Tuesday, September 27, 2005

ST Journalists' Blogging Handbook -- Responsibility in Article Writing

I am XenoBoy. I am the Political Svant.
Normally, I do not do this since my focus is on politics. However, since the Straits Times has taken on an edifying role for bloggers like me, teaching me how to blog responsibly, how to stay within OB markers, how to avoid defamation suits, how to avoid Sedition, I feel compelled to return the favour. For all the journalists out there doing a piece on blogging, I present a 101 for how to report responsibly on this weird phenomenon known as blogging.
What is a blog? -- Before you pen the article. You have to ask this basic philosophical question. Yes a blog is an online journal. But there are also blogs which are not online journals, for example, Singabloodypore is not a personal online journal. Some websites like New Sintercom and Void Deck are using 'blogging software' which makes the site 'look like' a blog. Yes, my dear journalists, revelatory indeed. When you report on blogs, you have to "read" the blogs (a process commonly referred as research) and from thence, understand what 'type' of blog it is. Yes, my dear journalist, there is a typology to blogs. We have to get the type of blogs right before we write.
The comments within a blog? -- Do not roll your eyes, my dear journalist, and ask why this is important? Many, many times, journalists forget the simple comments function in a blog. In the comments, sometimes, you find more racist and more seditious entries than what is blogged by the blogger. Many, many times, the comments functions of blogs are left open, an invitation by the blogger to engage and challenge her/his views. It becomes like a debate. YOU have the RIGHT to challenge the blogger and call her/his bluff. Expose their lies. And my dear journalists, do you know something?? When you expose bloggers' lies via debate and engagement, the REST of the blogging community will say "Ah this blog is a fraud, it sucks". Unlike as kids when someone loses, and the brat brays "I call mata, you bully me". this form of victory is more powerful in cyber-world. Yes journalists, comments comments comments, the function must not be forgotten when you pen the responsible article.

Etiquette and tips for interviews -- Ahh yes my dear journalists, your bread and butter, the little nuggets that will spice up your article, give it that necessary spin. #1 Some bloggers are not in Singapore, there is a notion of Time Difference, hence your e-mails to them may not be expeditiously replied. So bear with the blogger, factor this in your deadlines #2 Other than the usual lawyer suspects, whose legal expertise are assiduously courted and quoted by journalists but who know naught the difference between a RSS feed and R2D2, lo and behold, there are actually legally trained bloggers who actually blog!!!! Imagine my dear journalists, there are bloggers who are white-collar professionals! Lawyers, doctors, consultants, teachers, lecturers, historians, writers, artists, journalists even! By getting a quote from one 'within' who is less bland and less banal, ohh wonderfully responsible article it becomes.
Use of Sensational Netspeak -- My dear journalists, in the Google datasphere, there will be numerous records explaining commonly used terms in cyberspace. An example is this sexy term "flamewar". Such flamewars arise usually when a debate turns stupid. Common derogatory themes become employed by the 'loser' of the argument, example : racial slurs, swear words, gynealogy and lineage aspersions, nasty political categorizations and the ilk. There are others like 'lurkers' and 'trolls' which sound charming and sensational but mean quite innocent fun.

The above is 101. As a further extension of my graciousness in the face of infinite grace from you, my dear ST journalist, I extend an edited article on blogging which has raised some ire with bloggers for some fallacies.
Come my dear journalists, hold my hand and walk away from this fetish with doom for all things Net and all things blog. Embrace the fear that our children have in them the capacity to infinite Light.
I am XenoBoy. I am the Political Savant.
Now my dear readers, do something responsible and sign the petition for the Rebel :
Quote of the Day : "But even the habitues of the chthonic forces of terror, who carry their volumes of Klages in their packs, will not learn one-tenth of what nature promises its less idly curious but more sober children, who possess in technology not a fetish of doom but a key to happiness" -- Walter Benjamin, Theories of German Fascism, (1999)

