The Spirit of Paulo Freire in Blogland: Struggling for a Knowledge-Log Revolution
Christine Boese, Independent researcher
Weblogs and knowledge-logs, or “blogs” and “klogs,”
have emerged into the post-dot.com bubble online world as a notable (and often
non-commercial) social phenomenon. While some hear echoes of Web homepage voices
from the mid-1990s, the blogging phenomenon during the Iraq war may have taken
Web cybercultures in new directions. This qualitative and exploratory research
considers the viability and social effects of the altered web page phenomenon
of blogs and klogs as they affect the lives of information workers, in public
Internet spaces, and with implications for private intranets. It combines ethnographic
observations from a single case within the Iraq warblog phenomenon with the
standpoints and personal observations from the author’s professional experience
launching a klog inside CNN Headline News shortly after the war. It seeks to
gain insight into the utopian and often unnecessarily technologically deterministic
promise of a knowledge-log revolution and find points where the movement falls
far short of that promise. While knowledge-logs can appear as efficient groupware
tools for organizations, klog interface features allow political openings to
change corporate cultures in ways most groupware never intended, with a goal
of a dialogic, critical pedagogy through workers helping and teaching other
workers outside the realm of “official policy.” Personal blog sites
of journalists in the employ of large, knowledge-commodity organizations such
as Time Warner release this same tension into public spaces and reveal the very
real disruption on a large scale that klogs can create on a small scale. Ideas
and models presented by Paulo Freire and Michel de Certeau are used as a lens
for one possible interpretation of the events studied from March to November
The Other Side: Josh Kucera
March 09, 2003
Welcome to my blog, all. First, to introduce myself and The Other Side. I
am a freelance journalist based in Erbil, in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq.
I am new to the world of blogging, and I heartily thank Chris Boese, a friend
of a friend whom I’ve never even met, for suggesting this to me and
for setting up all the technical stuff.
I chose to call the blog The Other Side for a couple of reasons. One, I want
to show the other side of the news. I don’t intend for this site to
be a substitute for the ordinary media, but as a complement to it. You can
get good information from the New York Times, BBC and Associated Press. But
you won’t hear unvarnished opinion from a guy on the ground, or what
ordinary days are like for the people here: about pornographic movie theaters,
tragic love stories or the sunset over Erbil.
Secondly, “the other side” refers to the land outside America’s
borders, a big place that most Americans, even well educated ones, are not
very familiar with. Reading the news about the Middle East or Indonesia or
Venezuela is as about as meaningful as watching a game of Risk if you don’t
know what the streets smell like there or what people eat. I hope this blog
can be a small substitute for that sort of experience. . . .
That’ll be it for today … soon to come will be more reports,
focusing on particular issues, relating particular incidents, etc. Stay tuned.
Posted by Josh at 10:39 PM |Comments (16) |TrackBack
Weblogs, or “blogs,” like the excerpt above, are a site of online
communication that has sprung up in the margins around several forms of mainstream
public discourses and professional communication practices, and in some cases
become a deceptively powerful and somewhat erosive force in mainstream journalism--erosive
in the sense that blogs have a dialogic and unobtrusive way of nibbling at established
mass media power bases, sometimes without institutional awareness.
As blogs enter mainstream public consciousness from the margins of the Internet
where they originated, they bring a hidden and newly awakened army of interactive
participants who may be experiencing the kinds of unsettling (to the powers
that be) critical consciousness that is within the goals of an increasingly
democratized culture such as Paulo Freire as an educator sought to foster. While
blogs are now part and parcel of presidential campaigns, they really came into
their own with the warblogs of the Iraq war in 2003.
For the purposes of this paper, a blog is defined as a regularly updated webpage
using blogging software which functions as a database-driven, dynamic, content-focused
shell (Carl, 2003, p 1, 3). Into that space, single authors or groups can take
any number of rhetorical stances and post creative and analytical source material
and links, published with a reverse chronological order of most recent postings
at the top, linked to a permanent archive through “permalinks.”
While web pages are static, blogs are intended as part of an ongoing conversation
through contextual “comments” bulletin boards attached to each post.
