There’s no better way to start work on Friday than with a message to call Media Watch. Stomach drops. Breath quickens. The call was about Webdiary, so here’s the facts and my response. The matter goes to the philosophy of Webdiary, so I’d appreciate your thoughts.
The Media Watch call also gives me the chance to return to the topic of Webdiary’s direction which I raised in Loving Hitler. Contributors are Emma Bridge, Richard Chapman, Ted Grayson, Shawn Sherlock, Ian MacDougall, Justin Whelan, Max Phillips, John Wojdylo and David Davis, who has read Webdiary since it began.
In Blood on the wattle (smh) I published two wattle poems by poet Henry Lawson and linked to the site where I found them, membersozemail, for those who wanted to read more Lawson. This is how it happened.
John Howard suggested that day that we wear a sprig of wattle on the national day of morning. A flyer for a novel called Blood Stains on the Wattle was on my desk:
“Former Treasurer of Queensland in the 1990s, author Keith De Lacy, has now created a uniquely Australian working class novel. He takes us behind the scenes to show what really happened in the notorious lock-out of the miners in 1964 and why the miners were suspicious of their own union leadership in far away Brisbane.
“The title, Blood Stains on the Wattle, is a deliberate evocation of the insurrectionist Henry Lawson poem Freedom on the Wallaby, written at the time of the great Shearers’ Strike of 1891 which was instrumental in the founding of the Australian Labor Party under the tree of knowledge in Barcaldine.”
We’ll make the tyrants feel the sting
O’ those that they would throttle;
They needn’t say the fault is ours
If blood should stain the wattle!
I searched the web and finally found a page called “The Poetry of Henry Lawson. The name of the sponsoring organisation, “Australian Nationalism Information Database”, was prominent, under which was this precise:
It is the aim of this site to reproduce most, or all, of the poetical works of Henry Lawson, so that his legacy to Australia’s culture may be accessed via the Internet by all interested persons. However, it should be noted that this is an extremely large project, and will therefore take quite some time to complete.
Henry Lawson was born on the Grenfell goldfields, on 17th June 1867.
He is one of the most famous and most popular of all Australian writers. His poetry and short stories are still widely read and republished today.
His writings were a significant influence upon the development of the Australian culture and national identity, and played a strong part in the expression of that identity.
Henry Lawson continued his vast literary output right up until his death on 2nd September 1922.
I didn’t press the sponsor link. If I had, the following would have come up:
This site has been established to promote Australia’s National Identity and Culture, and to expose Mass Immigration, Multiculturalism, and Asianisation as major threats to our environment, our People, and our way of life. A whole range of publications and articles are provided on these issues, as well as on other issues of interest to Australian Nationalists. Also, information is provided on how to contact several Nationalist organisations within Australia.”
If you click to enter the site, this comes up:
Australian Nationalism is the modern political force that has set itself the task of saving the Australian Nation – its People and its Culture – from the grave dangers that loom before it.
This site has been established to provide Australians with information about Australian Nationalism and the Australian National Identity and Culture; as well as to especially inform both Nationalists and the general public about the problems that face our Nation.
However, being in possession of such information without acting upon it is truly useless, and therefore contact points (via Internet Sites) are given for several Nationalist organisations within Australia.
It is high time that Australians stood up, and won their nation back.
If you’re sick and tired of the denigration of our Australian heritage and identity by Internationalists – Multiculturalists – Asianisers – mass immigrationists, YOU CAN DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.
Join with the new forces of Australianism, in reconstructing the Australian Nation for the 21st century, a society built on our OWN heritage and culture, not the Asiatic graveyard promoted by media stooges and the political hirelings of the Liberal-National-Labor-Democrat parties, who are nothing but elements of the Traitor Class.
Media Watch wanted to know whether I’d known that the link I’d provided directed readers to a racist site. No. Then the interesting question: Would I have done the same thing with that knowledge?
The implication, I assume, is that if I had done so I would have been knowingly promoting a racist site, something which right-minded people would not do. I thought hard about the question, and finally decided I would have done the same thing, but added something else.