By Sandra Davie & Liaw Wy-Cin, Edited Responsibly by XenoBoy
Free speech may be the buzzword on the Internet - but sometimes criticism goes over the boil and feelings get hurt.
When teachers' feelings are hurt, the rod comes down. Five junior college students were punished for posting critical remarks about two teachers and a vice-principal online.
The students, all girls, were made to remove the remarks from their Internet diaries, or blogs, and suspended for three days last month. Their parents were also informed. The case is not an isolated one. Of the 31 secondary schools and junior colleges contacted, 18 said they were seeing more such incidents as the number of bloggers surges.
Bloggers believe that such a phenomenon reflects the changed demographics of Singapore society today as well as the imperatives of creativity in the education system. It is no longer realistic to encourage creativity on one hand, and stifle expression simultaneously.
Some school administrators do not see it this way though. Seven secondary schools and two JCs have asked bloggers who criticise or insult their teachers online to remove the hurtful remarks. One such remark referred to a secondary school teacher as a 'prude' for disciplining a student for wearing a too-short skirt. 'Frustrated old spinster. Can't stand to see attractive girls,' the blog read. At which point was the line between creative expression and hurt crossed? This remains a subjective question to be answered by school administrators; in this case answered conservatively. Bloggers have however, urged sensibility in such applications of punishment; as the world has changed, so too, responses to criticism.
Tanglin Secondary science and PE teacher Tham Kin Loong said: 'I've had vulgarities hurled against me, my parents and my whole family in some students' blogs.' The 33-year-old added: 'Most of them do not realise the legal implications of what they are writing in such a public domain.' An anonymous teacher mentioned however, that her way of dealing with online criticism was to talk to the student and find out where she went wrong because more often than not, such criticsm cannot be found in the classroom. While there are certainly some colorful expletives hurled in cyberspace, the teacher noted that this was no different from the past. A student-teacher relationship is always dynamic.
Litigation remains an option if teachers wish to sue for defamation, they may have legal grounds to do so. Singapore Teachers' Union general secretary Swithun Lowe said the union is ready to back any teacher who wants to take legal action. While the teachers appreciated Union assistance, they believed that a reasonable middle ground could be struck and more importantly, as teachers, they did 'not want to affect the prospects of their young students'.
Lawyers say students can be sued for defamation, even if a teacher is not named. 'As long as someone is able to identify the teacher, and it is an untrue statement that affects his reputation or livelihood, then the student is liable,' said Ms Doris Chia of Harry Elias and Partners. An injunction can be taken to get the student to remove the blog and issue an apology, she added.
Lawyer and blogger, Mr Wang, notes however that such criticism must be taken with a pinch of salt. Steering the discourse away from law and litigation, he believes that such "honest, brutal criticism" is indicative of the need to train young Singaporeans to speak up and be of independent mind.
Blogging is a reality and schools have recognised it. Many English and General Paper teachers encourage it to improve students' language and writing skills. Schools also said they do not police blogs. They say they only check them after complaints are made. 'And if we feel that the remark is untrue or unfair, then we expect the student to apologise,' said Raffles Institution vice-principal S. Magendiran. An un-named teacher has however experienced students whose grades have improved after they were encouraged to blog. She explains that like all technologies blogging can of course, be exploited, however, it can also be turned for good. In the end, it all boils down to common sense and a common ground of understanding between the student and the teacher.
The recent cases of two young men and a teen charged with making seditious and inflammatory remarks about Muslims on the Net understandably has no relation to such student criticism and cannot be conflated with such school action. Blogging has become a "raging phenonmenon" among the youth of Singapore and it is fundamentally a good way of exercising one's writing skills, creativity and thinking ability. It is important for schools, even as they make such calls to punish hurtful remarks, to understand this shift in Singapore's educational landscape and come to terms with it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is audacious!! The ST will be up your ass dude

11:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

lolz xeno do one for carl skadian's op-ed too.

12:18 AM  
Anonymous Libertas said...

Totally agree with what you said in your entry, about the true nature of blogging in Singapore. Straits Times journalist complaining about bloggers, not being able to write accurately or justify their statements online while they themselves have such a narrow-minded myopic definition just exposes the sorry state of journalism in singapore.

2:48 AM  
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