Bloggers take the war on Iraq on a journey into cyberspace
By Peter Thal Larsen
Financial Times; Mar 29, 2003
Hundreds of millions are going online for updates on the conflict. Round the clock, 'bloggers' are meeting a global need.
Sean-Paul Kelly updated his website with a report that "several hundred" US and UK special operations forces were operating "inside Baghdad". Then he signed off for the night at the end of another long day following the war in Iraq.
For the previous 15 hours Mr Kelly, a graduate student in international relations in San Antonio, Texas, had been almost constantly updating his online weblog, The Agonist, with snippets of news about the war.
Scouring television channels, online newspapers and countless other websites, Mr Kelly attempts to piece together a comprehensive and timely picture of what is going on in Iraq. Judging by the traffic on his site - earlier this week he claimed to be getting 2m "hits" a day - there is a large and growing audience that is not satisfied with watching the war on CNN.
If the last Gulf war was a triumph for live television, the current conflict belongs to the web. For the first time since the internet was widely adopted in the late 1990s, its power is being concentrated on an international war. The result is almost impossible to catalogue; tens or even hundreds of thousands of weblogs - known as blogs - have been established or adapted to chronicle or comment upon the conflict. An audience of hundreds of millions surfs between them.
The range of opinion is as wide as the world it reflects. From hawkish US pundits to vehement anti-war protesters, every point of view is represented, and endlessly debated. Online petitions, both supporting and opposing the invasion, are widely circulated. Activists use the web to alert sympathisers to protests. Yet the overwhelming desire appears to be for new information. At the Command Post, which was started by 40-year-old Michele Catalano, a group of dedicated bloggers provides minute-by-minute updates around the clock. They are so quick to ferret out news that their audience is said to include members of CNN's newsroom - not bad for a weblog only a few days older than the war itself.
The information flow can be overwhelming. "Here's the final stats from today," read a posting on Sgt Stryker's daily briefing, another so-called "warblog". "Aprrx 990,000 hits. 1.4m page views. 2 Excedrin migraine tablets."
For those on the front lines, a personal site is a direct way to communicate with a potentially huge audience.
Probably the best known to emerge from the current conflict is a Baghdad resident, nicknamed Salam Pax, whose weblog offers a personal account of the war from the Iraqi capital, unencumbered by reporting restrictions.
"There are no waving masses of people welcoming the Americans nor are they surrendering by the thousands," he wrote in his last update earlier this week. "People are doing what all of us are, sitting in their homes hoping that a bomb doesn't fall on them."
Even media organisations are getting in on the act in an effort to make the best use of original reporting. The BBC has started posting web updates from its war correspondents. The Guardian and Financial Times have chosen to do the same.
The web has possibly added to the confusion about the war. The warblogs are struggling to piece together a broader picture from often contradictory reports, and even those that claim to be free of bias often betray a slant. The highlighting of articles critical of France is, for example, noticeable.
But observers point out that overall the web is less prone to hysterical mood swings. "Weblogs counteract that in because they're always second-guessing the mainstream media," says Nick Denton, publisher of New York-based weblog, Gawker.com.
The question remains, why would anyone devote their existence to a weblog?
In San Antonio, Mr Kelly is clear. "I want to be the anti-Drudge," he says, referring to Matt Drudge, the muckraking journalist whose weblog probably still has the biggest following. Whether the audience for Mr Kelly's site will outlast the conflict remains to be seen. But as long as the fighting lasts, he will continue to be a one-man newswire.
в связи с войной статей про блоги появилась целая туча... как-то внезапно обнаружилось, что их читают (ну, проглядывают) довольно много народа. мне всё ж кажется, что про "сотни миллионов человек" они загнули. то есть, сотни может и есть, но это всех пользователей, которые всё больше по снн-бибибси...