At the time of reading and being moved by Lawson’s wattle poems, I had a thought which I put away about whether I was falling into sentimental nationalism. I put it away because I felt that Bali had, in its bitter sadness, served to wipe out the many differences I have with fellow Australians on fundamental identity issues, and to reinforce positive aspects of the Australian identity at its best under pressure, aspects which make our culture unique to us. I agreed with Webdiarist Redmond Lee “that in time, Bali will be regarded by Australia as a modern-day Gallipoli. Once again, 87 years onwards, Australia has tragically lost her innocence outside of her borders”.
Innocence has its dark side, and for me that dark side was most graphically exposed in our treatment of boat people post Tampa. But I thought that having felt the brutality of targetted terrorism first hand, the shock of our lost innocence might have an upside in tempering our feelings on boat people, their circumstances, and our treatment of them. Yes, it could go the other way, but that wasn’t the vibe that developed over the first few days – indeed, it was the opposite.
This line of thought is deeply offensive to some. On Monday I was on the panel at the opening session of a conference called “Art of dissent’, run as part of the Melbourne Arts Festival. The topic was “Dissent and Democracy”, and I took off from a speech by festival head Robyn Archer the day before, where she suggested that perhaps art was by definition an act of dissent. I suggested that at certain moments, like the Bali bombing, the artist is also a person who can purify experience – describe it to us and capture its essence. In the space created by a terrible national tragedy and shock like Bali, the artist could by fusing the essence of the experience for us as a nation help nurture a space for a constructive, positive reaction to the grief. An Australian response to terrorism. It was just a thought – pretty unprocessed, an opening gambit for discussion. But another panelist accused me of “girlish” sentimentality and of concocting my emotionalism as a means to sell newspapers. I was shocked to be accused of corrupt motives and fake views and walked out, but the panellist’s decision to go straight to personal attack, and its vehemence, suggested there’s something very basic at issue here which might be worth teasing out. I was also gobsmacked that what I’d said could be so controversial!
Anyway, if I had clicked the sponsor’s link, the flicker of concern which I’d let pass would have been in my face. He’s the first great poet of Australian identity, Lawson, and he was also deeply racist, antagonistic in the cruellest sense to both the Aboriginal peoples and Chinese migrants. This was a mainstream view then, and since Tampa you’d have to say it hasn’t left the mainstream yet. But does that take away from Lawson’s importance, or artistry, or capacity to move us?
So I told Media Watch I would have still provided the link, and raised the fors and againsts of a nationalistic response to the bombing,with the poetry and political views of Lawson as a case in point.
I pointed out to Media Watch that during the terrorism laws debate I’d published a press statement from the far-right National Civic Council, which worked hard to stop the laws, claiming they paralleled Hitler’s actions in the prelude to World War 11. Is that promoting racism? No – it’s acknowledging that groups of opposing persuasions can come together on certain issues. And it’s inviting readers to consider what those groups have in common, and why.
And that’s what the Webdiary space is partly about – providing a safe space for people with articulate, coherent views from all sectors of Australian opinion to discuss issues of importance. I run One Nation nationalistGreg Weilo quite regularly, for example, and his contributions often provoke interesting debate.
I’ve got no problem with my readers finding a racist site through Webdiary. My views on racism are crystal clear, so I assume there could be no question mark over my motivations. What do you think?
In Loving Hitler (smh), I wrote:
I’ve had a number of emails bemoaning the fact that there’s less of me in Webdiary at the moment. Robert Henderson, for example, writes: “I guess it is just me, but I much preferred your Webdiary when it mainly contained YOUR comments.”
I sought advice from Noel Hadjimichael, a long time reader and contributor. His response:
(1) Your comments have been lacking in recent weeks … you could best beef up your contribution to about 30-35% of the content on most days.
