Anyone with a cable TV channel or who cares about the goings-on at America's universities has probably heard something about the Minuteman protest that erupted at Columbia University on October 4th. The protest and ruckus that followed, which led to the cancellation of the planned address by Minuteman founder Jim Gilchrist, quickly becamse a referundum on campus free speech and racism in the anti-illegal immigrant movement.
Intriged by this act of citizens' journalism on my very own campus, I took it upon myself to interview a Bwog reporter Lydia DePillis and the website's editor-in-chief Avi Zenilman. I was interested in getting a taste of what real life campus bloggers in the middle of a huge story thought about themselves and what they were doing. On a textual level was intrigued by how the seriousness of the Minuteman story was co-existing (sometime uncomfortably) with Bwog's oft-irrverent aditutde. I was also curious to see how the Bwog staff saw their relationship with the Spec, and what they thought CU students thought about journalism in general. Sometimes, its easy to get caught up in a bunch of journalism theory and loose sight of what's actually happening on the ground.
The interview (conducted via email) follows. Folks interested in learning more about blogging and networked journalism on college campuses should check out Innovation in College Media, a website run by my colleague Bryan Murley and a few others. Its by far the best source of discussion about college journalism on the web.
Chris Anderson: What is The Bwog? What is its relationship with the print publication "The Blue and the White?"
Lydia DePillis: The Bwog launched in February of 2006 as a source for campus news and gossip with a light, funny, sometimes irreverent tone. It's partly reader driven, in that anyone can send in tips and ideas for posts, and partly staff driven, in that we work hard to commission more considered features with a high level of writing. It's run by the staff of The Blue and White, but the Bwog recieves no funding from the University--which means we have complete editorial freedom, unlike the magazine.
Avi Zenilman: The Bwog is the online manifestation of The Blue and White, Columbia's monthly magazine. It was launched in February 2006; we took some features from the magazine (gossip, digitalia, lecture hopping, arts reviews) and put them in blog form. It was meant to be smart, breezy, cheeky--and, in a campus where there is only one publication that comes out more than once a month, an alternative source of information and procrastination. We used "Columbia Gawker" to describe the project before finding a name. The Bwog's content comes from mish-mash of Blue and White writers (some who hate blogs), staffers who are either detailed specifically to bwog, daily bwog editors, and, naturally, our readers. Unlike The Blue and White print edition, it does not receive any funding for Columbia--which makes our lives easier. The relationship between print and online is still unclear--The Bwog comes out more frequently, has a wider readership and the writers work harder for it on a day to day basis, but I think there's something about the closedness and definitiveness of a closely edited magazine that makes it more central to The Blue and White. Also, right now, I think the magazine does a better job of reporting on the intellectual content of academic life, but I'm sure Bwog will catch up soon.
CWA: How did The Bwog prepare to cover the speech of Minuteman founder Jim Gilchrist to the Columbia community? Have you covered controversial campus speakers before? How was this similar / different?
LdP: We prepared to cover Jim Gilchrist's appearance just like any other event, not knowing how it would blow up. As it became apparent that the protest outside was not your average Columbia snit fit, Bwog daily editor Sara Vogel and I teamed up to take pictures, and I took my laptop inside the Auditorium when the event started to post as it progressed. We haven't really covered things live before, and I'm not sure why we decided to do it this time. It was an exciting atmosphere, with lots of media, and we wanted to be first to break what went on inside.
We've had our share of controversy, but mostly over things like found objects with swastikas scrawled on them (see our April archives for details on that).