Annual Report 2009

Opinions in the Age of New Media

The Bloggers’ World by Heidi Nordby Lunde aka Vampus

  • Award winning Blogger

I, VamPus: A Blogger’s confessions

There is no formula for a good personal blog.
The key is to have something to convey, and to convey it well. So simple. So difficult.

Lunde.jpg Extract from telephone conversation, 8 December 2005:
Dagbladet: Hi, this is Dagbladet. Congratulations, you have won the Golden Blog (Gullbloggen). The whole thing.
VamPus: Hi, I ..eh, what was that you just said?
Dagbladet: You have won the jury prize for Best Blog, congratulations!
VamPus: That's great...Oh, no! Do you realise how much abuse VamPus is going to get over the next week? *hmmph*
After a few weeks of nominations and intense debate in the then small, but so very overhyped, Norwegian blogosphere, the jury for the Dagbladet newspaper's Golden Blog competition had announced its verdict.
"For several months, via her pseudonym, she has developed an identity based on what she writes and the social network she builds up via comments and links. She has in this way contributed to a renewal of the blogging genre, viewed from a Norwegian perspective", was how the citation went.
However, I suspect that they really liked the fact that I was what they called a
"genuine, rather cheeky right-wing feminist hedonist". And I knew that this would not necessarily create only enthusiasm in the blogosphere.
Where do we come from?
blog (pron: blog), noun, short for weblog, or Internet diary. Easily accessible and cheap publishing technology which means every garrulous idiot with access to a computer and the Internet is freely able to express his or her opinion without any disruptive intervention from editors, setting aside the writer's relationship with facts, correct spelling and capacity to express him- or herself.
or
blog (pron: blog) frequently updated personal Internet page arranged in reverse chronological order, with the option to incorporate text, pictures, videos and reader comments. The style is often personal and informal, and varies in content, quality and ambition. The blog contributions are often supported by links to other websites, putting into context the topic that is being written about.

 Heidi Nordby Lunde writes
one of Norway’s most popular
opinion blogs. In 2005, she was
voted Blogger of the Year by
the Dagbladet newspaper and
has since been an active participant
in the social debate and
a writer in different media. In
addition to her day-to-day
work as product manager for
community and social media
in the ABC Startsiden Internet
portal, she has hosted the
Studio 5 talk show and is an
active member of Norway’s
Conservative Party (Høyre).
She is now writing a book
about the false fellowship we
call Norway. Heidi Nordby
Lunde is a member of the
Norwegian Governmentappointed
Media Support
Committee (Mediestøtteutvalget),
which is evaluating
press support in Norway.

