This is the third interview in a series that will end with the analysis of normative questions around Blogcritics.org and blogosphere in general. To read the interview with Christopher Rose, click here, and for the interview with Lisa McKay, click here.
Eric Berlin is Executive Producer at Blogcritics.org. Eric has been with Blogcritics.org since August, 2004 and is the publisher of BC Network site Online Media Cultist.
Can you tell me about your current role in BC and how you came to be involved with it?
Well, I am the Executive Producer at Blogcritics. I take the position to mean doing whatever it takes to move the site forward and take it to the next place, wherever that next place happens to be.
I had been writing a sort of e-magazine by the name, Dumpster Bust, in 2003 and 2004 and I would distribute it to friends and fans via e-mail list. Then in November 2004, I started an eponymous blog. It had just been a month since I had started the blog when I discovered Blogcritics.org.
It was an extraordinary moment — I'll never forget it. I simply couldn't get over how great it was to have a community where writers from all over the world could congregate and write about pop culture and politics and everything in between and chat and argue and laugh and hang out.
I got pretty involved, pretty active right away, and became an editor a few months later I think.
It was apparent to me from the very beginning what an enormous value that BC offers to both writers and readers. As a writer, I noticed that my own writing was improving, that I was reaching a much larger audience than I ever could have on my own, that I could access free review materials, and most of all, I was making connections and even friendships with great, interesting, wonderful people from all over the world.
I became an Executive Producer somewhere around the late summer of 2005 and moved into helping provide editorial oversight, though over time my role has evolved to mostly take on business development and public relations.
Tell me a little more about your decision to blog under real name plus what do you do for your "real" job?
I use my name because I want to present who I really am, "expose" my writing and the person behind it.
It's a little strange being that "naked" before the world sometimes, but that's a decision all writers must make.
My "real" job is producing websites for a company in Los Angeles. I do try to keep the two roles separate to an extent, though you can of course infer that there's tremendous crossover in terms of what I have the privilege of learning and experiencing each day.
Blogcritics is a passion and a job that has to fit into the cracks of my regular life, but that's something that millions of fellow bloggers out there are also contending with. It's a balance thing. Relatively few can pull a full-time wage from blogging so it's an activity born of passion and devotion and even obsession for most!
Fred Turner, a professor at Stanford, recently published a book called 'Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism'. What impresses me about BC is this volunteerism. You do a full time job and still take time to volunteer.
I think that people — including the 1,700 "writer-bloggers" of blogcritics, our passionate readers and commenters, our most involved site users, and most of all our hardworking and dedicated and monumentally talented editorial staff members (which includes many of the site's best writers!) — put in so much effort because they are passionate about the site and our community and want to see it grow and prosper and do well.
That's certainly what drove me and what still makes me eager to get up in the morning, flip on the computer (it's usually on all night, actually!) and see what's happened since my last visit.
By the way, I am now one of the three co-owners of Blogcritics.org so my position is no longer strictly a volunteer position.
I suppose you are alluding to the fact that the success of BC and the volunteerism that we see on it is due to its symbiotic nature.
Yes, BC is symbiotic — I like to use the somewhat cheesy term "people power" — Blogcritics is a grassroots success story (we've never had a dime of investment) literally powered by its membership.
So our "sinister cabal of superior writers" help one another to succeed, producing stories and work that is good and beneficial to the Internet community.
BC has an open commenting policy and an open attitude towards accepting new writers. I am sure there must have been plenty of behind the scenes discussions about it. Tell me a little about the process of deciding about policies around BC.
Open commenting has been around since I joined the site in 2004, and it really falls under the umbrella of creating a wide open community that is open to multiple viewpoints and that has as low a barrier to entry as possible.
Because of the increased menace of spam, we may one day have to require membership for commenters, but for now we can maintain this arrangement as we always have.
Tell me a little more about the vision you have for BC.
Whew… that's a big one! Blogcritics is in a very exciting phase right now in that we're expanding into a suite of sites that we call the BC Network.
Desicritics, our first network site, is now a year old and is thriving as a platform for people who live in and are passionate about the Desi world.
