If you want to know how to blog then reading a bit of the wisdom below might be a good start!
September 20th to 22nd 2010 the United Nations gather in New York to evaluate progress on the Millennium Development Goals. To help create a buzz and to experiment with new media European Journalism Center is hosting the TH!NK ABOUT IT #3: Developing World blogging project.
About 100 new media geeks and independent experts got through the eye of the needle and have been blogging for a couple of months now. I'm one of them and here I present you to some of my fellow th!nkers. Dutch Johan, Irish Clare and Brazilian Luan gave us their best already and below three more of those that have attained some level of success and have impressed me personally in various ways do so too.
How will citizen journalism change old media? Will poverty really end in 2015? Now Daniel Nylin Nilsson, teacher from Sweden, Bart Knols, Dutch Medical Entomologist, and Giedre Steikunaite, student from London, have also answered my nosy queries.
Giedre: Because I'd feel guilty if I didn't. We're in too big a mess to keep silent.
Bart: My entire scientific career I have published in professional journals, and never had an opportunity to reflect, provoke, stimulate, and enthuse the broader public about what I do in writing. Blogging is an ideal tool for this. In addition, it is important not just to dump blogs here and there, but seek places on the web where you know that the readership has a real interest in your work. TH!NK3 is such an environment, and has proven tremendously important, also in shaping my own views on many development issues.
Daniel: It's addictive. I started writing about happenings in Bulgaria that were not at all covered in Swedish press, so then I had a clear vision of what I was doing. But at one point the fun of it takes over and you start blogging because you like being a blogger :) I guess it is also the comments that makes you feel kind of important... you have a proof that someone reads what you write, and that they have opinions about it. I think many journalists or staff writers don't have that.
Bart: Obviously I would focus on MDG6 - which includes malaria. Health is a prerequisite for development and forms the basis of Maslow's pyramid that I wrote about. Without health, nothing much else functions. I will certainly continue writing about health, even beyond TH!NK3. But it is not just writing - moving things into action is equally interesting and challenging to me. I guess, like most of us, we want to bring lasting positive change.
Giedre: Promote gender equality and empower women [MDG3]. It's enough. Time we take half the world's population seriously.
Daniel: I would work on education [MDG2], since I am a teacher and I think that is where I could make a bigger difference. I think the point of the MDGs is that they are all interdependent - if we don't eradicate hunger, we can never hope to educate every child. but on the other hand education is necessary to build a world without hunger. So one has to work on all these issues simultaneously. The MDG's is not a list of priorities - it is rather a definition of what development is.
Bart: As for the first three bloggers you interviewed, I have to also (regretfully) disagree. We are far from reaching the MDGs. Having said that, various African countries will probably reach the MDG6 goals for malaria, which is to be applauded of course. My concern is that a temporary dip in malaria will be followed by slackening of efforts and that the disease will surge once more after 2015. MDG6 malaria targets will be met, but maybe not in a lasting manner.
Giedre: It's all connected, more than we might think at first glance. The world is one, and once you get it, it all makes perfect sense. The Minority World (global North, "the West") is not living up to its promises, this thing is clear. We've seen many examples on TH!NK platform of how the MDGs are far, far away from where they should be.
Daniel: No, I don't think that they are nearly solved, and I doubt that they will be solved within 10 years. I think that the world is a very much better place than it was 20 or 30 years ago, though, and that we are essentially moving towards less famine, more education, better health care etc...
The problem is the sustainability, as you hint at. Climate change and the disasters that it will bring can easily destroy years of developments in communities that are uprooted. Financial security is not real, but on the other hand, as long as the majority of the people have faith in the financial system, it is stable. The problem is rather that we couldn't afford a strong recovery, since that would boost oil and food prices to dangerous levels. And that leads us to peak oil, that I think is a very fundamental problem. Even high ranking officials seem to agree that we are moving towards a world where oil is scarce - it is incredible that not more is done to replace oil dependence now while it is cheap. But peak oil might be a bigger problem more for the developed world, since oil dependency is the price you pay for wealth. Those who will suffer most will maybe be the poor living in wealthy countries... and the immigrants from the developing world that try to eek out a living in the developed one.
