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Last night I was at the Manchester Blog Awards at Matt and Phred’s. It was an excellent event that has come a long way in two years.

I sat back with a beer and a tasty pizza and very much enjoyed the high quality of the readings. I think I was a little surprised by this. I think I expected to go ‘mmm..that’s nice’ or ‘mmm..that’s some good writing’ but not actually enjoy the readings.

But the offered set of witty, playful and amusing narratives had me wanting more. There’s nothing like a good bit of story telling. Fortunately, some of those reading were reading from books due to be published soon, so I shall make a note to buy them.

The full shortlist can be seen here. And the winners:

Best New Blog – Follow The Yellow Brick Road

Best Writing on a Blog – Every day I lie a little

Best Arts and Culture Blog – Northernights

Best Personal Blog- Travels with my baby

Best Neighbourhood Blog – Manchester Bus

And Citylife Manchester Blog of the Year: Travels with my Baby

And so I was well and truly beaten, which is a good way to lose, because justice is done. Nice also to see that buses and blogs still make good bed fellows.

Thanks go to Kate from Manchizzle for making the event happen, and to the Manchester Literature Festival for getting involved. And it’s also good to see the MEN taking such an active interest in Manchester Blogging.

On another note, does the MLF involvement have anything  to do with the literary focus of the Manchester Blog Awards? Is Manchester unusual in this respect, or does every major city have such writing talent in their blogsphere? Certainly it makes for an excellent Blog Awards event.

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Exciting news: Kate of The Manchizzle has teamed up with Chris of Mancubist to produce a new website sporting a ‘writers map’ of Manchester for local content. Kate:

It uses a Google map of the city to organise stories or poetry linked to particular places. Readers can click on a place marked by the little cloud icon to read a piece of writing associated with that spot.

This looks like a fantastic project. It’s local, it uses web2 new media (and all that jazz), and it has some great potential.

Of the stories that are up I particularly liked Rats and Mice by Mike Duff.

It’s short enough to to be readable on the web, and drew me in quickly enough to keep my attention to the end. And it’s a nice bit of writing to boot.

I think perhaps the little speech-bubble/cloud icons on the map could do with being a bit more visible, but I like the idea. (Since they asked for feedback).

Both Kate and Chris speak of new developments on the horizon, so it will be interesting to see firstly how the project takes off, and then where they take it. Watch that space (and get involved too!)

The ‘writers map’ brings to mind a BBC local media project that is on the cards (as far as I know), involving local maps pinned with multi-media content. Lets hope that if that does arrive it doesn’t harm the progress of Rainy City Stories.

Well done Kate and Chris.

How do you connect philosophy and new-media? How do you connect philosophy and old media, for that matter? Philosophy is ideas, and ideas don’t translate well to visual media easily.

So I was interested by what this guy is trying to do.  I think it’s fun. Does it work? Do you have any idea what he’s going on about, if you don’t know what he’s going on about already?

I’m flattered.

And here I was, minding my own business.

The full shortlist for the 2008 Manchester Blog Awards:

Best New Blog:

Dear Kitty
Coco LaVerne
Follow The Yellow Brick Road
14sandwiches

Best Writing on a Blog:

Diary of a Bluestocking
Every day I lie a little
Nine chains to the moon
Chicken and Pies

Best Arts and Culture Blog:

Scatterdrum
Quit This Pampered Town
Northernights
Max Dunbar

Best Personal Blog:

Travels with my baby
Single Mother on the Verge
Follow the Yellow Brick Road
40three

Best Neighbourhood Blog:

Hyde Daily Photo
Mancubist
Lady Levenshulme
Manchester Bus

It seems I’m not the only philosopher (does that sound too grand? – perhaps ‘student of philosophy’) that enjoys the odd Wordle now and then.  After wordling my blog a few days back, I wordled a chapter in my thesis, and then all of Hume’s Treatise.

When I finish my PhD, I shall try and remember to Wordle it, and then I shall get it framed and hang it on my wall.

There’s a bit of a buzz (or perhaps just a faint hum) in web-media about ‘citizen journalism’. Dave Hill at the guardian (Comment is Free) discusses the need for local papers to embrace the the ‘CJ’s’ and the bloggers. He even quotes Roy Greenslade in a previous article saying that:

Citizen participation is, of course, the future of journalism

That’s quite a claim, and I’m not convinced. However, it does seem like ‘citizen journalism’ (or ‘community reporting’) will have an increasingly important role to play. What that role is still needs to be worked out.

Whilst there does seem to be some very interesting progress in places (link via Dave Hill), a recent venture on MyManchester.net has a way to go.