(2) Links to other sites or speeches are excellent – but not the full script (too cumbersome)
(3) Maybe some modest limit on contributions (say 150-200 words)
(4) Need to have interchange (comment on the contributor’s copy) every day – even if posted item is say only 250 words and mostly your copy
Your contributors and I would suggest many regular readers would “log in” every day. If we want this to work, you might need to have a daily comment – even if times of contribution are varied … the Webdiary has yet to reach the efficiency of the daily situation reports of the CIA ….
smh.com.au producer Mike Barton is working on an expansion of SMH Connect to embrace high-level interactivity with our readers. This could see more than one thread to Webdiary so I could spin off discussion topics according to reader’s wishes. This would help alleviate the mix problem.
I accept the criticism that I’m not doing enough of my own comment, and will do more, including responding more often to reader’s contributions. Be assured that my responses will in no way seek to diminish or ridicule contributors. The space is safe.
It is bloody impossible to please everyone though. Reader Dan Meijer blasted me for my post-Cunningham comments on the basis that “your recent columns on the ALP loss in Cunningham smack of the diatribe of a NSW Labor Left member, using the column as an outlet to vent your dislike of the ALP Right…I’d hoped Webdiary might be a forum, moderated and commented on by you, for reasoned and balanced discussion, not as a platform for your own personal agendas, Margo. I hope to see it change back soon. Sore loser type columns are a bore.”
I responded: “I don’t feel like a loser. It’s my opinion. The space is open to publish anyone elses. Including yours. What’s wrong with that?”
I continue to really enjoy Webdiary and log in as often as possible. I too miss your comments and get a bit frustrated when the whole thing gets taken over by those who write long ‘this I believe’ pieces. It may be my imagination, but it seems over the years that the gender balance has shifted to many more men contributing I don’t know if this is a result of men having more time to contribute (!) or women lacking the confidence to engage in the extended essay form or what. However, it would be good to hear from more women plus a greater variety of voices generally, and if the shift in format has resulted in this dropping off it would be good to try and get them back.
I note the Webdiary charter includes two potentially conflicting points in its mission – to help meet the unmet demand for conversations AND to provide an outlet for talented writers and thinkers.
Whilst neither precludes the other completely, my idea of conversation is not sitting back while someone talks at me, which some of the outlets for talented writers have become. Whilst I don’t want Webdiary to become a sort of online talkback radio, I did enjoy the moderated snappy discussions we used to have with you editing people’s emails and giving webdiarists only the flavour and key points in debates.
Perhaps the solution is to have some link to extended discussion pages on each topic (which you then wouldn’t need to moderate to the same degree) but keep the diary pages for snappier conversation. I think that would help some of those who may be silenced by feeling it is only okay to contribute if you can write an academic essay.
I guess ultimately it is a time thing, both yours and ours. How much time do you have to spend moderating and how much time do we have to write essays or one liners? Webdiary will continue to evolve regardless. Ultimately if it evolves too much in one direction, it will either get pulled back by diarists or there will be a split (those of us with leftist pasts are well versed in these!) and another forum for those feeling disengaged will emerge. Time will tell.
Thanks heaps for all your efforts. I still feel very positive about Webdiary and what it is and can provide. I remember being greatly challenged to think about some of this by your book Off the Rails, where you ponder how the media engages with its readers and what drives the form of its engagement. Webdiary is having a bloody good stab at grappling with it all. Thanks.
Richard Chapman in Melbourne
After reading YET ANOTHER long interchange between two of your contributors – I’m finding the usual Left-Right twostep is getting a little dull.
I proudly lean to the Left, and have always enjoyed Webdiary as a counterpoint to the Colonel Blimps who tend to dominate the Murdoch and to a lesser extent Fairfax press. There is a open debate going on in the Australian media, unlike the garbage I see on CNN, where ‘anchors’ parade their jingoistic views, with one I heard via the ABC who regarded even Congressional Democrats as traitors to be hung from trees.
