Monday, November 22, 2010

Blogging - is it journalism?

Accidentally, as I was following up on other topics, I found that there is a wonderful drama playing out in the Norwegian blogosphere, complete with a sobbing bride, nasty, greybearded men and a handsome football-player. OK, the football-player has very little to do with it, but he's a very good-looking accessory.

So, what happened here?

A young and beautiful woman works part-time as a journalist in an online paper, and is fashion editor and co-owner of an online magasine. At the same time she is making money on her fashion/lifestyle weblog: Fotballfrue - football wife (yeah, that's where the handsome man comes in).

So, somebody reads that she has income from a lot of different sources, and they question her ethics (and they do it while she is on a honeymoon, how rude!) in an article about fashion weblogs.

There are a lot of bloggers who have very high hit numbers, and use this commercially. Fashion blogging is "in" at the moment, and so the companies pay the young and the beautiful to let others know what they wear and use. The principle is nothing new, it's pretty much the same as sponsoring skaters while they were the "cool", or athletes, for that matter. Ohh, again, almost a reference to the handsome husband who never really enters the story!

Anyway: Some fashion bloggers do it to make money, some do it to create a name for themselves, to build their street cred. However, being a good fashion blogger takes a lot of money, in order to keep up their fresh front they need to be seen in the most interesting, newes and fanciest outfits available - and what is better than getting paid to do this, alternatively getting the products directly and free from the producers?

So far so good. But what if you are trying to build not just street cred, but actually become a journalist and an editor of a magasine? What should the smart fashion blogger do? Oh, and by the way, "journalist" isn't a title you get by getting an education and a license, like "medical doctor" or "lawyer," it's something you become if you practice journalism. So if you don't practice journalism, you are not a journalist, no matter how much education you have.

The whole issue with the football wife isn't really that she writes on order for companies. The issue is that she at the same time calls herself a journalist and an editor. She acts as a marketing officer, without making that obvious in the different posts, while also trying to build the trust and reputation she needs in order to be taken seriously as a journalist. And when she is criticised she claims that blogging isn't journalism, and so she can do what she likes.

She is, in a way, right. On "fotballfrue" she is her own editor, owner and writer. As long as she doesn't harass anybody, she can write what she likes. If her business strategy is to promote objects or trends for whoever pays her (are those fake louboutins, or real?) then she can do that to her heart's content on her blog. She will gain a lot of treet cred among other fashion bloggers, and probably among her followers as well. And she is right, her blog isn't journalism.

Does that mean blogging isn't journalism? No, because if she wrote according to the standards of journalism, her blog would be journalism. Again, journalism is a practice, not a license or a stamp put on only some organisations.

Back to the drama.

The pretty young lady is a part-time stand-in for So she is, at best, part-time freelancing as a journalist. It's not really anybody's business how she spends her time when she's not working for them, and can stop using her when ever they like.

And that's what really should come out of this story: she doesn't have a job, she has a pretty face, a fashion blog, and ambitions to become an editor. In a case like that, what is the smart strategy?

I find myself firmly on the side of the grey-bearded evil, which isn't so odd, since I am turning pretty grey as well. She should clean up her blogging act, and stop selling her opinions to the highest bidder. People who write commercials for pay are not welcome in the journalism union in Norway, and when journalists change jobs and go into marketing, they need to swap unions. It's how it goes. If she wants to go that way, she needs to adjust to the standards, or she will have no journalistic credibility.

However... she might not want or need it. She's young, she's pretty, and people are paying her to wear beautiful clothes. Why should she worry about journalism? But then I'd recommend that she removes the "journalist" title from her webpage. If you don't practice journalism, you aren't a journalist. If you claim you are, you will be criticised. I am sorry, really, and it's horrible that people are letting you know this while you're on your honey-moon, but that's how it is.

Oh, and have a wonderful time. Your life looks like a slice of marketing heaven.

Corrected due to Undre's comment, thanks.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thinking in your first language

This was supposed to be a post about cheating, and ghost-writing academic articles. However, Lisbeth connected it to educational language politics, and that started this. Read at your own peril - it's all about language and education from somebody who only knows half of it.

When ever I spend a lot of time away from Norway, my language suffers. Three - four weeks into a long stay in an English language country, and I forget all language. I am unable to formulate thoughts and ideas, numbed by the constant translation that takes place in my head, even if I do think in the language I speak. I am suffering a version of this here in Denmark, not as harsh, but more subtle and exhausting, as the constant translations in my head are concerned with subtle details. The only cure is to immerse myself, for a while, in Norwegian, to soak up the words, the music of the dialects, the structure of the sentences. I need to find the voice of my original thoughts in order to find a voice at all.