Once installed, blogs require next to no technical knowledge to update and maintain.
In addition, a social movement has sprung up around blogs, giving the technical
artifact meaning in a larger context, in what some call “neighborhoods”
or “blog ecosystems.”
Klogs are simply blog software interfaces appropriated for company knowledge-management
tools as a quick and easy, and participatory, content management system. Some
firms may have IT departments build content management tools from scratch, often
with uneven results due to usability difficulty. The sheer number of blog users
online testifies to the ease of use for blog software, which may speak for their
adoption for in-house klogs.
This qualitative and exploratory research considers the viability and social
effects of the web page phenomenon of blogs and klogs as they affect the lives
of information workers, in public Internet spaces with implications for private
intranets. It combines ethnographic observations from a single case within the
Iraq warblog phenomenon with the personal standpoints and observations from
my professional experience launching a klog inside CNN Headline News shortly
after the war. It seeks to gain insight into the utopian and often unnecessarily
technologically deterministic promise of a knowledge-log revolution and find
points where the movement falls far short of that promise.
The ethnographic methods employed in this qualitative study are informed by
insider access to two separate sites. In each case, I participated on some level
as a web designer and host and was an interested party in the blogs launched.
While this may be seen as compromising the data gathered (in the case of the
first site) or the personal observations (in the case of the second site), there
is no other way that this information could have been obtained without being
one of the parties involved. The stories here would have remained invisible.
But my standpoint must be claimed and foregrounded, from the perspective of
feminist standpoint theory as it affects scholarship (Rich, 1984), even while
distancing myself from the essentialism of identity politics to embrace a role
more as a shifting cyborg hybrid from within the larger Time Warner organization
(Haraway, 1991). According to Haraway, cyborgs are invisible and ubiquitous,
"illegitimate offspring of militarism and patriarchal capitalism, not to
mention state socialism" (153), without loyalties or origins, "committed
to partiality, irony, intimacy, and perversity, it is oppositional, utopian,
and completely without innocence" (151). In adopting such a role, my perspective
becomes part of the story.
The two sites studied will be described in terms of ideas of “critical
consciousness” (Freire, 1973) and “textual poaching” (de Certeau,
1984) in an effort to unpack the complex interplay of events through an Iraq
war blog on a large scale and the launch of an intranet klog on a small scale.
Blogs as a site for research
Because 2003 was such a seminal year for blogging and bloggers, there is currently
little existing scholarship on blogs or klogs, other than the vast echo system
bloggers have created themselves, a system the mainstream media is beginning
to cover as a “beat.” The blogosphere shrugged itself into existence
most notably following the events of September 11, 2001, with a very small but
intensely interested audience (Carl, 2003). When regular communications broke
down in New York City, personal blogs tracked the concerns of the many laid
off or employed tech workers. As war began against Afghanistan, conventions
of warblogging also began to emerge. With the crash of the space shuttle and
the resignation of Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, mainstream media became
aware of blogs. Blogs may have fully landed on the scholarly radar in 2003 with
the Iraq warblogs and the Howard Dean blogs. Undoubtedly, more articles and
collections like this one are in preparation as well.
The usual popular and trade press articles have appeared, evangelizing blogs
and klogs as the next hot new thing (Heyboer, 2003; Lewis, 2004; Rosencrance,
2004; Creamer, 2004). At least one master’s thesis has been written (Carl
2003). In addition to a careful history of the blogging phenomenon (drawn largely
from bloggers’ own histories), Christine Carl conducted a significant
survey of blogger demographics and practices with more than 1,400 respondents
in the United States, analyzing age, race, employment status, income, and education
level, among other factors.
Most conference panels on blogs also first appeared in 2003, with papers such
as Sybil Nolan’s from the proceedings at the Digital Arts and Culture
Conference in Melbourne, focusing on blogging’s impact on journalism (2003).
Jane B. Singer (2003) may have published the most complete study on the journalistic
aspect of blogging to date, focusing not on blogs per se, but on the challenge
to journalistic standards of professionalism by online journalists, particularly
bloggers. Still, given the general dearth of scholarship on blogging and bloggers,
there is more work to be done if blogging remains a significant social phenomenon
and not simply another Internet fad.