Giedre: I think the main part of the creative process is thinking. You know how cows eat? They chew and chew and chew - the same with ideas, they have to spend some time in your head before being realized. Another very important part is research. I am no poet and I shouldn't pretend I am one - so I need to check my information and dig out stuff that is both interesting and important (or make the important interesting).
Bart: Most of my inspiration comes from dialogues with others - anyone really. Thankfully we have a platform with nearly 6000 subscribers worldwide (MalariaWorld), so I read a lot that triggers my thinking. I'm blessed to be working independently at the moment, so being frank, open, and critical about issues is not a problem. This used to be very different...
Daniel: That depends a lot, as I think you can see on my posts. Some are based on interviews, then I spend a lot more time on them, maybe one week. Some are on a topic that I already have been thinking and reading a lot about, then I usually spend maybe one afternoon gathering links and writing the draft, and another writing the post itself. These types of posts I always write in a text editor, then make them into HTML and finally paste the HTML. (It takes a lot of time, but I enjoy learning about the HTML mark up process.) Then there is the last type - emotional reactions, posts that I write directly in the content manager, without any preparations. I surround myself with: Inspirational music, O'Reilly's HTML Pocket reference, The Economist Style Guide, The Economist Pocket World in Numbers and an English-Swedish dictionary.
Bart: The basic ingredients for me centre around 'the message' and 'conciseness'. Bringing a message that is highly gripping and thought-provoking with less than 500 words is my aim. On TH!NK3 I have come across many blogs that merely copied a website and added two sentences. To me, that's not blogging. Others use words and language that I envy (Iris is a great example). Helena and Iwona used audio, which I also liked a lot. Blogs can be pure fiction but incredibly powerful. Johan's A sexy day in Kenya made the top charts because of that. In the end, being able to have people think about your writing a day or two after they read it, to me is the key.
Giedre: I cannot stand when articles or posts or whatever are not clean, meaning they contain grammatical errors, typos, twenty five different fonts and colours, with no clear structure, or ctrl-C/ctrl-V style. For me, that's evidence that the author has no respect for their readers, and so I never comment or even read such pieces.
A good story has to have a clear message: what are you saying? I love challenging stories, which present contradicting arguments which all make sense, and so they make you think. Actually, now that I said this, that's the main ingredient for a good story: it has to make you think.
Daniel: I think the personal involvement is a sine qua non in all writing. I see way to many disinterested articles, that simply forward something that has been written somewhere else, with minimalistic editing. It might be a really interesting topic, but I still find it dull to read. I wouldn't say that TH!NK is worse in this sense than the rest of the internet, though... it is something I see almost everywhere, print, on-line media, famous blogs, not so famous blogs.
Bart: I guess there is no way that we can steer these developments. It's a given that 'old media' are challenged by the 'new media', and change is unavoidable. Old media that transform will survive, those that stick to traditions will perish. For me there is no difference between a blogger and a journalist as long as the quality and credibility of the writing is the same. Blogging to me is like the web itself: There was a time that everyone started a website, but only few reliable and trustworthy ones remained. Now is the time that the whole world starts blogging, but I guess that only those that are reliable and trustworthy will remain...
Giedre: If "old media" goes bankrupt that means I am bankrupt too :) I don't see this as a war journalists v. bloggers, because we need both. Many bloggers use media information, and many journalists have personal blogs. It's like a transition period now, until we completely sort out the relationship between the two groups.
Daniel: Haha... well, I don't think my influence is that big, really ;) I have mixed feelings. On the one hand I really see the strength of the Internet - that you can pick your sources completely uncensored, and pay the attention you want to them. You can mix the New York Times with your brother's blog and the blog of some guy you don't know, but happens to have interesting ideas about development. On the other hand I know no better feeling than sitting down with a 'real' paper and a cup of coffee on a day without work.
