a very interesting, stimulating discussion about the synergies that can be achieved between the traditional media practitioner and the bloggers.

I’ve never thought of blogging in these terms before, but now I think bloggers are the guerrilla fighters of the information world.

Whereas a conventional soldier in a conventional army needs to be trained and observe some conventions, the blogger only needs the barest of weaponry: access to a computer and broadband. And he or she is ready for action, rat-at-tat!

Whereas members of a conventional army take commands from a hierarchy, a guerrilla army is freer, unencumbered.

But while all of these can be strengths, these can also be weaknesses. Some of the blogs are pitifully written and, to the unsuspecting reader who knows no better but needs information desperately, they can be fatally misleading. Badly disciplined guerrillas, to extend the analogy.

That’s my gripe. Well, I am the first to admit that this medium is still in its infancy; one can only hope that with time it will come on its own, and will set standards for itself as it evolves.

But in the meantime, what journalists from the conventional media can do is to take the good from the blogging world and perfect it.

One of the good things I have learned from blogging is the interactiveness, the sense of community between the blogger and those who visit his or her blog.

For example, I write a weekly column for the Sunday Times which attracts quite a few letters from readers. But I can only publish, on the pages of the Sunday Times, only a select few – maybe one or two; the rest goes to waste.

But with the stuff that I publish on my blog, I am flooded with reader responses; and they all get published. And I get to interact directly with the respondents. We have animated debates online everyday of the week. It’s gratifying to me as a writer, and I would imagine that the respondents derive fulfilment in the debates that I have with them.

So, the long and short of it, blogging is here to stay with us and let’s harness its strengths, and nurture this animal into one of the weapons in our arsenal. If we improve our game as bloggers and aspire to best practices, the bad elements in our midst will wither away.

Fred Khumalo is a Sunday Times columnist and award-winning novelist

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Fred Khumalo
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