While also addressing the impact of warblogging on journalism, this paper attempts
to situate the movement in the larger context of information workers crafting
their products in both public and private work sites, and to look at the political
and social ramifications of those actions. As such, it considers all blogs to
some degree as knowledge-logs.
The Other Side and OJO: Iraq Warblogs
The primary site studied using ethnographic methods are the Iraqi warblogs
of Joshua Kucera and Carolina Podesta. Both journalists worked for several years
as foreign correspondents in Bosnia before going together to Erbil, Kurdistan,
in Northern Iraq just before the start of the war. I built and hosted these
sites, The Other Side, and OJO, on my domain, serendipit-e.com. Podesta’s
blog is entirely in Spanish, with a Google machine translation link on the side.
Because I don’t speak Spanish, my understanding of the zeitgeist of this
blog remains rough, although I did sense that something literary and quite transcendent
was occurring for Carolina and her legion of fans. I gathered additional data
through personal correspondence with both Kucera and Podesta before and throughout
the war. Both had laptops and satellite phones, as well as freelance contracts,
Kucera with TIME magazine, Podesta with an Argentine news service. While training
the journalists to use the software from a war zone, we discussed contingency
plans, but decided against outfitting the site for mobile blogging or “mo-blogging”
from cell phones. If their laptop access went down, they told me they had access
to the Internet at various cybercafes.
Lest you think everyone in the Middle East hates America... I've had the
Big Mac there, and it's not bad. This restaurant is in Suleymaniya, there
is also a fake McDonald's advertisement in the soccer stadium in Erbil.
Posted by Josh at 12:11 PM |Comments (0) |TrackBack (0)
I first met Josh Kucera through a friend at work, and through him also met
Carolina Podesta, at the time his partner. I was working for CNN Headline News,
writing the afternoon on-screen headline ticker Mondays through Fridays. In
the time leading up to the start of the Iraq war, I was watching colleagues
prepare for the “embedding process,” going to D.C. and completing
Pentagon training for chemical weapons and basic military rules in order to
travel with the units in which they would be reporting. Remembering the restrictions
on reporters during the first Gulf War, I was apprehensive about the embedding
process, even with good journalists in the units. I worried that their reports
would be censored by restricted satellite phone access, or worse, unconsciously
My reasons for offering to build blogs for Josh and Carolina were personal
as much as anything. I wanted to know I had a source on the ground in Iraq that
was independent of U.S. military control. I wanted to build their sites because
I wanted to read their blogs. At the time I had built several other blogs using
Movable Type, and I’d been following the warblogging movement closely.
It seemed that the most prominent names among the warbloggers were people in
the U.S., processing and reprocessing war coverage at a distance. “This
isn’t right,” I thought, “Independent, experienced reporters
in Iraq need to be blogging during this war. That’s what I want to read.”
About that same time, my employer, CNN, asked video journalist Kevin Sites,
already in Iraq, to stop posting to his popular blog. That sealed my decision.
Josh asked for permission to keep the blog from TIME magazine, since he had
an exclusive contract. TIME said as long as it was non-commercial and he wasn’t
posting things TIME wanted to publish, he could create the blog. The same company
that owns CNN, Time Warner, owns TIME magazine.
My immediate supervisors at CNN Headline News knew I built and kept blogs,
but given my on-air anonymity and relative unimportance to the news gathering
process within our organization, my extracurricular activities weren’t
seen as a conflict to the performance of my duties as a ticker writer. I largely
refrained from commenting about my employer on any of my personal blogs out
of ethical considerations.
Textual Poaching and Critical Consciousness
This research pulls together two frames, the Marxist radical pedagogical approach
of Paulo Freire, who sought venues for dialogic teaching and learning outside
traditional classrooms, with the postmodern cultural theorist Michel de Certeau,
who wrote on subversive ways ordinary people resist being defined by their workplaces
and by a consumer society. I believe these two lenses dovetail, as Freire escapes
the often totalizing frame of Marxism with his emphasis on dialogic co-learning,
and de Certeau’s writing on everyday practices can empower a more contingent
style of democratized knowledge-making in blogs, with a liberatory sense of
resistance even when workers are oppressed or dominated. Both look at what vibrates
outside of areas of rigid control and professional editing.
