The following interview with Christopher Rose was conducted via email a few months ago. The interview is part of a series that will end up in an article that provides history and analysis of Blogcritics.org
How did you come to be involved with Blogcritics.org (BC)?
I just surfed in one day and was drawn in by the way the site is so open and accepting to all kinds of people. I made a few comments and then, nervously as I was a fairly novice blogger, applied to join. After a few months I was offered the role of Comments Editor, which I mostly love.
Can you tell us a little bit more about your role in BC and how it has grown?
After becoming Comments Editor I also started contributing ideas, some well received, about how we could develop the key qualities of the site into other areas. Hopefully some of this will start to become more apparent over the course of this year as we look to develop some more sites.
You are part of three major projects aside from BC. Tell us a little more about those projects and how you juggle your responsibilities.
I don’t know how major they are, but I love the potential the web offers to develop new ideas quickly and economically. In addition to my own three blogs, I love the idea of citizen journalism and have developed a repeatable model of how such sites can be launched and made interesting, relevant and profitable very quickly, and this is something I’d like to develop more fully.
I am also developing an entirely original idea which has the (modest) twin aims of making people’s dreams come true and ploughing a lot of money into micro-credit financing projects to help the world’s poorest people to help themselves. I think the micro-finance model is very strong due to its inherent sustainability and that it doesn’t create welfare dependency, but actually empowers people to help themselves. The project just needs a little work on the payment system and a little legal clarification to be fully actualised, but I need to find solutions to those two issues, so if anybody reading this would like to help, I’d be very grateful!
I am also developing a new news and reviews site to indulge my love for Robots, it’s called Robot of The Week. Beyond that, I am also outlining four hopefully major new online projects, two for BC and two of my own. Taking on a bit more than I can handle is possibly one of my signature habits, but I like to be busy – and life is for living, right!
Ethics, Normative Standards, Policy Making, and BC
At the heart of your decision to blog under your real name is an ethical question that surrounds online media outlets – the issue of accountability. Of course there are real people behind these 'false' online identities and they often are accountable, but somehow the cost free nature of leaving even the most borderline crazy comment or article under an assumed identity does probably sabotage perhaps reasoned commentary. What are your thoughts on the issue?
I think it’s mostly a question of personal preference. I have several online identities, of which the most well known is Alienboy. It’s a name I started using for online gaming, which was reinforced by the fact that I live in Spain, so I am indeed literally an alien boy! I have a semi-dormant-due-to-lack-of-time blog called Alienboy’s World, and when I first joined Blogcritics, I carried on using that ID for a while. I then decided that the character of Alienboy just didn’t seem right for Blogcritics and reverted to using my full name.
Alienboy still has a lot of plans for new sites that will be developed down the road away, but these are temporarily on hold. I don’t see the identity issue as an ethical question unless people abuse it by pretending to be other people, which is obviously totally unacceptable.
As to sabotaging reasoned commentary, that’s actually a more complicated issue.
Freedom of speech is obviously a major concern and ought to be protected, but if people abuse that by making deliberately insulting or offensive remarks then I think there is a case for careful and restrained editing. It’s an incredibly fine line that calls for some serious and careful judgment before hitting the delete key and an issue that I try to keep in the core of my thinking at all times.
In the end, I just do the best I can and hope that will be acceptable but it is impossible to please all the conflicting points of view all the time.
Can you elaborate on how norms are created within a new media organization? The kind of decisions that you had to take, along with rest of the BC community, about the nature, editorial policy and style, and commenting policy of BC.
When an organization forms, obviously the decisions are taken by the people who start it up. The three people that own and maintain BC are mostly incredibly open to input and tolerant of a very broad range of views, and I think that is an important part of what BC is about. It would have been a much less interesting proposition if "The Troika" had tried to imprint their own very diverse views onto the site and wisely they have largely avoided that.
On the other hand, they are all so very busy with stuff that it can be a bit hard to find out what they are up to. I hope to be able to help bridge that gap and enhance the level of communication between us all over the coming months.
Blogcritics is trying to create the norms of running a media organization on the fly. The key policy decisions – open commenting, open attitude towards accepting new writers, etc. – tell me about the behind the scenes struggle that has gone on around them and the kind of ethical questions that you have had to deal with to come to this place.
