Being there: Highlights of Blogging as a source of professional or ‘on the spot’ expertise

I’ll be doing another round with Geraldine on her Saturday Morning Radio National do this week on blogging – I expect with one or two other people. The Executive Producer has suggested we talk about the way in which blogging can take you into a discussion between people who really know their stuff or perhaps people who are ‘there’ on the spot. (I guess the most obvious example of the latter is Salam Pax during the siege of Baghdad.)

Anyway apart from my favourite econobloggers like Brad Delong, Greg Mankiw, Dani Rodrik and Mark Thoma’s marvellous compendium of an econoblog I’ll outline some other highlights that came to mind when I thought about it a little – though the examples are not very considered.

I was reading a blog on Susan Johnstons latest novel which is a fictionalisation of Charmian Clifts story and who should pop up on the thread but Susan Johnston. (Ive gone hunting for this with no luck Ive found what I recall is the review, but it doesnt currently seem to have comments attached (even in archived form!). Still I recall it happening even if I cant prove it!

Likewise I wrote a bit of an appreciation of Gillian Bouross latest piece of writing a book about her sister and lo and behold there she was courtesy of Google Alerts thanking me for the review. (most reviewers had not been particularly kind which I thought was silly). I think this has happened more often than this – perhaps quite recently but I can’t bring it to mind.

We were recently approached by a journalist trying to track down some comments made by someone on the spot, or who knew someone on the spot regarding the Shapelle Corby case who’d commented on Troppo.

Then there was David Coles’ marvellous guest post with a great discussion following it on John Howard’s Aboriginal sexual abuse stunt intervention.

And several times I’ve started threads on tax and social welfare issues only to have a whole host of people turn up who know far more than me about it and proceed to have a fantastically well informed discussion leading to Backroom Girl making occasional very well informed posts here.

But that’s a quick list. I’m hoping that you might be able to record some of your own highlights in the blogosphere, particularly regarding

  • the exchange of high quality debate, discussion from people who really know, either because they’re somewhere near the top of their profession or are particularly provocative (in a good way) and/or insightful; or
  • someone who was being talked about, or whose work was being talked about turned up on the blog to have a chat. Perhaps scenes like the one below were more prophetic than we realised.

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20 Responses to Being there: Highlights of Blogging as a source of professional or ‘on the spot’ expertise

  1. Nana Levu says:

    I have been on a fiji exiles discussion board for 7 years now since the beginning of the coup of 2000. We started on a local fiji times site until the fiji intelligence service has us exiled. So we moved to the US based ezboard server and continued.

    The have been many local players on the board including a smart Fijian lawyer called ‘real jack’. During Speight’s coup he would tell us things like,
    “I can see Lt Col Ligiari standing at the door way of an office at the parliament drinking a coffee’ and tell us the colour of the tie he was wearing.


  2. Robert says:

    A classic example of blogwriting exceeding MSM quality though of a specialised nature is found right here on Troppo where Christopher Sheils writes up Rugby Union. Is there any better in Australia? At last note, Rugby is played in about 110 countries and has a World Cup competition starting in a month, which is a huge international event. While Australia’s sporting passion is spread through many sports, we have a longstanding dedicated Rugby Union patronage which has given rise to us being World Champions – a fair achievement given our playing ratios with other nations. Can we do it this year?

    To write up Rugby takes not only hard-earned knowledge but a particular passion and what could be described as a spiritual alignment with this unique sport – something which is under threat in the modern capitalist era – and Christopher wraps it up better than the rest.

    I think it’s worth a plug for Troppo.

    That notwithstanding, Rugby is renowned as the game played thoroughly by very thorough gentlemen, has a poet on every wing, and resounds with lilted tenors with hearts aloft. Intelligence far exceeds the slugfest mongers of Rugby Legueaae Lgueaege, and those other football games where men shave their legs and armpits respectively. This is, surely, the ABC and Troppo demographic.

  3. James Farrell says:

    But there are disappointments. I was hoping God would turn up when I blogged on Pell and stem cells, but he was a no show — though it’s possible that CL is His sock puppet.