It needs neither good stories, nor good language, nor a sparkling intellect to convey one's message via a website. Unfortunately. There are thousands of relatively uninteresting blogs out there, and perhaps a few hundred really good ones. It does not necessarily follow that everyone ought to blog, but that the blogosphere bears the all-too-clear stamp of this. But not everyone writes for, or wants, a large audience. If diversity is to be respected, you also have to accept elements of naiveté.
23 February 2005: My first Blog
"Hmm. Am sitting here speculating on whether it is necessary to add something extra - a bit of a "wow" factor the first time you blog. Then I came to the conclusion that it is like the first time you have sex - it won't be particularly impressive in any case, so you might as well just get on with it.
That is why this became my first blog."
This was the first insert into the blog VamPus' Verden (VamPus's World). So it can be just as unimpressive as that. The reason was that someone I knew had started his own blog, and I thought, "To be honest, if he can then so can I". By registering myself with a username and password, choosing a template for the layout of the blog and a name - hey presto - I was a keystroke away from overturning governments, challenging the media's ideology of politically correct equality, directing a critical searchlight on society and the world around us. Overall - setting the agenda for the political debate. Perhaps writing about the cat, the dubious joy of the single life and tearful declarations of love to Orlando Bloom. I chose the latter. To start with.
Naked blogging: Before I was characterised as a "genuine, rather cheeky right-wing feminist hedonist", blogging was primarily an expression of my joy of writing, not just of engagement with social affairs. As an anonymous blogger, I could personally to choose which side of myself I was able to introduce. From short little contributions about thoughts and experiences from everyday life, the voice of "VamPus" gradually became a character in the 3rd person singular, a stylised edition of myself. Naked men would turn up in text format, but that was more about life as a single person in Oslo than sex in the city. In any case, it attracted readers and a curiosity about who was hiding behind the name of "VamPus".
In other people's blogs, I could read deeply engaging personal histories, thought-
provoking contributions from other people's lives, perspectives on everyday life and incidents that could turn it right on its head. Naked blogging, in which the individual offers him/herself up in raw text, is a demanding format. Few people can cope with writing on a personal basis without letting it become too private. The frequently chosen anonymous existence in a blog has given many people the opportunity to write their life story. For good and ill. Those who succeed in undressing themselves in front of their audience without seeming to be vulgar or trampling over other people's limits of intimacy, manage to convey their story in a way that creates closeness and warmth.
My anonymous everyday life led to friends and acquaintances being talked about as characters with their own nicknames, fully recognisable to people within the circle of friends, but anonymous to the world outside. My version of naked blogging was primarily just about them.
"Naked man II"
- Pussycat?
- *sniff.grunt.snort*
- Pussycat?!
- Erm. Well?
- Are you lying naked in VamPus's bed?
Quiet.
- Pussycat?
- Actually no.
- ??
- I have socks on.
While my own blogging voice was developing, political interest came to life again. This coincided incidentally with bloggers starting to manifest themselves in the social debate within various arenas.
The PJ brigade: The president of CNN in the USA, Jonathan Klein, created the image of a blogger as "a guy sitting in his living room in his pyjamas, writing what he is thinking". Like so many other sceptics, he thought that normal bloggers were being ascribed too much power, and were also lacking the professional media's source-critical eye for compliance and objectivity.
During the American presidential election campaign in 2004, American bloggers revealed the fact that CBS News put forward false documentation about George W Bush's period of military service. Previously, to start with, Vice-President at CBS News, Jonathan Klein, dismissed accusations from bloggers by stating that compliance and objectivity was better taken care of by a news organisation with professional investigative journalists, than by individuals who were sitting at home in their pyjamas in front of their PCs. It was not long before the bloggers adopted the word and began using the terms "PJ brigade" or "Pyjamahadeen" about themselves. Collaboration was the key to success. The ability of bloggers to pick up on other bloggers' points and issues and to ensure that these are distributed further is an important factor in making a breakthrough.
In Scandinavia, too, bloggers have made their mark on major issues. In Sweden, the social democratic blogger, Magnus Ljungkvist, contributed to the enforced departure of two ministers in Sweden's Conservative Government just one week after they had been appointed in 2006. The special thing about Ljungkvist was that he was no ordinary outsider, but had worked in the information department of Sweden's Social Democratic Party. Self-interest, combined with insider information, is also a contributory factor for setting the agenda.
News managers, politicians, business leaders, companies and organisations throughout the world have been exposed for inappropriate behaviour, lies and fraud. Ordinary citizens use the Internet for gathering and analysing information and sharing this with others via social media. If good journalism is a craft, the tools can be used by everyone. Despite the lack of background in journalism, the man in the pyjamas can be right. But, like the great majority of the world's professional journalists, amateur writers do not deliver Watergate scandals every day on their blogs either. The quality of content in blogs, and of journalism in the traditional media, will always be determined by the sender's available resources, capabilities and ambitions.