Now we are looking to create specialty "niche" sites that can capture a new audience that isn't necessarily into the more magazine-style format that BC presents
GlossLip has now launched under the direction of Dawn Olsen and is a fantastic place to check all things celebrity and gossip, subjects in which there is an insatiable audience for new stuff, and particularly when it's done with style and attitude and savvy, which basically sum up everything that Dawn is about.
We've also just within the last few weeks launched BC Forums into private beta and will very soon go wider with it. Just in testing, we've seen the explosive potential of this area — which provides yet another way for our community to communicate, interact, joke around, or just hang out. (Since this interview, the BC Forums have been launched.)
So that's really the vision right there — providing new ways for our audience and potential audience to learn, interact, and communicate, creating cutting edge content-community networks online.
Eric, I was talking to the other Eric – 'Olsen' – and he was telling me of he quickly realized that he would have to assume responsibility if the site has to go anywhere. There are always key actors in a grass root organization. In a way, I am questioning how grass root is a grass roots organization? You are creating a media company from bottom up and I am interested in understanding how norms and policies are decided.
Yes, Blogcritics is as grassroots as it gets — most people don't realize this!
The only full-time employee is founder and publisher Eric Olsen, so he is the "man at the helm" for emergencies, trouble shooting, fire patrol, you name it!
Phillip Winn is our technical director and lives outside of Dallas. I live in Pasadena California and EO lives outside of Cleveland.
And our editors live around the world — several key editors live in the UK which is great because it gives us "wide coverage" in terms of the unending 24 hour production cycle.
So it's all virtual, all grassroots, all people working together to create something that's never been done before. That's the thing that's important to remember: Blogcritics is singular in so many ways.
That's why it was named as part of the AlwaysOn 100 in the trendsetter's category, I believe, and that's what makes BC so fascinating.
Now Eric, a harder question! Do you see this as a model for running media organizations? Even mainstream ones? What the advantages to it? And what are the problems? Is this a model for a more accountable media?
Well — I see your questions as taking on a few different issues. Let me start with the first one.
I do see virtual organizations and small teams of founders working closely together as the present and future of software development. The barrier to entry is so much lower than it has ever been, which is a huge boon to the Internet industry and people who simply dig the Internet and technology.
I'm not sure if it's the model for "mainstream ones" — I think it depends on the particular circumstances but certainly it's there as an option.
At the same time there's really no replacing in person day-to-day contact. As to your other question about a more accountable media, I think you're talking about the role of the blogosphere in making the mainstream media and other institutions more accountable?
I believe so but I am also interested in talking about ownership and editorial policy decisions that are decided differently than they are today. BC is creating a new type of socially owned media company and do you think media itself can be reorganized via this principle and what kind of issues do you see around it.
Well, I think media in general is in a state of great flux with the role of traditional media companies declining in some ways and changing rapidly to deal with changing times while new and online media companies are gaining audience and credibility and dealing with the many issues that come along with that accountability and responsibility.
Take for example Mike Arrington at TechCrunch — he's an interesting case in that he outright declares that he's not a journalist while reviewing start-ups and tech companies, issuing opinions, and so on, all while openly investing in many of these companies, reviewing competitors, etc.
We've really arrived at a new place!
It seems 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?
I see a blogosphere that is maturing and dealing with issues that come with it, pretty similar to what I mention in terms of the greater online media community. I see the blogosphere and traditional media companies, which are online, incorporating elements of one another.
Yeah,.. WP, NYT, BBC – all have blogs…
My overarching theory on all of this boils down to a term I call "hybrid social media," which I think is the future of news online.
I have covered some of the issues you raise in the article, Netscape Is the Future of News.
Very briefly, hybrid social news posits a future in which news will incorporate three main forms of content: original content produced by the online media company publishing the site, social news content driven by user submissions and user voting, and administrator or editor-selected content, which includes editor-selected pieces from all over the Internet, including those submitted by the general audience.
Blogcritics.org has always tried to combat that trend by forming an open platform where competing ideas and ideologies and values can co-exist together under a big tent of sorts. That said, a lot of our stories revolve around popular culture so can therefore escape some of the combativeness found in the arena of politics.
Though of course we do have a politics area that can get rowdy at times but generally does very nicely in bringing in a vast array of news stories, thoughts, and opinions.Powered by Sidelines