  4. Not earth shattering in any way but last year I arrived home late one night and put up a small post about music on ABC radio being from DIG online while ABC was on strike.

    A few days later there was a comment from Fergus – who it seems is Fergus Pitt who works at ABC on DIG.
    It’s a surprise when that happens and you realise you are not just slagging off (or praising) some anonymous corporation to an audience of two readers sitting in their bedroom at a computer.

    I notice this morning that in the back gossip page of the AGE called DIARY that they had a small item about the Channel 7 news talking about real estate and saying “If you’re not on the merry-go-round, you’re going to miss the boat”.

    boynton had posted this on Wednesday, August 01, 2007. Maybe I’m a tad cynical but it looks a bit as if the AGE pinched it off boynton without attribution.

  5. Laura says:

    Nicholas the turning up of whoever it is that you’re talking about is one of those really interesting and possibly unprecedented things about blogging. Before blogging took off I guess talkback radio was perhaps the only forum where you might have someone unexpectedly speak back to you with such immediacy. Although it’s not always convenient of course and Ampersand Duck thought up the brilliance of using acrostics to spell out a person’s name when you want to play it completely safe. I’ve posted about how it feels to have an autogoogler show up at your blog:

    I think that once you realise that this can and will happen it generally makes you a better blogger. At least if you want to be critical of someone then you will generally try to do it in a reasonable and defensible way.

    I have to say my favourite instance of this was when, at the tail end of a discussion at Sarsaparilla about Magic 693, which included vigorous slagging-off of the jingle for Roth Newton recliners, the jingle-writer turned up to comment. (Graciously, I might say.) A not so pleasant incident also occurred at Sarsaparilla more recently when a number of journos from The Australian turned up to debate Kirsty’s criticisms of a TV reviewer from that paper.

  6. Jacques Chester says:

    In Darwin, there is a road called Dick Ward Drive which goes directly through the middle of Fannie Bay. This is the source of considerable mirth amongst locals and visitors alike.

    For some time I used to enjoy speculating aloud about whose bright idea that was. It came to pass that I was in MHR David Tollner’s office relating this to Roger Steele, his chief of staff at the time. He grinned and said “it was me”.

    Boy was that embarrassing :)

  7. Yes I think that’s a very good point Laura.

    One of the interesting things I guess is that previously the world has been fairly easily divided into public and private places for discussion. Blogging is essentially public in the sense that it’s open to all, but the mores we take to it are those of a small, low key private discussion. Or I should have said the mores I take to it. But then that’s not quite true either because I know that it’s public and often find myself thinking of saying things about people I’d happily confide to someone – even if they weren’t a close friend.

    Pollies are forever being ‘frank’ with you about whomever’s shortcomings. But it’s all understood that it’s private. But that is obviously a trap when the private (or at least small) space can suddenly have all the attributes of a public space. Indeed, it can suddenly change its nature and become much more public and much bigger space.

    I sometimes try to work both sides of the street by adverting to someone without using their name. That reduces the chances of them autogoogling their way to the site. Of course I try to make sure that should they turn up I’ve not said anything I’m not prepared to defend. But if I’m criticising something of someone’s I might not particualrly want to hurt their feelings. (Well that’s me being charitable to myself. Less noble motives include cowardice.)

    But you’re dead right Laura that the fact that you might get an autogoogler round means you try to lift your game in anticipation of the possibility of the dread event. Because if you try to go under the radar, to avoid someone who might be out there autogoogling but who might take offence
    someone might just mention the person’s name in the comments thread!

  8. Bannerman says:

    A recent circumstance for me which comes to mind was my virtual meeting with Mr Alan Kessing of whistleblower infamy. His story is even more horrific than we’d read in the media, but sadly, because of a possible appeal by him to his conviction, and clearly stated threats to him of further court actions should he decide to pursue an appeal, he doesn’t feel free to relate to the sphere the things he’s made me privvy to. I’ve invited him to do so in his own blog, even creating a separate sub-domain for him on Waddayano.Org, but sadly it seems Alan has been effectively silenced by those with arses to cover at Sydney Airport.

    Surely, this aspect of public knowledge and social interaction is what the internet and blogging is all about, but what good is it if those with the ability to make changes are too frightened to do so?