Like a visit to the lions at the zoo, I get a perverse enjoyment from reading Right Wing contributors. (Webdiary is acquiring a fine menagerie). Some make my blood boil, others make me laugh and some lead me to tears. All provide useful intellectual exercise as I tease apart their arguments and hyperbole and develop my reasoning. Some of these guys will write in saying “There is no Right Wing” – which would be true if they didn’t so predictably fall into line with Howard, G Dubya, Joe McCarthy and Genghis Khan on just about every issue.
However, my point is that I can also concede that my thoughts and contributions have been ‘constrained’ intellectually by my ideology. I don’t know why this occurs – I suspect people on both sides develop reactions deep in the pits of their stomachs (or core of their brains) which are instinctive and reflexive, and their upper brains dress up these reactions in reason and evidence to make them acceptable.
I’m doing the Christian thing – trying to remove the log from my own eye so I can better see the forests in the eyes of the Right. However, I doubt there can be real intellectual debate between people with such immutable positions.
Should we give up on Webdiary? Or set a challenge – for one week, people with known views are to devils-advocate against those views? A Michelin guide rating system for ideological content – so that you know before you read what a person’s worldview is? Or can we just have a word-limit and response-limit, say 3 per contributor, before a cooling off period. I also agree more of the content should be yours, as in earlier times.
Margo: As the volume of emails rises, I’ve had to become selective. My current bias is not to run stuff that’s stock-standard but stuff that pushes a boundary, or tries to formulate a new idea, or asks an interesting question.
Ted Grayson, retired public servant, Adelaide
Thank you for the opportunity to give you feedback on Webdiary. I’ve been tempted to do this anyway and your invitation is just what I need to get started. Hope you don’t mind, but my comments range from the highly complimentary to severe criticism.
1. Your video interviews are excellent. Please do more. And please do some hardhitting interviews of federal politicians on subjects other than the ‘war’. And every time you do an interview, promote it in your column so we don’t miss any.
2. Noel Hadjimichael is absolutely right – I’m sure most of your readers will tell you they want to read more of you and less of everyone else. I would have thought it is your job to write opinion pieces, not to sit back at your desk enjoying reading what everyone else has to say and pondering your ignorance- although its nice to hear your honesty on that subject. Just do it. You should be writing something every day and you should also comment much more on contributor’s pieces.
3. Can you please write about issues other than the hypothetical war. Wars and the threat of wars are a great distraction for politicians away from domestic issues. The Howard government is enjoying an unprecedented holiday from media scrutiny of their domestic policies. The work you did on SIEV-X was an exception to this and I thought it was excellent, but please apply your investigative skills to domestic issues as well as international issues.
4. Can you please put long pieces such as those by John Wodjylo and Tim Dunlop in separate postings? I’m sure many readers like to print out Webdiary but don’t want to print out 10-20 pages of Wodjylo.(Margo: Agreed. I’ve already started doing this.)
5. I much preferred Webdiary when it included shorter pieces on a wider variety of topics and more commentary from you.
6. Can you provide your readers with information on the number of hits your Webdiary receives and how this varies depending on the topics? (Margo: Good idea. I’ll do a monthly summary starting with October’s results.)
7. I am really concerned at the low quality of political reporting coming out of the Canberra Press Gallery and very disappointed to see Michelle Grattan leave the Herald. Ramsey is boring and tedious most of the time although occasionally he’s great. I’d like to see you critique the work of your colleagues more, although I expect you won’t do it. It’s too much of a club, isn’t it?
Here’s a challenge for you – why not introduce a new subsection of Webdiary for readers to provide critical commentary on the work of the Canberra Press Gallery? Sort of like a mini media watch. If you are unable to criticise them directly, you could at least provide a forum for others to do it. And don’t tell me you’ve done it before. We know that. The point is no-one is criticising them now.
8. Hope you don’t mind my honest criticism. I believe that at your best you are an outstanding journo and I’d like to see you doing the best work you are capable of, more frequently.