While weblogs and knowledge-logs can appear as efficient groupware tools for
organizations, klog interface features seem to allow political openings to change
corporate cultures in ways most groupware never intended, through a goal of
a dialogic, critical pedagogy of workers helping and teaching other workers
outside the realm of “official policy.” Given the unvarnished nature
of such in-house knowledge making, institutional controls on worker’s
minds and voices can be undermined, creating a tension between officially sanctioned
controls and policies and contingent and disciplinary knowledge or professional
expertise (Friedson, 1986; Gilbert & Mulkay, 1984; Edwards & Mercer,
1987; Geisler, 1994). Personal blog sites of journalists in the employ of large,
knowledge-commodity organizations such as Time Warner release this same tension
into public spaces and reveal the very real disruption on a large scale that
klogs can create on a small scale. As another journalist covering the war, I
was reading warblogs as my own kind of public knowledge-log, to expand my knowledge
of the subject I was covering by reading the postings of independent colleagues
in the field.
Michel de Certeau, in The Practice of Everyday Life, is concerned with workplace
practices that live in the margins and engage in a kind of “textual poaching,”
as he writes:
Reading introduces an “art” which is anything but passive. …Imbricated
within the strategies of modernity (which identify creation with the invention
of a personal language, whether cultural or scientific), the procedures of
contemporary consumption appear to constitute a subtle art of “renters”
who know how to insinuate their countless differences into the dominant text.
… Today this text no longer comes from a tradition. It is imposed by
the generation of a productivist technocracy. It is no longer a referential
book, but a whole society made into a book, into the writings of the anonymous
law of production. (1984, p. xxii)
The practices of bloggers seem most clearly described in this quotation. While
de Certeau’s study has to look hard to discover how the seemingly passive
readers find ways to “poach” on the dominant texts as a form of
resistance, blogging during the Iraq war seemed to bring the resistance into
the open, as a more open rebellion. As a practicing journalist, Josh Kucera
was not typically someone in such open rebellion, although many warbloggers
outside of Iraq were. As we will see later, he resists becoming a “poster
child” for the independent media movement. Even so, with his quiet and
observant posts from Erbil, Josh was “insinuating countless differences
into the dominant text.” Ironically, in my position from inside CNN Headline
News, covering the war on the headline ticker at the same time, I was also most
clearly implicated and complicit with the “anonymous law of production”
de Certeau mentions above. I was part of the dominant text the bloggers were
resisting, one of its many authors. Given the contradictions I was experiencing,
I had no choice but to turn to Haraway (1991), to see myself as the cyborg hybrid
inside the belly of the “productivist technocracy.”
CNN Headline News Knowledge-Log
That cyborg sensibility led me, concurrently, to propose and build a knowledge-log
for the Headline News intranet, as a way to share this empowering interface
with my colleagues, so that THEY could share contingent knowledge, lore, and
professional practices that helped them produce excellent work day in and day
out. This is the second site studied in this paper, not through formal research
methods, but merely reported from my personal observations as an advocate and
klog evangelist. This work could not be called “ethnographic” because
I did not have permission to undertake such a study in the newsroom, and even
if I had had such permission, I was far too involved as an advocate to be able
to step back from it with an ethnographer’s eye.
I wanted to plumb beneath the surface of this respectable and reasonable practice
of knowledge management in the Information Age to find the contingent practices
in a workplace where the “widgets” are information products created
by knowledge workers and knowledge-makers, through the shaping and social use
of the information products in their workplaces and at large. I wanted to try
out the effects of democratization and subversion on this process of keeping
a klog, and in doing so, possibly learn ways workplace practices could one day
be further affected by the force of these software systems.
I also saw a visible (and documentable) clash of cultures between old and new
media—perhaps made even more acute than it might be at more “typical”
large corporations because the primary, external “product” or knowledge
commodity of Time Warner embodies almost in its entirety the assumptions of
broadcast or mass media, often unreflexively, as stated or even unstated truisms.
