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The Blogging Revolution

From a young Iraqi teenager’s account of her experiences to a string of slanderous posts on a Drogheda site… Gav Reilly reports on the rise of blogging and the first ever Irish Blog Awards

There was a time, not all that long ago, when to be awarded on even a national scale for journalistic prowess would constitute the pinnacle of a scribe’s career – a landmark recognition of formulated opinion and convincing argument. Here in the third millennium, though, the fourth estate has become an open shop – so much so that it seems anybody can earn themselves some hack integrity.

Welcome to the 21st Century, and the dawn of The Blogging Age.

We all know what a blog is – the name derives from an abbreviated ‘weblog’, and to 99 per cent of users, is to all intents just an online version of the old-fashioned paper-based diary. The often underestimated form that a blog can take, though, is that of a new or opinion journal, and it’s these that are beginning to come to the fore: and so much so that the latest mould of journalists are not only winning their own categorised awards, but also those of the more established journalists. And while it might still be a few years before a blogger is winning a Pulitzer for their personal musings, other prestigious awards are no longer impervious to attack from the cyberjourno.

A little under a month ago, the inaugural (and judging by the interest, probably annual) Irish Blog Awards took place in Dublin’s Alexander Hotel. It might be assumed that because of the fledgling nature of the awards – and indeed the medium at large – that such awards would be selfglorying, but in fact the awards were chosen by an open panel that eventually numbered 1,700 (to put it into context, the worldwide Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that chooses the Oscar winners number 6,000, for a much older art form), were sponsored by Microsoft Ireland and had 2FM’s Rick O’Shea as MC. Top of the pile on the night was an anonymous and absent Southsider, going under the handle of Twenty Major, who scooped three awards including Best Blog and Best Blog Post. Indeed, it might seem bizarre, but in fact it’s a sign of the burgeoning popularity of the medium when the absence of Twenty himself – becoming widely known for his scatological social commentaries – was much lamented on the night.

The real glory of the blog, though, and the challenge that faces the world in trying to evolve to cope, is the utter and rivalled freedom – nay power – that the author wields. The shortlist for BBC Four’s uber-prestigious Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction this year includes an anonymous blog written by a young Iraqi woman, entitled Baghdad’s Burning. Looking at the blog, one would imagine the desire for censorship (as an April Fool’s Day joke, the author suggests saying that there’ll be electricity in the city this summer) – and it is in this particular area that the world has yet to come to full terms with. Closer to home, a Dundalk blog is facing closure – and legal wrath – for (possibly) slanderous comments made against local TD Dermot Ahern and singer-songwriter Cathy Maguire. Such action, is not new, however. In 2004 a UCC student, Gavin Sheridan, was served with a defamation suit after commenting unfavourably on author John Gray. While standing by his remark (which still stands on his website, unretracted), Sheridan agrees that the medium has its limits. “Irish bloggers are more careful because libel laws here are so onerous,” says Sheridan. “I am liable not only for what I personally write, but also what everyone else posts on my blog. I’m like a newspaper in that respect, expect I don’t have the means to defend myself,” he adds, explaining why many bloggers remain anonymous.

Meanwhile, Chinese authorities blocked internal access to a key anti-Government blog after it was a winner at last year’s International Weblog Awards. Wang Li, author of Microphone, said the best thing about winning the prize was that “it’s a slap in the face for those who police the internet in China.” Mandarin officials are now introducing regulations requiring registration of personal information with State sources before would-be webmasters are given blogging privileges.

Whatever future the blog has in the wider world, one thing is surely to be remembered: as the world gets smaller and the Information Age matures, the most instant power or ability to sway might not lie now with traditional journalism, but with the everyday keyboard user who simply has something that they want to say.

Welcome to the Blogging Age.