The site hosts a feed from ‘community reporters’ and anyone can join in to add their own voice to the ‘community reporters news’. They encourage everyone to get involved and

it doesn’t really matter what you talk or write about … it doesn’t have to be ‘news’, as such, it can just be something you want people to know about.

This might work, I guess, but as it stands there is no categorisation by location, topic or type, and the diversity of subject matter and quality make the this single long feed rather useless for the reader.

It’s rather like asking as many people as possible to tape pages from their personal diaries to pavement on Market Street. Whilst it may be an interesting project in its own right, I’m not sure it would count as journalism, reporting or news.

No one likes 200 cable channels and nothing to watch, but there is a danger that this community reporters project will achieve the same effect but from a non-commercial direction.

The blog-spheres can in general be quite good at categorising and grouping itself in useful ways (see a Manchester example of categorising local output), and there are plenty of lessons to be learnt. For now MyManchester has a way to go before ‘community reporting’ is more than just a grand sounding title.

On a final note (and to counter some of my negativity), see here for an explanation of why community reporting (or citizen journalism) might be a valuable thing.

Word cloud from wordle

Word cloud from wordle

This is a word cloud built by Wordle when given this blog as the input text. Colours, fonts and layout are customisable. It builds some fantastic word art which you can save and use in whatever way you like! (I printed to pdf and did a screen capture to save this as a Jpeg.)

I might be ashamed to call myself a philosopher, after this from philosopher AC Grayling. It is an illogical and ridiculous rant against faith schools that gives atheists a bad name (an atheist agrees). I half wonder, in fact, if it is meant as an ironic bash at the kind of articles that find their way to places like Comment is Free.

I might be ashamed, but I know that being a member of a kind does not mean that you share all characteristics with other members, or responsibility for what they do. We don’t criticise all wheeled vehicles for polluting, just because cars pollute (bikes don’t).

But Greyling writes that religious people:

traditionally employ and always threaten torture and execution for those who do not accept their theories, who to gain their ends sometimes engage in war, massacre and murder, and at other times use bribery, brainwashing, and techniques of preying on the poor, sick, depressed and traumatised

…and so ‘religious’ people should not be involved in running schools. Apart from the above being just false as it is put (‘always threaten torture’?), these are also accusations that you might make against white people, so does that mean white people shouldn’t run schools? Or people in general, for that matter, perhaps we should have schools run by robots…

It’s the kind of argumentative fallacy that I teach first years to avoid. (But then, as I said, perhaps it not supposed to be anything more than a silly rant.)

A very real frustration of mine at the moment is that the more I read and learn about a particular topic, the less I feel qualified to say anything about it. This poses a particular problem for writing a PhD, but I don’t doubt that it is relevant to whole host of other pursuits.

Each paper and book I read opens up new avenues of enquiry, new possible positions to take, and (most importantly) new reasons to think that what I was going to say needs amending or totally revising.

I find myself frantically pursuing arguments and trains of thought but getting no closer to being able to write coherently about them.

The more I learn, the more I realise that everything I write will get it a bit wrong. Even as I write this I hear possible objections and replies in my head – reasons why what I have said is not the whole story, or how the problem should be solved.

One tempting response then is not to write at all. Even with a deadline looming I am struggling to get through this barrier.

And I know it will have to be this way: pragmatics kicks in and the need to write out weighs the need to be right. I must undertake the task of producing a thing that can exist in its own right, detached somewhat from my internal search for a better thing to say. Let it stand alone and not be shy of its own imperfections.

Herein, for some, lies the key to more than writing a thesis – to blogging, to engaging with our society and culture, to joining the conversation.

I was having a conversation yesterday with Richard about blogging, and he pointed out how few Manchester based blogs are actually about Manchester. Why does the blogging community not blog more about its immediate geographical location? There are some very notable   exceptions, of course, but generally geographical focus does not abound.

Before looking for an answer, however, one might wonder why that might be an expectation in the first place – why would bloggers blog about their local area?

Here is a speculative suggestion: Blogging is, to some degree, seen as a form of media. In the world of media, small productions (of which few are smaller than most blogs) must find a niche market to survive. Content relevant to immediate geographical surroundings has traditionally provided a natural niche. Ergo, a natural niche for blogs will be local issues.

Ok, perhaps. So why are there so few geographically focused blogs?

Here is my speculative answer: Bloggers are Internet users (that bit’s not speculative) and internet users are part of a culture that is increasingly living uninfluenced by geographic locality. How many of us still live in the town that we were born in? How many of us know more and engage more with local government than with national government? I’m sure you get the gist. So perhaps we do not blog about our locality because that is not where our heads are.

This may seems obvious, but it represents a challenge to modern society: How do we find peace when our heads are all over the place?

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