Before coming to CNN, I held certain beliefs about “old media” from
my dissertation research (Boese, 1998), which focused on power struggles between
the creators of the show “Xena: Warrior Princess” and the interactive
online fan community, seen through an ethnography in that fandom culture (populated
with active textual poachers as well).
On the other side of the fence, from inside the world of mass media production,
I was prepared to have those beliefs challenged. Instead I was surprised to
find them reinforced. The mass media model of communication appears so deeply
ingrained among so-called “old media” broadcast writers that it
is nearly unheard of in the newsroom to question issues relating to “good
news judgment,” “lowest common denominator” programming, and
demographic assumptions about 18- to 35-year-olds. Perhaps I was naïve.
Scholarly literature seems well aware of a “tension between the news media
and the discipline of cultural studies,” according to Sybil Nolan (2003).
I had left the field of journalism to spend 15 years in academia. Perhaps because
I’d changed over the years, I assumed journalistic assumptions about audiences
and interactivity would have changed also.
These are my personal observations, however, and not part of a formal study
of newsroom cultures. I made these observations as I studied the audience for
the klog I was building, as part of the design process. And in the end, these
observations were reinforced when I went on to launch the klog. The most startling
thing I found was that these broadcast writers (the klog was primarily to serve
newsroom writers and copyeditors) envisioned viewers as passive recipients of
media products, and they also constructed THEMSELVES as passive recipients of
media products, despite the fact that they were actively writing and shaping
those media products every day at work. The anonymity of the “voice”
with which they were conditioned to write seemed to preclude finding a voice
with which to speak up on a klog.
The second thing I encountered was widespread technophobia or technological
ignorance relating to the Internet. One copyeditor told me web browsers still
were not on most CNN newsroom computers in 1996, when a co-worker showed him
the Internet for the first time. The newsroom still relies on mainframe-based
research tools and writing spaces at the time of this writing in 2004. While
I was able to easily teach Josh and Carolina (who speaks and writes basic English,
but I speak no Spanish) to use the input form interfaces of their blogs by email
from Atlanta to Kurdistan, I struggled to train colleagues face-to-face in the
newsroom to feel at ease posting to our intranet klog.
Bruce Garrison (2001) has studied the diffusion of online information technologies
in newspaper newsrooms, looking at critical mass and diffusion theory. Although
his study pre-dates the appearance of blogs and klogs, I compared his data to
the “diffusion of technology” anecdotes shared by my colleagues
who had been on site since the early 1990s. It does appear that the Headline
News newsroom at least (and anecdotally, the entire Turner building in Atlanta)
integrated online research tools somewhat behind the curve reported by Garrison.
I also observed colleagues’ reluctance to explore online research tools
on their own, as evidenced by the slow adoption of the beta “Google News”
algorithm tool, as well as slow discovery of the handy Google toolbar, which
also blocks annoying pop-up ads.
The Other Side
March 17, 2003
War Panic in Erbil
Today is the first official day of war panic in Erbil. Yesterday everything
looked much like it has since I got here. Today many shops are closed, there
are fewer cars in the street and people tell me their neighbors are fleeing
the city for towns further towards the Iranian border. My translator's family
all left for their hometown of Koy Sanjak, which is closer to the Iraqi lines
but which they feel is less of a target. Shop owners are emptying their stores,
putting their stuff in more secure locations in case there are looting during
Most people are afraid of chemical weapons. As you know, this area was attacked
hundreds of times by chemical weapons during the Anfal campaign of the 1980s.
The most notorious incident, in Halabja, was 15 years ago this weekend. Over
7,000 people died in that one attack. Now people here are afraid that it will
happen again. But people aren’t preparing much. Very few people have
gas masks – other than the foreigners, of course. There is a military
market here in Erbil, and I went a couple of weeks ago to stock up. I bought
four German-made masks (for me, Carolina, our driver and translator) for $150,
a little out of the range of ordinary Iraqis. The dealer told me the only
locals who bought the masks were the richest ones. “The poor people
want to die,” he said. “The rich people want to live 200 years.”