Margo: I am sometimes critical and sometimes an ardent supporter of the press gallery. I usually put my comments in a general, not individual context, because I don’t want to do the tit-for-tat insult thing many commentators do. It’s boring. A waste of time. I routinely run reader’s criticisms of gallery members, the gallery, and me. This is part of my philosophy for Webdiary – the journalist sits with the reader around the same circular table, rebalancing the power dynamic between writer and reader and creating a creative charge between them.
I want to wave goodbye to the model of reader as passive object and journalist as bearer of privately pre-digested truth to the passive object. The priority becomes process, not outcome, and the ‘decision’, the ‘truth’ emerges from the conversation. For the journalist, this is exciting but dangerous, as the journalist must state an opinion while being prepared to change her mind as discussion proceeds. This often means being damned by, in my case, both right and left wing commentators. (Perhaps this is a reason why I’ve become averse to quick opinion?)
I agree that a running thread of media critique would be good. Hopefully the technology to allow this will be up and running soon.
At the risk of sounding like I’m taking the piss, I’m a ‘long time reader, first time contributor’ flushed out of his hole by your request for suggestions as to the Webdiary future. In particular I want to argue against the suggestion that you should limit the ‘whole text’ of speeches/press releases.
Surely one of the key roles played by your Webdiary is in giving the space and time for the whole statement to be presented, to move us away from the 30 second grab and into the realm of real argument and debate based on something approximating the whole story.
The Latham speech you recently presented (Labor: Outsider Party?!, smh) was a great example of what I’m talking about. We got to read the whole unedited speech and were forced to engage with it using our own brains rather than being force fed an ‘analysts’ opinion.
I know from previous posts of yours that we probably have different views on this, but I think it vital that we at least occasionally get unvarnished access to what our politicians/public figures actually say, rather than the edited, ‘here’s what we think you need to know’ version we generally get in the mainstream press. If people don’t want to read it all then they can move on, but don’t deprive the rest of us of the access.
Your Webdiary is important for many reasons, but in my mind one of the key ones is this ability to present information in full for us to think about and digest in our own way in our own time. So please don’t stop giving us the full text just because some of the readers find it all a bit tedious. There are many more of us out there who find this one of the strengths of the diary in the first place.
Margo: There’s no way I’m going to stop publishing long pieces occasionally, for the reasons you give. The mix is very hard to get right, and depends largely on what you decide to write to me. However it is also true that shorter, more instinctive/emotional pieces mightn’t get written or sent if people feel pressured by the longer, more academic pieces into feeling there’s no place for their input. The last thing I want is for Webdiary to become an elitist space. It’s a space for everyone interested in political thought, political events, and policy and identity issues. The basic task I set myself is to ensure that people of good will feel comfortable contributing to it, with the result that a smorgasbord of Australian voices and views are available to Webdiarists. It’s about constructive conversation, not closure – which the standard left-right culture war rhetoric has degenerated into. It’s about hope, not fingerpointing.
Last year, out of the blue, Tim Dunlop sent me a 7,000 word piece deconstructing the economic arguments for dairy deregulation. That piece triggered the most exciting, broad-based, discussion Webdiary had ever had, from all sorts of Australians with all sorts of perspectives. A bottom-up piece, from micro detail to macro questioning, was what many people were clearly hungry for. There was a lesson in that, and I won’t forget it.
I disagree with Noel Hadjimichael’s assessment. The great thing about the web is that the space constraints operating in the print media need not apply – either to publisher or reader. How could John Wojdylo’spieces on Saddam’s Heart of Darkness have ever been edited down to 250 words?
I remember well the controversy in the press at the time over the Vietnam War. Letter writers to the editor on both sides of the debate wrote what would today be considered abnormally long letters, with reasoned argument being easily their most important aspect. Unfortunately today we seem to be in an age of truncated literacy, with letters to the editor having most chance of publication if they are one paragraph, or better still, one sentence. Hence the abundance of glib one liners, and the triumph of sarcasm. I for one will no longer bother logging on if Webdiary degenerates to that.
If the reader thinks a piece is too long, there is this key labelled Page Down which is a great help, and one does not even have to be a speed reader to use it.