Those policies were in place before I joined so I can’t shed much light on those early days but I feel they were absolutely crucial decisions. Dogma and other rigid belief systems are absolutely the enemy of all humankind and I very much doubt that I would have become involved with the site if it limited itself in that kind of way.
In your role as a Comments Editor, you probably have had to deal with ad hominem attacks, spam, and other conflagrations with people using all sorts of sophisticated ways to get their message across. Tell me a little more about the challenges and how you deal with them while maintaining a free open commenting policy.
There is a perpetual and natural conflict between freedom of speech and the need to maintain the site’s neutrality, its open door policy, and simple readability. It’s obviously important to foster an atmosphere of mutual respect and try to maintain some basic level of good manners or simple common civility.
On the other hand, to simply not allow any kind of personal remark would render the site sterile and stifling. Wisely, the site uses guidelines rather than rigid rules, which is much more time consuming to manage, but I believe that it is well worth the extra time and effort involved.
How do you deal with people who post multiple comments under different names? Should this practice be frowned upon and why?
It’s not actually that common. There are a few who like to do that for dramatic effect, which is fine. When it is done to create a false sense of support for somebody’s point of view, that is basically just lying and is not tolerated. The worst is when people pretend to be other already known characters in order to create false content and is also not tolerated.
What kind of policy decisions do you think are integral to how you see BC? As in what kind of policies can you not see BC without, if any?
I just think that as long as BC maintains its open door policy and avoids becoming controlled by dogma, it will remain the fascinating multi-faceted jewel it is.
From the policy decisions of BC, how do you look at the role of a Critic? Is there merit in everybody being a critic kind of model? It certainly seems like a competitive market of ideas. What do you see are the positives and negatives of the blogosphere?
There is information and there is the interpretation of information. Making sense of the ever-increasing complexity of the world we live in is a vital part of contemporary life. There are many often conflicting takes on all that on BC and that dialectic struggle is part of what makes it so special.
The blogosphere is widely credited with making mainstream media (MSM) more accountable. Do you see that as its job? If not, then what do you see are the roles of the blogosphere?
It’s both more complicated and simpler than that. There has been a huge flattening of society worldwide, although obviously different parts of the world are at different points in that process, which has been going on for at least fifty years now. A lot of the old school mainstream media have imitated the blogosphere by adding comments space to their websites for example. That’s a step in the right direction, but until they value it as highly as sites like Blogcritics do, it often seems like a token measure rather than really getting the point.
To answer your original question, it’s certainly not the blogosphere’s job to make the MSM do anything. They will either come to understand the nature of the new world order we live in and adapt to it or they will fade away into history.
Blogcritics has grown exponentially over the past three years from a small fringe Internet outpost to a relatively decent sized media outlet. Tell me about some of the key inflection points in this journey as you see them.
The two key points for me have been: 1. The incredibly smart decision by the founders to accept all (legal) points of view on the site and not limit the BC space on any cultural or ideological grounds and 2. The later introduction of having all articles edited rather than self-published. This has been crucial in establishing a massively popular, well-written, non-dogmatic site. The fact that the whole operation, editors and writers alike, is entirely voluntary is pretty impressive, too. We really do work hard to help the writers improve their writing ability and bring their work to as wide an audience as possible.
Perhaps this current place is not the final resting place of this ongoing change. Tell me about your vision of BC for the future?
I think the main site can carry on as it is. I would like to see all the fantastic content by a diverse range of great writers put to better use. I think the simple fact that we have around 1,700 (and rapidly growing) writers offers a lot of potential for the rapid creation of other, more focused sites in the future. I have a few ideas for the kinds of sites we could develop, sites that would offer compelling content around specific themes and those conversations are ongoing. I don’t really know what other ideas the troika may be considering.
It seems the blogosphere itself is going under reorganization – as media companies poach top bloggers and buy more electronic media assets. Do you see a more corporatized blogosphere in a few years time?
Probably both yes and no!
Unless a company understands the interactive essence of the online world, its attempts to operate on the web will be compromised. For example, trying to prevent employees from expressing their views is symptomatic of the old way of doing things. It’s been well documented that companies that empower their workers and include their feedback in the company’s development have a competitive edge over those businesses that try to run an old school centralised command and control structure which sees workers as nothing more than cogs in a machine.
I believe in transparency and that carries through all levels of a business in a particularly powerful way that transforms everything it touches, to the mutual benefit of all. A corporatized blogosphere that seeks to control what is said will always be inferior to one that allows true free expression.