Out of the closet: Gradually, as the Norwegian media interest in the blogosphere picked up, the debate also turned to anonymity on the Internet. Whether we can read, interpret and understand content with a critical eye when we do not know who is behind it. "Is the blog phenomenon on the point of introducing a new group of masked people expressing their opinions in the public debate?", asked the VG commentator Anders Giæver after Dagbladet voted "VamPus' Verden" the best blog in Norway in 2005. He questioned anonymity in relation to freedom of the press and press responsibility, and was also interested in the fact that I had previously fronted up political issues and had been active in right-wing politics in Norway.
The right to anonymity on the Internet is a right I will always defend. There can be excellent reasons for wanting to be anonymous, whether you are writing about your life, are using a pseudonym as a fictitious identity to play with words, or are a political dissident. But anonymity is not without its problems. Even if I continue to maintain that honesty and compliance is something a blogger builds, brick by brick, by means of his or her contributions and source references, transparency in relation to where he or she comes from, and potentially the people he or she is blogging for, is essential in the long term. But it was a drawing that finally let the cat out of the bag.
In January 2006, they began burning the Norwegian flag in Gaza.
Freedom of speech is burning
Everyone who reads VamPus Verden fairly regularly knows that VamPus is an adherent of open immigration and an opponent of racism. "..." A diverse, liberal society is a blessing. Ideas are created when cultures meet. Diversity gives rise to new ways of thinking. But then they started burning the Norwegian flag in Gaza. And that made VamPus furious.
Norwegian newspapers had printed the infamous Muhammad cartoons and it was not just the debate that blew up. When the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs formulated a letter containing an official apology for the printing of the drawings, I asked the question about when Norway began to apologise for democratic rights such as freedom of speech to authorities in countries which themselves violate fundamental human rights. With a challenge to all bloggers to publish the cartoons, both as a protest against self-imposed censorship and in support of those who were subjected to violent reactions, it was high time to come out with my full name.
It is cowardly to challenge other people to do something that you yourself will not stand for under your full name. My anonymity was incidental. Coming out under my full name was not.
Transformation: During the course of a few hours of throwing down the challenge under my full name, my email inbox was full - several hundred comments on my blog, several enquiries from the media and a handful of death threats. During the following 24-hours, hate pages were published giving my full name, address and maps, and were then removed by moderators. There is a cost to coming out. And the cost is higher if you are a woman.
The transition from being an anonymous Bridget Jones figure to being a completely identifiable person was initially not as tough as I had thought. I had participated in public debates before, and am relatively experienced as a lecturer and debater. It was not difficult to adapt to being out there and taking an active part in the debate - even in the real world.
But what this would mean for the blog did not become clear to me until later. Slowly, but surely, it was revolving more around politics and less around personal relationships. Something happens to the blog when I know that my mother will be reading it.
Sleepy Norwegian blogosphere: If the Norwegian blogosphere has not been blamed for blogging in its PJs, it has seemed rather sleepy. The major breakthrough has taken some time, although the interest in blogging and later in social media has been growing steadily. When the headline "Bloggers sink Government's Blasphemy Bill" appeared in the Dagbladet newspaper on 4 February 2009, there were many people, therefore, who were happy to see it.
A month and a half earlier, the Norwegian Ministry of Justice and the Police issued a press release which announced that the Government had decided to propose to Stortinget, the Norwegian Parliament, that § 142 of the Norwegian Penal Code, known as the "blasphemy paragraph", should be removed. A little further down in the announcement it emerged that the Government was also proposing extending § 135a against hate-filled statements "such that the provision takes account of the need for legal protection against qualified attacks on religious doctrines and philosophies of life."
The blasphemy paragraph was therefore going to be replaced by a greater limitation on freedom of speech in relation to criticism of religion. While this went right over the heads of the collective Norwegian media, the Opposition in Parliament and professional political commentators, the news just exploded on the Net. For over a month, the debate raged on websites and blogs, and it was 23 January before the media first became aware of the Bill. A petition signed by several writers, bloggers and participants in the social debate was published and familiar names attracted attention. When the Government pulled the Bill one week later, 8,267 people had signed it and 4,485 petitions had been sent out.
For the first time, bloggers had set the political agenda in Norway and influenced the outcome. Once again, it was not one lone blogger who affected the outcome, but several of them getting together, keeping the debate going, linking up with one another and starting a campaign against the legislation. Only once celebrities appeared on a petition did the traditional media take an interest.
So, the PJ Brigades can make a difference. If you limit yourself just to the bloggers who write about politics and society, you soon see that the ones that are read most are competent, committed and often politically active. The bloggers who are read most also function as a filter in relation to less well-read or more unfamiliar bloggers, who get picked up on and commented on by those that are more widely read. This is often reinforced by spinning good contributions further in other social media such as Twitter and Facebook. And you do not need to be involved in politics and social affairs to be heard.
The amateurs are coming: The American journalist Henry Louis Mencken once said that "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one." Cheap and easily accessible publishing technology for the Internet has meant that you no longer need to own a publishing house or to be a business leader, politician or naked model to gain some attention and express your opinions to a greater audience. New technology has made the publishing houses superfluous. You no longer need a publishing house to express yourself.
