08 July 2006

On Specialist Bloggers

Ex-ST journalist Cherian George is not exactly what you'd call an active blogger. But the death of Mr Brown's column has provoked a sudden series of posts from him this week. In one of them, he shares some thoughts on citizen journalism:
To me, it is not the source of facts or opinions that distinguishes citizen journalism from the mainstream - just because a story or picture comes from a reader does not make it a piece of citizen journalism. Instead, it boils down to who selects and decides what stories to pursue and publish. Editing is what separate journalism from gossip. STOMP, like the rest of ST, is edited by professional ST journalists, not ordinary citizens. Citizen journalism has unrealised potential in Singapore ....... Most promising, I think, are the special interest areas or "beats" in which considerable expertise exists outside of the media. A taste of things to come is found in Mr Wang Says So, who uses his legal training to provide legal analysis that is often superior to ST's; Dawn Kua's blog on animal issues; and Chua Ai Lin's Singapore heritage mailing list .... If you know of other "expert" Singaporean blogs in specialised areas, I would love to receive your recommendations.

Cherian says that the promising bloggers are those who have "considerable expertise" in "specialised areas". He seems to be thinking of highly specialised and therefore narrow fields (law, animal rights, Singapore history). Since generalists outnumber specialists, Cherian might believe that few bloggers have the potential to become the kind of star citizen journalists he has in mind.

However, I tend to think that the vast majority of bloggers are experts, or at least potential experts, in at least one area. I even daresay that many of us are experts in more than one area. This is simply by virtue of the fact that all of us have offline lives, jobs, hobbies and experiences.

If for example you are a human resource officer, you could well be an expert commentator on employment issues and the Singapore job market. If you are a self-employed businessman, you could well be an expert commentator on commercial issues in Singapore and the region. If you are a local university undergrad, you could well be an expert commentator on tertiary education in Singapore. If you are a property agent, you could well be an expert commentator on the Singapore property market.

In each of my above examples, you could well be a far more expert commentator than any SPH journalist. This is because the journalist, by virtue of being a full-time journalist, is therefore not a full-time human resource officer, businessman, undergrad or property agent. Therefore he cannot possibly have as much expertise as the full-time human resource officer, businessman, undergrad or property agent, in the respective fields.

The further question, of course, is whether you have the inclination, motivation or writing ability to blog regularly, and well, about your area or (areas) of expertise.

Cherian, you asked for recommendations of other "expert" Singaporean blogs in specialised areas. Here are some for you:

Yawning Bread - By Alex Au, gay activist. A specialist blog on gay issues in Singapore.

Tan Kin Lian's Blog - By Tan Kin Lian, NTUC Income CEO. A specialist blog on insurance and investment.

The Students' Notebook - By En & Hou, two students. A specialist blog on education issues at the secondary, JC and polytechnic level.

Chubby Hubby - By Chubby Hubby, food connoisseur. A specialist blog on fine dining, wines and cooking.

SG Entrepreneurs - By a team of entrepreneurs and business students. A specialist blog on entrepreneurship.

Singapore Alternatives - By Goh Meng Seng, Workers' Party member. A specialist blog on politics in Singapore.

Angry Doctor - By Angry Doctor, a doctor working in Singapore. A specialist blog on medical and healthcare issues in Singapore.

Rambling Librarian - By Rambling Librarian, a librarian. A specialist blog on Singapore's libraries and reading culture.

Life Coaches Blog - By Alvin Soon, life coach. A specialist blog on self-improvement.

Weekeegeepee - By CP, a General Paper teacher. A specialist blog on the General Paper, a compulsory subject for junior college students.

The Annotated Budak - By Budak, biodiversity researcher. A specialist blog on biodiversity, nature and environmental conservation in Singapore.

More links later. Gotta run.

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13 comments:

Alvin said...

Thanks for the mention, Mr Wang P :)

Anonymous said...

Can we say Mr Brown is also a specialist blogger?

He is a full-time Singaporean.

:)

Pandemonium said...

I believed you've missed out The Singapore Angle.

Cherian said...

This is great, thank you. It confirms my hunch that there's a wellspring of expertise in Singapore, capable of generating a not insignificant citizen journalism movement. See my earlier post about its potential.

hugewhaleshark said...