Margo, you asked for suggestions about improving the (excellent) Webdiary. A few thoughts from an “every day” reader.
1. I don’t know who is responsible for the layout of each section, so I don’t know if a better design is too much to ask. But it is hard to figure out where one contribution ends and the next one starts when all you use is bold type for many purposes. Perhaps start each new section with the contributors name in red? Or a bigger size? If you’ve got a ‘proper’ designer doing it they could even go for a more jazzy and reader-friendly setup.
Margo: When Webdiary started in July 2000, the designers produced the framework. The space inside was a blank page. I didn’t know when I started that reader’s contributions would become fundamental to Webdiary. And it was not until April last year that I thought about what Webdiary was all about and wrote the Webdiary charter. So the internal design of each entry is just me mucking around trying to make it work. I’ve just asked a designer to impose a design structure on the blank page I start with each day to make it more reader friendly.
l2. One of the great merits of Webdiary is that people can respond in more detail and with more consideration than, say, the letters page. But recent events have also shown me the problems with a “no limits” approach. Personally I find that John Woydylo’s essays are so long that they have the effect of overwhelming the other responses much like a person who talks too much in a debate. I used to think that with internet discussions such comparisons were false as one has the chance to delete or skip over unwanted material, but many years of participating in such online discussions has led me to realise that the intuitive feeling of a discussion is actually affected in the same way as in face to face contact. Perhaps a limit of about 1000 words could steer a middle path? (For what it’s worth, John managed to write 4415 words in Loving Hitler, 2/10/02; 6027 words in Saddam’s Will to Power on 30/9/02; and 17,328 words in the original essay Saddam and the Heart of Darkness on 26/9/02. I don’t want to shut him up – he’s the most reasoned supporter of the war on Iraq I’ve read, and the debate should be had – but maybe this is overkill?)
3. I’ve now gone back and read (almost all of) the previous comments and noticed a general theme of limiting the size of contributions! But a few people pointed out that some of the essays were in fact of the highest standards of reason and accessibility. Perhaps try to separate the ‘essays’ from the ‘contributions’ – you are making a start at this already, and of course the lines are blurry when someone responds to an essay with 500 words of their own. So some mess is unavoidable. But it might be worth a try.
4. Reading over the earlier comments, a number of people recalled the original intention of the site partly to be a vehicle for some better investigative journalism. There were two elements of this: One was not letting pollies fob off the questions (recent SIEV-X thread is picking up this request) and the other is to try to be more proactive (like people requesting questions you or your colleagues could ask, as is happening). You’re already doing this and it’s fantastic.
5. I’d be interested to hear your reflections on the role of Webdiary within the SMH/media world, ie. what do your colleagues think of it? Do they read it?
Margo: I don’t ask and they don’t tell.
6. I take it time and money, but mostly time, are limiting factors with this site. Given a significant number of people seem to be regulars, some of whom have time for frequent multi-thousand-word essays, perhaps you could call for volunteers? Or point out to your boss (you’ve got plenty of backup on this!) the value and significance of the site and get your own webmaster…
7. No site will be perfect. No site will suit everyone. The fact is you are doing something unique and special and you can read in people’s comments their appreciation for this meeting place of journos, academics, students, and plain old concerned citizens. More power to you.
1) Limit John Wojdylo to a few hundred words at absolute maximum. If he can’t say what he wants to say in a few hundred words (or less) then I don’t think Webdiary is the correct forum. It seems of late that Webdiary is becoming a Wojdylo Web Blog. He can have a separate site if he likes to write his polemic essays, and you can link to it. But less Wojdylo. He is boring, rarely says anything new or interesting and comes across as an egotistical wanker. Yes he gets a response, but so does Miss Devine. Trolls are lame. I only have so much time to read Webdiary, and if I see Wojdylo’s name I tend to allot that time to another site.
