Saturday, July 15, 2006

Blogger Q&A No.3: Bob Stepno

Continuing our series of e-mail interviews with language and journalism bloggers.

Bob Stepno and I go way back to our days together at The Hartford Courant where some of us spent waaay too much time at a gin mill known as Kenney's. Musta been Bob, though I don't remember... :)

Bob is a professor of journalism at the University of Tennessee, and a former reporter at the aforementioned Courant ("the oldest paper of continuous publication." Don't believe claim by the NY Post. But you knew that.)

Q. When did you start blogging?

A. In 2000, although mostly as a "demo" to get my students doing it...
(Remember Tom Sawyer and that fence?): I assigned my Online Journalism and Digital Culture" classes to write summaries of their online and textbook readings, adding links and comments, primarily as a way to get them reading more, and to teach
them some simple HTML. The next year, one of the Digital Culture students said, "Can I just use my Blogger account?" and I knew the revolution was on.
Meanwhile, I'd been looking for a content management system to start an online classroom newspaper; I experimented with Dan Bricklin's Blogger-like Trellix program and Userland Software's Frontier scripting language... which is now the engine under the blogging platforms Manila and Radio Userland, which I still use.

Q.What's your purpose or motivation to blogging? What do you hope to accomplish?

A. I started with a demo and "class notes" for my students and I still
have "demos" around using four or five blogging programs. When I joined a series of weekly blogger meetings at Harvard three years ago I added another blog site there as part of the Berkman Center community discussion of blogging issues. Since then my main blog has become a combination school-and-community thing.

I use the software's "category" feature to offer separate addresses and RSS feeds for posts that might be of more interest to one audience or another: An AEJMC Newspaper Division category mostly of interest to newspaper-journalism teachers; another for local Knoxville neighbors; others for my "online journalism" or "digital culture" students. Just for fun, I was hoping to get out the microphone and produce a regular podcast about my other passion -- folk and old-time music. I set it up,
didn't have time to do it regularly, and keep the "podfolk" site as a place to post music-related items very infrequently. And the separate blog category about Attention Deficit Disorder was a joke, mostly.

Almost everything in the blog-subcategory blogs also appears in the main one here:
(Now also available as

Categories include:

AEJMC Newspaper Division blog:


Online Journalism:

Digital culture, communication & community:

Folk Music & Folklore:

I wasn't kidding:

And the now for demo only Harvard blog-meeting site is here:

Q. Where do you get your topics?

A. Newspapers, e-mail lists and other bloggers, mostly. I've also blogged
eye-witness accounts of places and events with photos, including (rarely) some personal events, like defending my Ph.D. dissertation in Chapel Hill and moving from Boston to Knoxville.

Q. What has provoked the most response from readers?

A. Other than items I explicitly asked students to respond to, most
response has been to critiques of newspaper websites, particularly
comments from local readers (and fellow bloggers) concerning the local

Q.Do you know who your readers are and if so, do you have much interaction with them? Anything interesting to say about them?

A. Whoever paraphrased Andy Warhol to say that blogs could make you "famous for 15 people" had it about right in my case. Old friends use my blog to stay in touch; I use theirs to do the same... and I've used my blog and other folks' blogs to get to know people in a new city. When I was about to move to Knoxville, I e-mailed one of the local bloggers asking about neighborhoods near the university -- he sent me three or four pages of comments on different parts of town, complete with the names and e-mail addresses or phones to get me started "networking." Come to think of
it, I still owe that guy a beer. (We've been to some events together too.

Q. If you know, are your readers language or journalism experts or just regular folks?

A. Because "journalism" is in the name of my blog, and because I teach it, I know I'm being read by other journalism teachers... a class at an U.K university was even monitoring my blog at one point and chided me for not posting often enough.

Q. Do you try to post on a regular schedule or as topics arise?

A. No schedule; rarely more than four days a week; sometimes only a
half-dozen times in a month on my main blog. I post when topics arise or are about to come up on my class syllabus. Otherwise I post whenever I'm under a lot of pressure to do something *else.* Classic procrastination blogger.

Q. Do you think we should think about linking in some fashion to
deliver language or other advice by e-mail or share content more regularly?

A. I'm not sure who "we" are in that question. I link "out" to at least
two or three sources in each post, and other people link "in" to my blog
posts from time to time. (The more the merrier.) I'm also on a
half-dozen e-mail lists -- more than I can keep up with -- so I've
gotten pretty selective about adding new ones.

Q. Do you consider yourself web savvy or up to date on technology? Will we still be blogging in five years or will technology completely replace this method of communication?

A. I've been online since BITNET and FIDONET, wrote a master's thesis about hypertext in 1988, and more recently wrote a PC World magazine mass-review of RSS aggregators a couple of summers ago. I also spent some time with the guru of RSS at Harvard and attended the first two "Bloggercons" there. I think RSS -- subscription-delivery of blog content or news headlines, with or without audio or video attachments is a powerful way to monitor a lot of sites at once... or become fully

Speaking of RSS attachments, I haven't had time to do a regular "podcast" audio "show," but I've had the software ready to go for three
years. Maybe I'll get around to that... either with audio or video.

Otherwise, the answer depends on what you mean by "blogging." On one level, it's just "creating web pages with easy online tools." I'll be doing that as long as I keep teaching. On another it's "writing a personal opinion column or diary," which hasn't been my main focus. On another it's "being part of an online (and in-person) community of correspondents," and I'd like that to continue.

Q. How much time do you spend each week on your blog?

A. I have a don't-ask-don't-tell policy about that question. I miss having
a copy desk to cover my back, so I fuss about the blog too much.

Q. What are your favorite language web sites or blogs?
I have a batch of links for my writing students here:

and more link topics here:

That's a more modest (and manageable) list than the 2,000+ bookmarks I
was juggling in Boston -- and donated to the local SPJ Pro chapter for
further upkeep. Alas, the well-structured database version has been
offline lately and I'm no longer in charge of it. The original of that
one is here, with a very crude menu system:
Bob Scribes
... and this may be its most relevant section to the topic at hand:
And more

(Yes, my motto is "Information Overload Are Us")

Q. Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Mostly just "Hi Pam! Say 'hi' to any other Courant refugees." By the
way, when I migrate to a new blogging software, I'll probably rename or
nickname my blog after an archaic word for "newspaper reporter":
"couranteer." I've already grabbed "," which is
now just framing my main blog. Maybe more Hartford Courant alumni will visit!

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