When I had this experience the first time, I never connected it to the language conflicts which gave birth to nynorsk - new Norwegian - or the political struggle for first language classes for non-Norwegian-speakers in school. But then I discovered a pattern: How not hearing or speaking my own language exhausts me, numbs me and slows me down. It doesn't replace one language with another, it takes away all languages, and I struggle in my search for words.

I guess you are now not surprised the to learn that no, I don't think there should be a lingua franca which all academics should use, from school-children up to professors. I also don't think we should force all students to write all their work in for instance English, just because it will make it easier for an American scholar to read their papers.

This doesn't mean I think we should stop communicating. I am truely grateful that I can talk to Italians, Portuguese, Koreans, Turkish, French and Finns without me having to learn 6 more languages. I'd love to, but I'd need some serious state grants to support the learning period. What I mean is that in order to be able to use our energy on thinking, language needs to take the back seat. We shouldn't insist that our students constantly struggle with words when what we want them to struggle with to be ideas, concepts, theories, hypothesis and arguments. It is enough, really. After all, if they, like me, were born to a social strata where higher education was a far away dream, not an everyday chore, then learning to be an academic is a whole new language in itself.

I would like to see two directions for language in education. First, I would like to see the language education in general strenghtened, and with it culture and literature. People who speak more than one language fluently are more empathic, think quicker, assimilate knowledge faster and in general appear to have more flexible minds. So that's a resounding yes for more emphasis on languages. However, I'd like education to contain more than two languages. We should learn to speak and regularly be encouraged to practice 3 or four languages. Why? Because if we can listen to how another person speaks in their own language, we will meet them as very different persons.

When we study, we should be allowed to learn in our own language, learn to have discourse within our own culture. With a base in the mother tongue, we should then challenge others, stretching ourselves in order to learn not only mastery of another academic tradition of discourse, but also respect for it, for the difficulties others need to overcome in order to communicate with us. It is hard to be a foreign student. It is hard to be an academic from a small country, forced to publish and cooperate internationally. But we should focus on the benefits to be had by learning not just one or two languages, so we can get by, but several: opening the world to us in a very different way.

If internationalisation is to get anywhere, we need to teach how to communicate. Even today, that means in more than one language - but it also means honouring our own while we do it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

IR 11.0 is over - thanks all

There should have been some kind of face-to-face debrief after IR 11.0, and I will at some point in the not too far future write the AOIR board with what I think they need to know (functionality of the conference organising system f.ex.,) but for now I'll just take it here.

As some noticed, I was extremely ambivalent on facebook before I went to Gothenburg. I was ambivalent in real life as well. Although some felt that there was good reason to criticize the decisions I had made about the schedule and the responses they got to their requests before the conference, neither decisions nor responses were based on lack of consideration. I had a certain number of rooms, a certain number of contributions, and a certain number of hours, and I had to make all of that sum up to a functional conference. However, the scheduling, gruelling work that it was, was just the tip of the iceberg. It covered the last 4 months of a one-year effort, an effort that started in October 2009.

This conference removed that already elusive concept "spare time," and even cut into the sacred raiding time. Rather than settling to blog, play with photos, write friends or chat, when I picked up the computer I'd start responding to emails or work on some conference detail. I am not whining. You see - I liked that. I got to write a lot of people I have not seen for years, people I have only read (about) and some total strangers who turned out to be extremely interesting scholars. What's not to like!

However, I did get tired. The last weeks before the conference I just had to give up on raiding all together, because with teaching and administration and the conference, I was working 10-12 hour days. Not quite that long weekends, but still, it's not like I followed regulations. And so, as the conference approached I dreaded it more and more, as the workload just kept increasing.

Then it started.

Most things went right. Some went wrong, and nobody could have done anything about it. (I am still really sad about Jon Bing being ill though. I think that was the biggest low of the conference.) Some were fixed before they went really wrong. But most of all, I loved the fact that people were happy there. The compact conference site, the excellent food and the work people put into their presentations and their research - as well as into each other - made it all work out surprisingly well. And the feedback afterwards still warms me, even if I was so spent at the banquet I couldn't even say thank you politely.


I am still proud of this plaque though, although I really don't know where to put it or how to deal with actually owning it. Makes for a fun conversation piece, and yes, it does warm, along with the praise on the aoir list and the twitter stream, now that I have realised the conference was a success!