Eventually I am sure that paper media will disappear, but I think the biggest media outlets will survive as on-line only media. The blogosphere has a great need of some sources that are more authoritative than others, if the discussion should be reasonable. I can not discuss climate change with a guy and linking to my friends blog posts while he links to his friends. We need some sites like the New York Times, the Guardian etc... that we both can accept as trustworthy.
But I think it will be really difficult for regional and national media in other languages than English in a not so distant future. Whereas my friends blogs do not compete on the same level as major news sources, the national media do, and I have very few reasons to look at Dagens Nyheters [a Swedish paper] homepage in stead of the Guardian's for example.
I don't believe in the future of traditional journalists, but for sure there will be people who write about news professionally. But I think it feels more reasonable to follow one journalist by RSS, than to follow an entire newspaper, and if this becomes the norm it would make more sense to see journalists as professional bloggers.
The difference today is that a journalist has much more time and resources, but is not the sole owner of this text. As a blogger I can't hope to do the same kind of research, but on the other hand I am not hampered by any editorial decisions, which is a fact I can use to create interesting texts.
Bart: Certainly on our platform there is lots of debate on important issues, and I often disagree with views. But that's the point: seeing, reading, and interacting with those you disagree with is the best way to shape your own views. Daniel certainly sharpened my views on DDT, although we still disagree on various points.
Daniel: Good question... to some extent yes. But the biggest fault of the blogosphere is that most people read stuff that you agree with. Especially if you feel that you don't agree with what the newspapers write, you feel it is kind of a wast of time to read stupid arguments on-line also. But that way you somehow lose the big picture :/
Bart: Become more creative.
Giedre: It's not always the journalists' fault. In fact, it's the editors, the owners, the readers, the viewers and the listeners who are to blame in many cases. You can suggest your editor the best development story, but if they think some celeb or crime sells more, they will tell you to go back to your desk and find out who slept with who in H'wood. Don't give up - that's my advice I myself am following.
Daniel: They should definitely blog :) It is an art to keep your passions alive while unemployed, or employed with something else, but if you manage to do that I think the experience of not being a journalist can be very healthy. I have sometimes the impression that journalists understand the lives of other journalists better than they understand the lives of other citizens, both rich and poor.
Bart: Without feedback I would not participate, it's that simple. The discussions that followed my The man who saved Brazil and the DDT story (thanks Daniel!) were great. I learnt a lot from these myself, and they were most useful. If I don't receive comments on my blogs I worry...
Giedre: Comments are good, they don't let the author drown in a vacuum. People need to know their efforts are appreciated, or at least noticed. Writing good articles is not that easy, it takes loads of time, so it's nice to know someone actually cares. Discussions are very useful, they help to get a better perspective, to challenge and be challenged.
Daniel: Of course! I take readers comments very serious, and often moderate my opinions. I think comments is the biggest honour you can get as an author from a reader. It also adds a lot of reading value to your text - as I reader I find it much more interesting to read a blog post and the discussion after it, than a post without comments.
Bart: Without hesitation: The Man Who Saved Brazil. For the simple reason that I am actually working on reviving old malaria eradication strategies and Soper provided one of the best examples to work with. I am thoroughly convinced that his approach is worth re-considering.
Daniel: Well... I tend to forget all articles except for the last one, so I always hope that people read my last post ;) The one I am most proud of, and that I think should be most interesting is the one on TH!NK3 about Lund as a Fair trade city. I did several interviews, and researched it more than my usual posts.
Daniel: I am very interested in southeastern Europe, and one Serbian blogger that has impressed me so far is Larisa Rankovic. I would recommend her :)
Besides at TH!NK3 you can follow Bart Knols at MalariaWorld.org.