Right, I thought that contributions to STOMP like "Storm Strippers: Men clad in underwear wading in a monsoon drain in Gambas Avenue" was a little underwhelming as examples of citizen journalism.

But it will be narrow to call Alex Au just a gay activist, Mr Wang just a legal specialist and mr brown just a joker. All three are sharp social commentators, which, if I understand Cherian correctly, falls under the category of "counter-hegemonic commentary".

budak said...

Haha, I am no researcher, just an overexcitable duck...

You should include instead:
• N. Sivasothi's natural history, biodiversity and habitatnews blogs on http://staff.science.nus.edu.sg/~sivasothi/blog/index.php

• YC Wee's Bird Ecology blog: http://besgroup.blogspot.com/

• The Singapore Snakes group effort: http://singaporesnakes.blogspot.com/, and the

• Wildfilms blog, which is seeking to document coastal biodiversity in Singapore before the developers move in: http://www.wildsingapore.com.sg/wildfilms/blog/index.html

There are those who see blogs as self-indulgent online dairies, or as wannabe cyberjournalism. It's probably true to say that blogs are much more than that. Blogs share much of the same strengths and weaknesses as print media in terms of quality, bias and their varying levels of depth. The key difference is that blogs give mere individuals the means to reach out to a wider sphere beyond their immediate circle in a way that was once monopolised by the mainstream media and published writers/public figures.

Much less has been noted on the sociological and personal aspects of blogs though. I'd wager that rabid blog readers would find that online personalities tend to defy pigeon-holing labels such as left, right, liberal, radical etc... one finds bloggers who straddle sometimes conflicting or even contradictory positions on different aspects of life, as well as people who show much more complexity than what their (even self-afixed) profiles suggest (e.g. Christians who have decidedly unHolier-than-thou lifestyles, teenagers espousing highly conservative ideologies). In short, through blogs, one finds that people (or at least those who blog) are rather more complex and sophisticated than how politicians and the mainstream media make them up to be.

There is also little comment on the positive networking externalities of blogs: in giving people a chance to sample and understand how their peers (in work, study and play) as well as others from a whole range of origins and lifestyles see the world and deal with life's challenges. Reading blogs of Singaporeans/Malaysians who have emigrated, for instance, gives a lively picture of how these individuals are dealing with an uprooted life as well as the marked exuberance and passion that is palpable on many of these blogs (one wonders, is this exuberance a result of their move or a factor that prompted it?). Last but not least, I think a good number of bloggers would acknowledge the role of blogs in making new friends and expanding one's spectrum of the myriad experiences, Weltanschauungs and perspectives that shape every other individual.

Anonymous said...

I find it uncanny how Cherian George's remarks on specialists and their blogs fits so nicely with the Government's objection to Mr Brown straying into overt political comment. Saying bloggers should stick to what they know implies that we all should leave political comment to the politicians, the 'experts' in that field. Despite all the protest over the axing of Mr Brown's column, does this thread signify meek acquiescence?

Mezzo said...

"But it will be narrow to call Alex Au just a gay activist, Mr Wang just a legal specialist and mr brown just a joker. All three are sharp social commentators, which, if I understand Cherian correctly, falls under the category of "counter-hegemonic commentary"."

Alex Au doesn't have a problem with being identified as a gay activist, as he felt that was at the heart of what he does. (See his latest entry on that). However, he doesn't have a problem with being called a civil rights activist either.

They are all social commentators, but they have their special interests that results in a different take, and focus on a different angle on any one particular incident. Social commentator's a bit broad.

Political scientists. So in love with labels. (academic joke here)

budak said...

One could argue that because politics (politicians, policies, parliament, etc) have a very real impact on everyone, it's wrong to restrict political commentary only to its 'practioners'. Politics is too important a business to be left solely to the politicians.

Mezzo said...

To borrow a line from the feminist movement:"The personal is political."

everything is political. That's why it's very easy to simply accuse someone of "meddling in politics".

BL said...

Mr Wang,

Thank you for honourable mention.
We just turn one year old today. :)

Best regards,
BL

Anonymous said...

Just read a quote from Karl Marx: in a communist society, "nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes...to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner."

That must be why critical blogs are frowned on - it smells like communism to those in power. But communism didn't go wrong from too much criticism.

Goh Meng Seng said...

Dear Mr. Wang,

In comparison to many great politicians of the last century, I am just a very amateurish starter in this field! I am no expert, really.