As a rule, bloggers are perceived as amateurs by professional media people. But an amateur is someone who possesses "amour" (affection) for what he or she does and therefore commits to one subject or activity because he or she loves it. This differs from a professional, who does something for the purpose of earning money. In other words, an amateur can have greater knowledge than a journalist about the topics that are being written about. All the same, the amateur will lack the competence that trained journalists have accumulated through experience, education and practice. A pity that established media players never avoid an opportunity of pointing that out. In the same way, social bloggers are more than keen to gloat when they are able to point out errors and omissions in traditional media.
In social media, you are given an opportunity to build a platform for yourself, take up a position and create a voice for yourself within a field and gain recognition for it. The different blogospheres and social media are the very definition of a meritocracy - a system in which status and recognition are based on clear capabilities and talent. Whereas the traditional media usually approach established players in social affairs, the social media creates an undergrowth of new ones. One interesting observation here is that the most well-known blogs in Norway today are fashion blogs, whereas in countries such as Sweden and the USA the most well-known are often recognised commentators within the fields of politics and social affairs. However, this might of course have something to do with the capacity and desire of the traditional Norwegian media to find new voices and to push forward the social debate, and also the individual bloggers' ambitions to reach out.
Our marvellous new world: New technology has meant that the opportunity to publish text, pictures, video and sound are now accessible to most people, either free of charge or at a moderate price. You do not need to own a publishing house or a radio station to express yourself in a mass medium. In addition to independent websites and bloggers, most newspapers are open to comments on their news articles or give their readers opportunities to put forward their opinions on the newspaper's own blog platform.
New technology is also on the point of changing the power relationships in society, with new digital channels giving citizens the opportunity to influence political decisions and priorities through new contact interfaces and meeting places for expressing opinions, exchanging experiences and dialogue between the public authorities and the citizens, as well as between citizens themselves.
In the book "Here comes everybody", journalist and blogger, Clay Shirky, writes about how different digital platforms contribute to moving power from traditional institutions, whether that be bureaucracy, political parties, media houses or companies, and voluntary organisations. It is not so much a digital revolution, but rather an evolution of products and services on the Net.
The term "Wisdom of the crowds" refers to the idea that a large group of ordinary people have more knowledge than a small group of experts. On the Net, this is often used as a background for services in which content is created and edited by many users.
The Internet encyclopaedia, Wikipedia, is a good example of the way quality content can be created when enough people contribute information that is changed and corrected by collaboration between users.
This idea of the wisdom of the crowds also characterises the method by which social media handle information. Information regarded as important or interesting is spread from one user to another by means of social networks. Although people talk about the social media's democratising function in relation to enabling everyone to participate, there is nevertheless stiff competition for attention. The critics are completely right in that Wikipedia does contain errors, and many blogs are at best uninteresting; at worst, they distribute incorrect information and libellous statements.
It is to be hoped that the evolution of new technology will contribute to making it easier to differentiate between good and bad content, independent of ideology and differences of opinion. Perhaps this is where the media houses come in. As a supplier of ready-edited content, with everything from editorial content to filtered news, blogs and stated opinions, they can use their platforms' unique qualities in full.
Me, the amateur: Most bloggers prefer to see themselves as happy amateurs, however. One definition of an amateur is a person who loves something that he or she is engaged in, as opposed to a professional, who does something with the purpose of earning money from it. Such a definition promotes the view of an amateur as a committed resource person who possesses expertise about a topic, in contrast to the journalist. In other words, an amateur can have greater knowledge than a journalist about the topics that are being written about. All the same, the amateur will lack the competence accumulated by the trained journalist through experience, education and practice.
Over a relatively short period, an undergrowth of bloggers has grown up which has been fulfilling, competently, approximately the same role as commentators from the traditional media. In addition, people who previously acted as sources for the media, have themselves started publishing content - whether as bloggers, via comments on newspaper websites or elsewhere on the Net. This is both a threat and an opportunity for the traditional media.
Or, you could look upon bloggers and social media as an opportunity to obtain some totally unique content material, sources and knowledge, new voices and new angles. The answer to the media crisis is namely not whether it should be on paper or not be on paper, but rather who will manage to bring innovative ideas to old platforms and/or realise the potential of new ones.
There is really no formula for a good personal blog. The key is to have something to convey, and to convey it well. So simple. So difficult. It is as with all other forms of writing - the genius is usually not in the story itself but in how it is conveyed.
People may view us as a threat - a parasite devouring the very foundation of its life - and may try to fight against us. The battle is probably lost before it begins - we are already here, we love what we are doing and have no plans to go away any time soon.