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The Observer

By Roz Rogoff

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About this blog: In January 2002 I started writing my own online "newspaper" titled "The San Ramon Observer." I reported on City Council meetings and other happenings in San Ramon. I tried to be objective in my coverage of meetings and events, and...  (More)

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Blogging about blogging

Uploaded: Sep 16, 2012
In the old newspaper days when news was printed on paper there were two categories of writers – Reporters who covered news, and Columnists who wrote whatever they wanted to but usually about a particular subject.

There were humor columns by Erma Bombeck and Art Buchwald. There were political columns by George Will and Molly Ivins. There were gossip columns by Luella Parsons and Walter Winchell. These extra features attracted followers who subscribed to or bought the newspaper to keep up with the views and opinions of their favorite columnists.

In my list above George Will is the only one still alive and writing an old-fashioned newspaper column. Most new "columnists" in online news websites like "The Huffington Post," are called "Bloggers." Blogging is something like being a columnist but much more free-wheeling.

Columnists usually had to know something about what they were writing about and stick to the subject readers expected them to write about. I doubt George Will ever wrote a cooking column, but I wrote a recipe blog a few weeks ago when I couldn't think of anything else to write about.

I looked up the history of "Blogging" on Wikipedia. I was a little surprised to see the CompuServe bulletin board included as part of the early history. I was very active on the CompuServe boards from 1982 to 1992. In fact I was Moderator of the Women in IT section in the early '90s but I didn't stay with it very long.

The term "Blog" originated from Weblog, which was a daily journal of whatever the blogger wanted to write – a kind of online diary. As the technology grew, websites were provided where writers didn't need to know HTML tagging or TCP/IP protocols to post their daily messages online. Anyone could subscribe to a blog service and write their opinions about anything they chose.

When I started the San Ramon Observer in January, 2002 I didn't consider it a Blog or Weblog. I considered it an online newspaper. I used website software from Go Daddy to make it look like a newspaper with the San Ramon Observer name in Old English type. I reserved the front page for reporting City Council meetings and other local news, but I added a Commentary page where I could write my opinions.

I always tried to make the News page objective, but the Commentary page was where I could take positions and criticize the Council or staff or other groups with whom I disagreed. I developed a following of about 3,000 regular readers. That's not a lot in a City of 42,000 residents at that time, but I was determined to provide local news for local people even if my readership wasn't very big.

I wrote up the City Council meetings as soon as I got home. Some of those meetings in 2002 and 2003 lasted until 1 am or later. Council Members Donna Dickey, Jerry Cambra, and Nancy Tatarka were dubbed "The Gang of Three" by the San Ramon Valley Times.

I also referred to them as The Gang of Three because they almost always voted in a block and took over the City Council to the objections of many residents and remaining Council Members, Dave Hudson and Abram Wilson.

Dave and Donna would get into arguments that would go on into the wee hours of the night. Neither of them would shut up. So I would come home at 1 am and spend another hour or two writing up the meeting so it would be online in the morning.

I added links to stories in the Tri-Valley Herald and San Ramon Valley Times on an "In the Press" page. I quit doing that after a couple of years because it was too time consuming. Current blogging software automatically updates blogs with local news stories, but either this wasn't available in 2003-4 or I didn't know about it.

When I started writing for the San Ramon Express, I wrote blogs and also covered news stories. I was paid for the news stories but not for the blogs. My news writing was rather dry. I tried to be as objective as possible. I followed the five W's of journalism – who, what, when, where, and why – and did not take a position or insert any spin. But when I was focusing on reporting news I tended to let the Blogs slip.

I finally asked Express Publisher, Gina Channell-Allen, if I could be paid for my blogs as well as for the news stories. I agreed to stick to a schedule and post at least one blog a week on Fridays and an optional one on Mondays. I typically post the Friday blog on Thursday night and the Monday blog on Sunday.

Since bloggers can write about pretty much anything, that's what I started to do. I still try to write about what's happening in San Ramon and give my opinions or spin on it. I was attacked by supporters of the No on Measure W campaign when I wrote a blog supporting Measure W. I was criticized as not being neutral or balanced in my "reporting." Whenever I'm criticized for not being a good reporter, I say "I'm not a reporter, I'm a blogger." So that's what I'm doing here and now – blogging about blogging.

I will continue to post a blog twice a week, even if I'm not required to. I hope my readers will read my blogs on Monday and Friday. You don't have to agree with them; you can reply with your own views too. But please let me know what you want me to write about. That's the hardest part, keeping up with my twice-a-week schedule while providing something useful for my readers.

Comments

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Sep 19, 2012 at 8:00 am

Hi Roz: if you ever feel lonesome for comments, come on over to the DX site and post a blog. There's rarely a dull moment, and even if you post about something like baseball, the peanut gallery will bring you back to what they think you should be writing about.

I think it IS important that readers understand these columns to be opinionated commentary, rather than the stuff of the 5-Ws. And in that regard, I have to ask: did you hear the disdain in Mr. Romney's voice This Time? I don't know how you do it twice-a-week -- keep up the good work!


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