Saturday, April 07, 2007

Blogs Turn 10

The Guardian Newsblog has a piece on ten years of blogging, in which I get an honourable mention, which is very kind of them.

Hello to anyone visiting from the Guardian! I was asked to explain blogging to a District Judge in Stratford Magistrates' Court this week when I was giving evidence in a trial. She asked what was the difference between 'a blog' and 'a website'. I explained to her that a blog was a kind of website where you could self-publish your thoughts, and that there were now 71 million of them worldwide.

'Why do people blog?' she asked, unwittingly asking a question that has generated millions of posts from millions of people.

I explained that it was a form of free self-expression, for some, it was writing practice, or a way of keeping in touch with family and friends and making new friends, sharing ideas, finding out information and hearing other voices and opinions. 'People have blogs on all sorts of subjects,' I explained '- cooking, gardening, politics, families, technology, or personal diaries...and most of them allow comments so you can engage in dialogue with your readers.' I forgot to mention the excellent Magistrate's Blog that I read regularly, so she could see that even pillars of the community were blogging these days, but I tried to give her an idea by saying ' If Anne Franks or Samuel Pepys was around in 2007, they'd probably be keeping a blog'. (Not that I am comparing myself to either.)

' And why did you start a blog?' she asked.

I explained that I had come home on 7 July after my train carriage was blown up and, because I couldn't sleep, I had sat down and written about what being bombed was like on urban 75, a London-based message board where people were sharing stories and news of what had happened that day. Someone from the BBC had read my account and asked me to write a diary for the BBC News site for a week, as a 'citizen journalist', and so I did, and lots of people read it, including other survivors, who got in touch and we formed a support group to help each other. After the week of the bombs, I decided to carry on with the diary, so I set up a blog using blogger software. It was easy to use, even though I am a techno-muppet, and I enjoyed writing on it. Writing was becoming a lifeline, helping me deal with what had happened, and it had become a means of staying in touch with other survivors and forming a support network, called Kings Cross United, so I decided to carry on with it.

'And what is your blog about?' asked the Judge. I told her that I no longer just wrote about life in the aftermath of 7/7, but had broadened out to include politics, civil liberties and campaigning for an independent inquiry into 7/7, as well as other subjects close to my heart like cooking and dancing classes. And as a result of the blog, I ended up being asked to write for various newspapers like the Sunday Times and the Mirror, and magazines like Grazia, and then I got asked to write a book and do things on TV. Eventually I left my advertising job to become a full time writer. So blogging was quite an important thing for me, and it had changed my life.

She looked very interested. Perhaps she is thinking of starting one herself.

I think my writing has changed since I first started blogging, and I can track my shell-shocked emotional state through what I wrote over the last 18 months, from numbness and fear, to passionate anger, to renewed political engagement and the eventual re-appearance of my sense of humour. It was interesting when I was writing the book, referring back to the blog and seeing what I was like then.

Blogging has enabled me to have a voice and to shout out when I care passionately about political issues, like the handling of the so-called War on Terror and to do something rather than just yell at the TV when Newsnight is on. It enabled me to voice my disagreement with the 90 Days legislation, (and it got me into a row with the last Home Secretary.)

One of the best things about blogging has been the camaraderie found amongst fellow-bloggers, the cross-party issues that have united people like civil liberties campaigning, and the support I have found in the compassionate words of strangers and friends. Other 7/7 survivors started blogging too, and you can find them linked on my side bar. I've made many real life friends from blogging, and things like the Simultaneous Lone Mass Demonstrations and the Illegal SOCPA-busting Carol Services ( organised by Tim Ireland of Bloggerheads)were examples of blogger-activism offline that ended with pints in the pub afterwards and coverage of our efforts in the mainstream media. Blogger TV is happening with 18 Doughty St's net-based political programming

There isn't space to list all the blogs I adore reading, though my blogroll in the side bar has a good selection - all these are blogs I try and read regularly, and there are many more that I read once a month or so.

Fergal Keane, a journalist and writer whom I respect enormously told me once that I was a writer and writers should write every day. He was very adamant about it, and he was quite right. If you are a writer, you need to write regularly. Blogging enables me to do that, to practise and get feedback and to do something I love, freely, for the simple pleasure of it. I wasn't a writer two years ago, but I am now. It even says it on my passport.

That's all because of blogging. So Happy Birthday Blogging.
Life would be very different without you.

What do you get out of blogging, and how many people in your life blog?

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10 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I, for one, am very glad you started blogging, Rachel. Your story has inspired me in my life, even though I don't know you. I admire your courage and look forward to reading much more from you.

Barbara

April 07, 2007 3:53 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rachel, I read your blog with interest and it such a shame that some selfish and nasty people have to ruin it. I admire your courage and strength with all life has thrown at you. I wish you and J all the very best of hapiness for your future.

April 07, 2007 4:07 pm  
Blogger Ian said...

Sorry to learn of the pest.

The way you desribed what blogging is about to the magistrate is so clear and succinct!

April 07, 2007 4:24 pm  
Blogger fido said...

Well said, glad the case was resolved ok and I hope that woman gets the help she needs.

April 07, 2007 8:17 pm  
Anonymous BetaMummy said...

I haven't got a blog, but I am going to start one. I have really enjoyed reading this blog, and other blogs - found you via AlphaMummy on the Times website.

So wish me luck.I'll try and fit it in around caring for a very excitable Easter-egg obsessed 3 year old!

April 07, 2007 8:29 pm  
Blogger Penguin Island said...

Dear Rachel, this piece is an example why your blog stands apart from most of the other mainstream blogs (guido, dizzy thinks etc). It typifies your sensitive autobiographical style which inspires and informs. Thanks for posting.

NB, reading the Guardian 10yr blog thingy, you get a idea of the size of the blogosphere. 120,000 new blogs a day (just on my host, Blogspot alone) and 1.4 blogs created a second - what a monster!

April 08, 2007 10:03 am  
Blogger IndigoShirl said...

Hi Rachel

Only one thing to say: "RESPECT" to you.

I have only been blogging for a short time but I love it....:0)

My husband and many friends blog too; it's a powerful form of communication and I think that's great.

All the best, Shirl

April 12, 2007 1:53 pm  
Blogger dizzy said...

Blogs are just websites with CGI. They've been around for a lot longer than ten years.

Mainstream? Moi? Hardly.

April 15, 2007 7:39 am  
Blogger Em said...

I started to blog to vent off somewhere and it ended up being a frank account about childabuse. I was rather embarrassed about writing it as my friends and family were reading about pregnancy one minute and then about sexual abuse the next. Although I had many white hot spells of "why am I doing this?", the emails I get back from other child abuse survivors have really helped me.

Blogging has clarified my mind on several issues important to me: abuse, breastfeeding and abortion, as well as parenting in general. It has linked me with many communities all over the world. Reading other blogs has made me politically active too, after being dormant for years. NHSblogdoc is the blog that spurred me into writing.

Blogging also changed my life. It enabled me to change my midwife after my local Primary Care Trust read my blog and offered to have a meeting to discuss my ante-natal care.

But no one I know personally blogs. They all think I am mad to invite people to criticise the decisions I've made and how i live my life.

April 25, 2007 12:04 pm  
Blogger Antipodeesse said...

To answer your question: Why do you blog?

My blog is an archive for my children of their happiest and funniest days; letters and photos to my faraway parents so they can keep up with the daily minutiae of our lives; a platform for my dreadful jokes; a way to make new and very close friends; and most importantly, therapy for me!

May 24, 2007 7:29 am  

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