I've been avoiding commentary about Singapore events - I feel that as a Singaporean that has left Singapore, the news that I get about Singapore may not accurately reflect the actual sentiment of Singaporeans.
However, it is with a great deal of annoyance that I read the recent Straits Times report on Blogger.sg. The article annoyed me enough to spur me into commentary - and probably in the strongest language I've used on this blog.
My biggest gripe about this article is that it is built on false assumptions and perpetuates two negative stereotypes about bloggers (i) that blogging is primarily about "provocative pictures, biting commentaries and wit", and (ii) that bloggers are unjustifably uncomfortable with commentary when their public identities are known.
Mr. Au Yong, before you continue to spread such lies, I strongly urge you to examine your own prejudices before infecting the local media with them. As a journalist, I would expect no less from you, though I'm willing to give a small discount on journalistic standards simply because I understand the system you're working in.
The Purpose of Blogging
Mr Au Yong, reading the totality of the first two paragraphs of the article, I am forced to ask - What were your expectations of a Bloggers' Conferfence? It seems to me that you've relied on two common but erroneous stereotype of blogging (i) that blogging is about readership and (ii) bloggers do what they can to -attract- readership.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
I write of my life in California, and the trials, tribulations, joys and sorrows I've faced here. If nothing else, my readership has gone -down- since my post about my move to San Francisco. Yet, I continue to write about it, simply because I feel it is a good source of information for me -and- my friends to look back on.
I can name any number of bloggers that write solely in their chosen areas of interest. Huichieh on singaporeangle writes excellent analysis on current affairs - but in a manner that would almost certainly exclude many casual readers because the depth of his analysis can get intimidating. InfernoXV writes primarily about his interest in Catholicism, the Classics and ancient music - again, subjects that will not interest the casual reader. Ivan writes about his work in the library. Shianux writes about legal developments and very occassionally, Singapore politics.
I write about what I do because of something Mr Miyagi wrote to me a long time ago. The Story Tells Itself. I believe in this strongly enough that I write - and if I get readership so much the better. I believe that many others in the Singapore Blogosphere write because they want to - and in the areas that they are interested in. If they -happen- to be interested in controversial issues, nude pictures, scolding taxi heisters or austitic children, more power to them.
More importantly, they do so because they are filling an information void created by mainstream media.
In short, Mr. Au Yong, you've got the entire phenomenon a** head backwards. Some of us write for readership. Others just write - readership follows.
Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
Are bloggers uncomfortable without their online personas? Perhaps.
Or perhaps there's this thing in Singapore called the Public Entertainment License SPECIFICALLY curtailing the very things that you seem to expect from a blogging conference? You know - controversial pictures? Dirty jokes?
Do we bloggers honestly expect protection with our online personas? Explain to me how acidflask got sued seven ways to Sunday by Phillip Yeo then. Explain to me how our beloved PSC scholar started a media frenzy over his racist comments - a media frenzy whipped up by you, the Straits Times no less.
Mr. Au Yong, if you -had- done your homework, you would know that there -is- no protection with an online persona - a fact that most Singaporean bloggers are becoming uncomfortably aware of, and a fact that the paper you work for exploits from time to time.
Hence, I strongly resent the overtones of cowardice or hiding behind your online persona that seems to be prevalent in your article.
A Whole Load of Hooey
I'm willing to wager, though I've not spoken to any of the organisers of Blogger.sg, that the whole point of the Blogger Conference was to =have= a Blogger Conference, nothing more. There would be no discussion of specific =topics= to blog on simply because the interests on =what= to blog are just too diverse.
We blog. That's good enough for Blogger Conference. That's good enough for me.
Apparently, that's not good enough for you, Mr. Au Yong. You are entitled to your erroneous opinion. I am entitled to rip it to shreds.
I will give you the benefit of the doubt that your article was written without careful consideration, and that you did not set out maliciously to do an NKF on Singapore bloggers - in spite of the fact that mainstream news reporting has very legimitate reasons to fear this phenomenon called blogging.
That being said, Mr Au Yong, I find your article as offensive as stereotyping Chinese as slanty-eyed money-faced gamblers, or stereotyping Australians as underachieving beer-guzzling former convicts. Your article is inaccurate and misleading, Mr Au Yong. I sincerely hope that an apology would be printed, even though I know the chances of that happening are smaller than the chances of winning TOTO - without buying a ticket.
If you take away -anything- from this, Mr. Au Yong, take away the solemn reminder never to let your stereotyping infect your work.
All bolded text below is my emphasis.
HEADLINE: 1st bloggers' conference is one big YAWN;
Mostly in their 20s, they seem guarded; Internet Relay Chat livens things
BYLINE: Jeremy Au Yong Shawn Woo
"THEIR personal websites are all about attitude - keeping readers riveted with provocative pictures, biting commentaries and wit.
Yet, when 200 of these bloggers got together at DXO CLUB at the Esplanade yesterday, the result was neither riveting nor provocative.
Many of the mostly 20-somethings seemed guarded, as if uncomfortable without the protection of their online personas. They listened politely to the talks given, spoke in turn, clapped at the right times and largely kept to PG-13 topics.
It was Singapore's first bloggers conference, but at times it could have been mistaken for a chess club board meeting.
In fact, despite baring their heart and soul online, many bloggers that The Sunday Times approached were shy and did not want to reveal their real names.
All the brightest moments came from the 'backchannel' - a large screen displaying a live Internet Relay Chat between members in the room.
There, in their native environment, the bloggers were themselves again - poking fun at the speakers, swinging insults and cracking crude jokes. The speakers were interrupted numerous times by the audience laughing at a remark made on the screen.
Among the speakers were lawyers who spoke about legal considerations for bloggers. A panel of tech-savvy Netizens also gave a presentation on how to use technology to improve blogs.
Those that went there to meet popular bloggers, however, were not disappointed. The who's who of homegrown bloggers - Mr Brown, Mr Miyagi and Xiaxue - were out in force and posed for photographs with the fans.
One of the organisers, Mr Lee Kin Mun, 35, an Internet consultant who goes by the name of Mr Brown, noticed that some people were not paying attention to the talks, but he said that was in the spirit of things. 'We always wanted a casual thing, not everyone sitting down listening to one blogger telling them what to do. I could tell at one stage many were mingling at the back, but that's fine.'"
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