17 February 2008

The adolescent , the blog, the newspaper site and the viral phenomenon

Max is going to travel for his gap year, he’s going to India and Thailand and is going to blog his experience and adventures. Nothing unusual there, he is one of many young people who keep in touch with friends through social network sites, or if they like to write, through their blogs. But Max’s father is a travel writer, knows people, and the Travel Editor of the Guardian offers a blog space on the paper’s website. Max’s one and only post deals with his preparations and feelings about his impending travels. It is a first post, so no “voice” there as yet, just an attempt at irony (the editor will later call it “tongue in cheek”) There ensues a flurry of negative and inflammatory comments, criticizing the blog, the site, and the perceived nepotism.

It all started in the blog section of the Guardian online, as a travel blog.
475 comments later, the comments box was closed. The story was of course picked up by numerous blogs, in the UK and also here in Ireland, on Present Tense. The snowball effect also saw a Facebook group and YouTube video posts. The Travel Editor then published an online response, where commenters congregated again, joined at one stage by Max’s father who remonstrated with them. Another Guardian blogger then wrote a post, very critical of mob rule and Internet culture. At the same time, a Wikipedia entry on nepotism was amended to include Max, and finally, an article in the Guardian arrived in the news feeds, with the title “Hate mail hell of a gap-year blogger”.

Whereas several elements are intertwined in this digital incident, the heart of it seems to be a semantic problem. What is a blog? Was Max a blogger? What did the readers expect a blog to be? Susan Herring pointed out that a blog can be many things, and that this new genre includes sub-genres. Various award schemes, such as the Weblog Awards, the Bloggers' Choice Awards, or the Irish blog awards differentiate between various sub-genres, often sorting categories in terms of content (business blogs, technology blogs, food blogs, music blogs, gossip blogs, health blogs, parenting blogs etc.) or in terms of bloggers (celebrity blog, blog by a journalist), and they tend to keep one category for personal blog, or diary. In these terms, and in the eyes of other bloggers, then Max would have been a blogger, simply because he was writing a blog. Yet, to the readers of the Guardian blogs, this was not so evident. In the comments, several complained that the young man was “given” a blog, when other would have been more deserving, thus giving the same meaning to “blog” and “column”:

how come Max has managed to get his own blog to write about the same thing that thousands do each year? Did he win a competition as a Young Travel Writer?

Who commissioned this tripe?

Why does our society only grant a voice to those with nothing to say?

This reaction introduces the notion of space as well as semantics. For the commenters, “you gave him a blog” means: you gave him a job, made him a professional blogger, paid him, and gave him instant access to readership, which “ordinary” or amateur bloggers have to build themselves, through their writing, networking, linking, and commenting. Is space – or platform - so important? A newspaper site is not a neutral space. Some comments imply that it belongs to the readers.

Seriously, is this guy's holiday really worthy of a blog advertised on the main page of the website? Have you nothing better to put on your website.

this is pure and simple hideous! guardian listen to your readers, get rid of Max!

Please step down and give someone with talent a chance to tell us about something interesting. You are wasting valuable bandwidth.

I would buy the guardian but will reconsider now

I used to buy the Guardian once in a while, I won't now.

I have, until now, been a regular reader of the Guardian Online website. However, following reading this contribution I will no longer visiting Guardian online.

I will not be reading this page again, and am re-considering my Guardian subscription altogether.

The blog, and most particularly personal diary style blog, is a more private space, belonging first of all to the blogger. Whenever commenting wars happen, or trolls come trolling, most commenters interject that the blog is the blogger’s space, and that whoever does not like the tone can go and read somewhere else.

What is happening in the comments box is also very interesting because it is very far from the community building element of non-professional blogs, where readers tend to gather around the blogger, or as a community of practice linked by the content of the blog (music, art, craft…) Here is the gathering of a crowd instead, and they are united in anger against… against a lot. From their texts, they are against the blogger, although they claim it is more against what he represents:

a generation,

How is a nineteen year old, white, public school boy with a penchant for stubble going to get a head in life unless he has a weblog about his already-paid-for round-the-world trip?

Max's father would've been better served buying him a premium livejournal account so he could wax cliched to his friends and family

we don't hate you because you're young, we just mock you because you're crap. It's not your fault, of course, you're just too young to know how truly crap this particular crap is, at every level.

a social class,

Moneyed youngster goes travelling to the usual places to get drunk and meet girls?

before you take up your place at Oxbridge (or wherever), why don't you leave your family's Highgate mansion FOR GOOD, cut yourself off from your father's allowance,


who's son is max then? terrible terrible terrible, shame on you guardian

So then...Max Gogarty (son of Guardian travel writer) goes off to Thailand with his own blog. Did he earn this through a combination of natural talent and hard work? Or did Daddy fix him up? Nepotism at its worst. At least the Guardian have made public what we all know is far too widespread in Media.

They are also and mainly raging against power: the power of the social class associated with the writer, the power of the media, the power of the editor to erase comments, the power of the Guardian to hire who they want irrespective of what the readers consider as talent (or lack thereof).

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