One political party today was giving out leaflets on how to make a homemade
gas mask. You take flour, coal and salt, wrap it in a cloth and hold it over
your mouth. . . .
Posted by Josh at 05:46 PM |Comments (2) |TrackBack (0)
Both Josh's and Carolina’s blogs began getting heavy publicity during
the course of the war. Carolina’s site was featured on Argentine TV, so
traffic shot up to about 1,000 hits a day after her first week. It eventually
developed such an enduring presence (significant hits from areas beyond Argentina
as well, particularly Mexican domain names) that when she returned to Argentina
after the war, she got a contract to turn it into a book (2003b) and a conference
was held with the OJO blog as one of its central topics.
Josh’s blog was in English, well written and visual, with respectable
citations from other blogs, leading up to the battle of Baghdad. Then it got
written up in The Boston Globe (Bray 2003), as the stories of the Baghdad Blogger,
Salam Pax, and the Back to Iraq blog sites put the issue on the national news
agenda. The Boston Globe article appeared to mock TIME, suggesting that the
writing and topics on Josh’s site were more immediate and compelling than
what TIME was publishing from him.
The day after that article came out, March 25, 2003, TIME demanded Josh stop
posting to his blog, just as CNN’s Kevin Sites had also been forbidden
to post to his blog as it started gaining popular acclaim during the war. The
screenshot below shows Josh’s two final posts on the permanent site archive.
Figure 1: The Other Side, Joshua Kucera’s weblog. http://www.serendipit-e.com/otherside
Many may remember the flurry of blog stories on the eve of the “Battle
of Baghdad” in 2003. Salam Pax had stopped posting at Dear Raed and many
blogs echoed the fear that something had happened to him (he later re-emerged,
safe). Kevin Sites and Joshua Kucera had been asked to suspend posting (after
the conclusion of the formal part of the war, Kevin Sites left CNN and is once
again posting to his blog). Sean Paul Kelly at Agonist.org was accused of plagiarism.
The cessation of Josh’s active posting was a disappointing development.
Josh’s style of first-person observation about the price of gas or the
porn movie houses open in Erbil had ruined me for the rehashing and linking
styles of many of the US-based warblogs. Traffic on Josh’s site shot through
the roof as its closing was written up prominently in The Wall Street Journal,
on the MSNBC site, and in a depth analysis article in The Chicago Tribune (Rose
& Cooper 2003, Femia 2003, Ryan 2003). Both MSNBC and the BBC had embraced
the warblog movement and were hosting warblogs by their own correspondents on
their official sites. For Time Warner, and CNN, a division of that company,
it was as if the warblog movement did not exist, despite perfunctory news coverage
of warblogging as a “gee whiz” tech story.
So while I was putting in six-day weeks, 10-hour days as part of our intensive
Iraq war coverage, I was also caught up in the ongoing drama that saw mainstream
media’s war coverage challenged by this upstart blog phenomenon. The challenge
was to try to make meaning from conflicts between the two different universes
of discourse, one severely restricted by mass media assumptions about the patriotic
attitudes of US audiences, and the other, in the blogosphere, situated much
more firmly in the discourse of international media coverage, which differed
significantly from U.S. war coverage in its skepticism toward the U.S. point
The frame I found most helpful placed these divergent journalistic endeavors
as rhetorically epistemic knowledge-making, a macro version with corporate broadcast
journalism content contrasted with international warblogs, echoed on a smaller
level with klogs, and with the tensions and frustrations in the delayed launch
of my intranet klog. The lines were starting to blur, once I considered journalism
and professional communication in blogs and klogs as a commodity and site for
interactive and contingent knowledge products and knowledge making.
