Blogging America: The New Public Sphere

Below is a press release relating to my forthcoming book:

Blogging’s Role in Resurrection of ‘Citizen Journalism’
Explored in New Book by City Tech’s Aaron Barlow

Brooklyn, NY — November 1, 2007 — Cyberspace is a far cry from plowing with oxen in West Africa, but the Internet is where Aaron Barlow — formerly a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, and a Peace Corps volunteer in neighboring Togo — spends a lot of time these days, and he brings a powerful message from out there.

Dr. Barlow, an assistant professor of English at New York City College of Technology (City Tech), is the author of a book due out at the end of this month, Blogging America: The New Public Sphere (Praeger), a study of blogs as they are now. (For those unfamiliar with Internet jargon, a “blog” is a Web log — a personal site to post information for all the world to see and comment on.)

Barlow’s current research centers on what he calls “neteracy” (the ability to effectively negotiate the Web) and “massed media” (media coming from the people). Influenced by the work of thinkers Jurgen Habermas, B. F. Skinner and Walter Ong, Barlow talks about the growing need for people to become “neterate” as well as literate, to take full advantage of the Web. “I also consider changing attitudes toward communications technology, especially as technology increasingly falls into the hands of end users; this was not expected at all 50 years ago,” he says.
His previous book on the subject, The Rise of the Blogosphere: American Backgrounds (Praeger Publishers/Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc.), published this past March, was the first to provide readers with a cultural/historical account of the blog. It traces the evolution of American journalism from colonial times to the present, and examines factors leading to the blog explosion. In it, Barlow refers to Benjamin Franklin as “the patron saint of blogs,” and dubs Thomas Paine, a revolutionary “citizen journalist.”
Barlow, a Lefferts Manor, Brooklyn, resident, off and on, for 37 years, has criticized media trends such as news presented as entertainment, while emphasizing journalism’s role of contributing to informed public debate on issues. Though mainstream media may now shirk that role, Barlow sees Web journals and blogs as helping to form public opinion and to give individuals a voice on critical issues by “broadening the public sphere, bringing popular opinion back into our national debates.”

Raised a Quaker, Barlow was “always aware of political activism. The civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam War movement colored my youth.” He was a citizen journalist even before that label existed. At 11, he began learning printing methods. In high school, he launched an “underground” paper, and a year later printed his first book on an old letterpress. As a graduate student, he edited and wrote for a monthly environmental publication. His doctoral dissertation at the University of Iowa focused on science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick, whose work has been made into numerous films.

In 2005, his book The DVD Revolution: Movies, Culture, & Technology was published. It was when he began exploring online film culture for that project that he first considered studying the blogosphere.

Barlow says that his background — which includes living in 11 states and three foreign countries, working with the previously mentioned oxen in the Peace Corps, and founding and running a store and café — “has allowed me to interact with all kinds of people and has heightened my understanding of the importance of grassroots expression.”

It helped develop his commitment to the volunteer citizen journalist organization ePluribus Media (www.epluribusmedia.org), first as a founding member and now as a writer and editor for the ePluribus Media Journal. This year he represented the group in the prestigious Punch Sulzberger News Media Executive Leadership Program at Columbia School of Journalism (www.jrn.columbia.edu/events/exec_lead/about.asp).

Barlow says he is honored to be involved in an effort that puts him in contact with people in journalism active today in changing the profession. That involvement has also proved useful in his teaching. “I am seeing first-hand the changes that commercial news media are going through as they try to adapt to a world that includes the Internet. This has been one of the most intensive learning experiences I’ve had in years!”

This past spring, Barlow delivered a presentation on the theme of “Orality and Literacy: The Next 25 Years,” at the annual Computers and Writing Conference, held in Detroit. Because of new technologies, he noted, the teaching of writing can no longer be based on working solely within the literacy tradition. “Students must be able to negotiate the virtual world, and teachers must use technology as an aid to student writing,” he says.

In his writing courses at City Tech, where he has taught since fall 2006, Barlow finds that students are quite adept at social blogging on MySpace, etc., “but they don’t yet see blogs as an extension of their interests. What a student needs in approaching writing through the Web is a sense of confidence, of being part of the conversation.”

He encourages writing instructors to focus on citizen journalism when teaching about research as an aspect of writing. “We need to bring writing and research to life for our students,” he says. “We are developing the methodology of tomorrow’s journalism.”

The role of blogs and the future of journalism are still open-ended, though, and even Barlow can’t predict the next phase. “I wish I knew what impact blogs will have on American society! Changes in technology are coming fast and furious, and I don’t know what the results will be,” he notes.

New York City College of Technology (City Tech) of The City University of New York is the largest public college of technology in New York State. The College enrolls more than 13,500 students in 57 baccalaureate, associate and specialized certificate programs. Another 15,000 students enroll annually in adult education and workforce development programs, many of which lead to licensure and certification. Located at 300 Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn, City Tech is at the MetroTech Center academic and commercial complex, convenient to public transportation.

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