  9. Nicholas,

    Your link to the combined reviews of Susan Johnson’s book is correct, but the discussion about Charmian Clift came about due to my posting a photo of Clift and George Johnston, which you can find at

  10. Here’s a memorable example of someone turning up to comment on a blog discussion about them.

  11. invig says:

    Re: Public versus private debate.

    I think there is little or no excuse to keep debate private apart from maintaining the ‘information asymmetry’ to the benefit of the experts involved.

    There are so many people who benefit from open debate – those unable to contribute as we are able to (though they will never admit as much to us) – that I think bloggers need to seriously examine their motives for not choosing it in any given situation.

    After all, if we can’t be transparent then how can we expect our governments to be?

  12. invig says:

    Re the blog debate I had the mother of Jake Kovco’s wife comment on my blog.
    Quite confronting it was too – made me glad I’d just apologised (for the second time). Also confronting as I had only gotten very few comments in 3 years.

    (Sorry no link as blog has been taken down for the time being).

  13. Laura says:

    Nicholas I posted a while back about a conference on Jane Austen I’m organising and linked to an Enough Rope interview with the keynote speaker (who I’m quite anxious not to offend or piss off in any way) AND asked readers not to mention her name in any comments they might make. It worked, and when I subsequently saw some bloggers in the flesh, they were well aware of who I was alluding to.

    Maybe you could tell Geraldine about the unfairly maligned practice of blegging. I do try not to abuse this but I have received excellently helpful and thought-clarifying advice from commenters about things like where to get a huge piece of artwork scanned and whether to buy a house or invest in an art collection.

  14. Jacques Chester says:

    Maybe you could tell Geraldine about the unfairly maligned practice of blegging.

    Maybe it’s the word itself that’s been maligned. I had to Google it.

    Anyway, we like begging hereabouts ;)

  15. stephen bartos says:

    I recall last year a great discussion with tony harris (ex nsw auditor general) via john quiggin’s blog, on some issues to do with government finance reporting: don’t know how much others got out of it, but it helped me clarify some thoughts whcih I was then able to use to good effect in some of my governance work around government finances.

  16. Link says:

    Experts, schmexperts. I tire of ‘experts’ I do. We have become obsessed with experts, experting on their expertise. Its an American thing, where I hear they hand out degrees in Burger making.

    ‘Insider’ information OTH, is infinitely much more interesting, than that of experts, the latter who tend to pontificate from the outside in.

    I’ll be listening tomorrow Nicholas, as I make excellent coffee, sans the diploma in baristering, and pretty good bacon and eggs, on the strength of a wing and a prayer and a decent fry pan. Thank the good Lordy, there’ll not be some jumped up, boring as batshit know-nothing-of-any-genuine-use-or-interest ‘expert’ in sight.

    I think Gerry’s just coming to terms with the word, blogging, so perhaps just one bl-eur word at a time?

  17. david tiley says:

    I’ve had a few instances where my blog has become a discussion centre for people involved in the incident.

    Very occasionally relatives of Jaidyn Leske turn up.

    This story, about Judith Kelly’s problematic account of her abuse in an orphanage brought Judith herself to the discussion, and continuing additions from victims of the system.

    There is a powerful English documentary called To courtney With Love hwich has been making its way round the world. I know because various shattered people arrive to describe their experience of watching it.

    I think it is beaut when people do this. I like the idea that I may have to face the person I am writing about, at least on the internet. That is because I like civility, and sometimes I hope the pundit I am writing about stops to think about what I am saying. They do bad things and they should stop.

  18. Just as interesting as the immediacy of any discussion relating to a blog post, is the quiet perusal which does not raise its voice.
    Has anyone looked at how many times a Parliamentary Library computer views their blogs?

  19. There are quite a lot of other examples in my short time of blogging. I keep remembering them – and then forgetting to write them down! :(

  20. Jacques Chester says:

    Has anyone looked at how many times a Parliamentary Library computer views their blogs?

    We get a regular pitter-patter of visits, but I imagine a generous portion of that comes from Senator Bartlett.

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