Paulo Freire and Empowered Knowledge-Making
Let’s step back and look at blogs and klogs in terms of this interesting
dance with corporate entities, some of which see knowledge management as asset
management for the Information Age. Ostensibly, blogs and klogs would seem to
help corporate entities to “manage” the “intellectual assets”
of a company in an information-based economy, particularly in the context of
knowledge workers, but who is managing whom? It has been said that companies
are increasingly concerned that the greatest assets of the firm are walking
out the door every night at the end of their shifts. The wolf in sheep’s
clothing in the dance could be the knowledge-logs that seek to create artifacts
based on those information assets. The contingent knowledge disseminated through
both intranet company klogs and more public, journalistic or topical extracurricular
blogs of journalists or other experts, writers, and communicators create a kind
of knowledge commodity that exists outside conventional economic systems of
value. If understood as formal publishing ventures, there is a model for thinking
of blogs and klogs, the kind of model that would put TIME magazine in the right
for protecting its own publishing venture from a rival or competing publishing
venture by shutting down Josh’s blog. But are these formal publishing
The late Paulo Freire was a Brazilian educator wrestling with the problem of
how to bring democracy to a colonized and oppressed people who had never in
the better part of their cultural memory known anything like democracy. Literacy
was not the only problem. Empowerment and responsibility for self-governance
had to come from somewhere. Rather than accept traditional models of teaching
and learning, Freire saw that those models, such as the “banking model
of education,” were actually working against the larger goals of democracy.
From these realizations, he developed a Pedagogy of the Oppressed, his most
famous work, and also the concept of “critical consciousness” or
"conscientização,” the goal of his model of education.
This concept involved being an active participant in one’s life, not merely
a spectator, making choices rather than oppressed by the illusion of choice.
This he saw as a key to an open society (Freire, 1973).
If worker brain power is the warehouse capital of the Information Age, it certainly
seems reasonable for a company to develop its own intellectual and knowledge-based
assets, also as a way to preserve and document processes and policies developed
by employees, the information products of employees, to guard against the loss
of these assets should a worker leave the company. Worker intellectual development,
continuing education, and collaboration all seem to speak to the value to a
company of fostering an active and thinking work force. Intranet klogs, which
dialogically explore aspects of one’s work product, team projects, processes,
and so on, would seem to be a valuable tool to refine such workplace assets.
It would appear, then, that Paulo Freire’s goals and the goals of those
creating software to support workplace knowledge management would be in alignment.
While klogs can craft a form of groupware to assist in this knowledge management,
they can also appeal to business hierarchies that want to know what their employees
are thinking and doing, that may even view these klogs as a tool of company
surveillance. Indeed, in both the journalistic articles and the klog discussion
groups, this issue is often addressed and cited at times as a reason for a less
than enthusiastic response from one’s co-workers when it comes to participating
in the klog, particularly in workplace cultures where workers are afraid to
speak up in their own voices, even if fears of reprisal are unintended by management
and not at all overt, as I found with my fellow journalists at CNN Headline
News. In a time of recession and constant corporate cutbacks, where many are
doing the jobs of more than one person already, most workers keep their heads
down and say little because one never knows if an unvarnished opinion may hit
some random boss the wrong way. Many in the larger corporate workplace have
also witnessed higher paid co-workers in their 50s with considerable intellectual
capital for the company jettisoned by cost-cutting managers looking to fill
those positions with younger people on smaller salaries. In these situations,
it would appear that those greater intellectual assets are not valued.
La perruque, or the Wig
Some companies take possessiveness of worker intellectual products a step further,
claiming all items on a worker’s hard drive should the employee leave
the company, for instance. Marshall McLuhan (1963) demonstrates that a hard
drive, like a book, is an extension of the worker’s mind. How much of
a worker’s intellectual activity can a company reasonably claim to own?
If telecommuting, can the company lay claim to all writing one does at home?
In the case of personal blogs of journalists, we see Time Warner was threatened
by the non-professional publishing activities of Kevin Sites and Joshua Kucera,
implying that a different economy or scale of value is superceding money in
this marketplace. But those are the kinds of instances savvy lawyers might think
to cover in a standard non-compete clause. What if Josh were writing letters
home to his family, writing many of the same kinds of things that did appear
in his blog? Could he keep a password-protected blog, a private and personal
intranet, ostensibly for his family and friends (and a few hundred others) to
access? I offered to host such a site, but Josh worried he might get in trouble
for that and didn’t want to risk it. Is it the intellectual content of
Josh’s brain that Time Warner coveted, or the fact that the publication
site allowed him to reach an audience that hurt the future viability of one
of the largest media chains in the world? Or was it his point of view, standard
for blogs, what we might call “first person idiosyncratic,” in such
a marked contrast to the depersonalized style of TIME reporting?