I quote him: “Compassion is of no use in solving the horrific dilemma we face: If we don’t act soon, when we are relatively powerful, we may be condemning free civilization to oblivion.” I mean that could straight from Dubya’s autocue. We get enough of that bullshit in the rest of the media, I don’t need Wojdylo regurgitating it, inserting some quasi-philosophic academic jargon and deriding anyone who disagrees as stupid or uninformed.
Wojdylo again: “And on the contrary, there is nothing more cynical than the United Nations proclaiming the noble ideals of its charter while obligingly paving the way for the rise of a dictator who wills the destruction of all that it stands for, together with the free world, and thinks nothing of ending tens of millions of lives to achieve his ambition” – or nothing more cynical than a President who halted democracy in his own country, withdraws from the 1972 ABN treaty, raises military spending to astounding heights, then whips up hysteria so he can go kill a lot of Iraqis in the name of disarmament and democracy! Ha!
He questions Chomsky’s objectivity – claiming his “view is quasi-religious” without any evidence. Yet he’s the one talking about these vague, almost crusade like visions, of defending “the free world” and “free civilisation”. Give me a break! Chomsky’s record and thorough, almost pedantic, documentation trumps a Wojdylo Web Diary polemic in my book.
Margo: Sorry, Max, but I love John’s work and will continue to publish it, and at length if he writes long. I find John’s work deeply challenging, perhaps because it’s based in European intellectualism rather than English or American. Please forgive this idiosyncracy.
2) I’d like to see more short, cutting and witty comments. One liners. Haikus? (especially Haikus!) Perhaps even a separate section for these short bits and pieces. There are lots of smart people out there who don’t have time to read the Wojdylo’s et al, let alone reply in great detail. But they could contribute a short and valuable ditty.
Margo: Agreed. More short, cutting and witty emails please! During the Tampa debate I had a section called one liners which worked well, but I’m not getting enough of them any more!
3) Rejected submissions. Perhaps once a month you could give us a page of the most outrageous and strange submissions you receive. Sort of like a “Webdiary out-takes”. The best part about those smh.com.au reader’s feedback forums they sometimes have on the front page is reading the crackpot-loony comments (Perhaps I’m one of them?).
Margo: Good idea. Since I’ve now agreed to publish the stats on Webdiary each month, I could do an end of month Webdiary incorporating your suggestion too.
4) Polls. Could you run web polls on various subjects (related to the contemporary Webdiary debates)? I think polls are pretty easy to set up and run automatically. Lots of sites have them. I’d like to see how skewed and elite we Webdiarists really are.
Margo: We dropped polls because they were too subject to manipulation. An improved poll system is nearly ready to go.
5) Moderation – see slashdot.org style http://slashdot.org/faq/com-mod.shtml. Or some kind of rating system on published submissions.
6) Keep following stories like SIEV-X and the Democrats split. It is interesting to see how they continue to develop after the mainstream media has dropped them.
That’s all for now. Otherwise it’s great. Especially when domestic politics is hot.
Oh, and I disagree that you need to write more. I think it is fine to step back when there is a lot of debate. Although I do like it when you do a little [editors note, commenting on the comment]. Maybe more of them.
I think Webdiary has huge potential. It gives people the choice to read and interact with potentially a great range of material. And it’s so easy to choose what you want to read. Webdiary can fill a huge gap in the Australian media.
The problem with virtually all the commentary I read in the column format of Oz newspapers is that the columns are limited to about a thousand words. So the author can’t bring in enough background material (excerpts etc) to flesh out their argument, and they tend towards form instead of content – and often descend into disjoint bald assertions or partisan shouting.
In Webdiary you can present things so that they make sense.
Long and deep commentaries are commonplace in the big German newspapers, for example, but almost non-existent in Oz. It’s a pleasure to read a long, well thought-out article. Wouldn’t it be good to get mainstream commentators involved in Webdiary, so that they could flesh out their ideas here? Would they work for free? (Margo: There’s nothing to stop mainstream writers seeking publication in Webdiary. None have, and I have no desire to be proactive in encouraging such input as such writers already have a public space and a public voice. Part of Webdiary’s charter is to discover and promote new talent.)
The internet has great advantages that Webdiary benefits from. There’s very little extra cost in putting up long articles, and it’s easy to scroll down to the next article if you’re bored or haven’t the time. It gives the reader a wide choice of material at the press of a button.
Putting in excerpts can put the reader in contact with material that they might not normally come across. Background material about Iraq is a current example – the way you view the news can change after you have read a few choice extracts. But in Oz it’s almost as if we’re being kept in the dark – where else would you find the testimony of experts with first hand experience of Iraq but in Webdiary?
It’s too easy for media to wield influence with their spin. In Webdiary you can get beneath the spin and see what’s inside. If you want. Nobody has to.
(By the way, I think replacing all excerpts with links would diminish the reading experience. If you’re bored with an excerpt, assert your choice: scroll down. Others might find the excerpt interesting. The writer usually puts them there because they think the text is important. Also, links make for a bit of laziness.)
And with well thought-out articles, you can see how bits and pieces of the news fit together, how it makes sense. There’s just not enough of that around, largely because of space (ie commercial) constraints.
I think Webdiary’s coming along nicely. You’re getting close to a good mix of two broad streams: shortish, formless, off-the-cuff opinion pieces; and formal, well-argued pieces, both long and short.
Both are important in bringing people and ideas together.
David Davis in Switzerland
I can’t say I have many complaints or suggestions re WebDiary, because it is so fluid. It is hard to hit a moving target. I think the basic concept is right. Sometimes aspects bug me but then they go away again…..only to reveal something better. I don’t think you keep the format the same and I think you alter your stance from time to time re contributions.
There was an early stage where I think you published most of what you received provided you believed it contributed something new. Then later you introduced more structure and more themes. I could be wrong but I think you are more into themes than you used to be. Its a sort of “annointing of the topic”. You annoint the worthy topics…….and then the rest follows. Am I being harsh? (Margo: You’re right!) )
As I said in feedback ages ago I love it when you put in one liners throughout other people’s contributions because it’s informal, entertaining, thought provoking and fun. People need to get over themselves. It is fine if you chip in midstream. It isn’t supposed to be an elite thing. Sure it is an unfair advantage to you but then after all you do sort of control the space.
As I did in the past, I would also salute the serious contributors, the ones who make such a brilliant effort and contribute really thought provoking stuff. Not just raves, but really original and deep perspectives. The most recent prime example would be the long time diarist John Wodjylo.
I think though that Webdiary should remain a “broad church”. A welcome home for all. A Polly Bush pub where deep conversations and light hearted banter can be within earshot of each other. The banterers should not be dismissed. Amidst the banter can be true insight.
Finally, can I make a special request? It is regarding SIEV-X. I know the gist of your allegations. They frighten me if they are true. I admit to being less than diligent in getting into the detail. I know that’s lazy and without the detail perhaps it can’t be understood……but PLEASE can you do a bullet point summary of the key aspects lending support to the conspiracy theory? I’m certainly prepared (if sadly) to accept it could be true but I just can’t get my head around it in the time I have had. Can you do a simpleton’s guide to it? A sort of “well this is where we are” thing that sums up everything so far. I certainly respect your judgement so am loathe to dismiss the whole thing. As I say, I have just been a bit complacent and have had a “dont want to know” attitude. Disgraceful but true. On the other hand…… I don’t want to forget it totally. I hope you are wrong but want to really understand your case in a nutshell. I have been VERY slow on this but now I really want to know the truth. What is it?
I suppose you don’t really know and that is why it at once becomes frustrating but more importantly it becomes worthy of deeper inquiries. Three hundred and fifty three. Quite chilling.
Rather than being something I have become immune to over time, SIEV-X is starting to get under my skin. Now I just want to know what happened more than ever
Margo: David, I’m asked what really happened so often, and you’re right, I don’t know and I’m not going to pretend I do. Too many questions. Not enough information. Systematic answer avoidance and bloody-minded obfuscation. I’ll have a go at the summary thing next week.