Michel de Certeau writes of a diversionary workplace tactic called ‘”la
perruque,” or “the wig” within the sometimes invisible “arts
of practice.” Something of a ruse, “the wig” is
…the worker’s own work disguised as work for his [sic] employer.
It differs from pilfering in that nothing of material value is stolen. It
differs from absenteeism in that the worker is officially on the job. …The
worker who indulges in la perruque actually diverts time (not goods, since
he uses only scraps) from the factory for work that is free, creative, and
precisely not directed toward profit. In the very place where the machine
he must serve reigns supreme, he cunningly takes pleasure in finding a way
to create gratuitous products whose sole purpose is to signify his own capabilities
through his work and to confirm his solidarity with other workers or his family.
(1984, pp. 24-26)
In other words, “the wig” is a form of poaching from the workplace
by only appropriating products that are to some extent invisible and unvalued
or undervalued in the workplace. In an information marketplace peopled by knowledge
workers, the “scraps” that the worker diverts come from the firings
of her own mind, just as Josh’s blog consisted of the “leftovers”
that he perceived TIME did not want to publish. Josh told me that TIME was not
so much concerned with getting a first shot at his best observations as much
as it didn’t want anyone else to be able to see his cast-offs. The reach
of Internet publishing through blog software gave these seemingly “gratuitous
products” a value outside of the conventional system of money or information
economics. The “scraps” Josh used were whatever happened to catch
his eye outside of his more formal tasks. At issue are boundaries, partitions
information workers would seemingly have to erect inside their own brains between
work for their employer and work for themselves. Perhaps a reporter might say,
“TIME magazine is renting my eyeballs right now. No one else is allowed
to use them for the moment…” New boundaries are coming up for negotiation.
One could even argue in a klog context that Freire’s “critical consciousness”
is a trait that is undervalued in the workplace, along with a worker’s
ability to make knowledge, to take scraps and develop truths about workplace
practices, best professional communication practices, disciplinary practices,
and lore. But here is the subversion of unedited and interactive blogs and klogs.
They live in a place at the intersections of a number of different border regions,
between expert and contingent knowledge-making, between disciplinary boundaries,
between populist and elitist systems of access to research or technology or
capital or power, boundaries between professional life and home life, not to
mention, with telecommuting, physical boundaries between work and home (Friedson,
1986; Gilbert & Mulkay, 1984; Edwards & Mercer, 1987; Geisler, 1994).
As blogs and klogs enter the mainstream from the margins, they bring along the
ruse of “the wig,” with dialogic and interactive participants who
may be experiencing the kinds of unsettling (to the powers that be) critical
consciousness that is within the goals of a more democratized technoculture
such as Paulo Freire as an educator sought to foster. Whether journalists are
publicly assisting other journalists through their public blogs or workers are
helping to train colleagues in internal klog contexts, an active critical awareness
supercedes the passive absorption of information or top-down policies.
By design, blogs are oriented toward humanization and textual poaching with
active and dialogic co-participants rather than a passive audience. Klogs seemingly
appear to allow corporate entities to “manage” the “intellectual
assets” of a company in an information-based economy, particularly in
the context of knowledge workers. But intranet klogs and some of their more
public counterparts such as these knowledge products created by journalists
during the Iraq war have the potential to release voices as “humanized”
knowledge-makers with a claim on power that can force many institutions to change
with the force of awakened and empowered dialogue, creativity, and analytical
power, even as other institutions react strongly and resist change (a move both
described and discussed by Freire through his experiences in Brazil).
While corresponding with Josh through our several weeks of notoriety before
the Battle of Baghdad, he told me something that I came to understand was very
important to him. He had worked as a freelancer in Bosnia for several years
before moving to Kurdistan to cover the war. After TIME shut the blog down,
Josh was clearly disturbed by the anti-mass media ranting and the level of anger
against big media corporations in the comments field of his blog. He strongly
resisted becoming a poster child for the independent journalism movement. Josh
said he had been trained to focus on the story and not to become the story.
Still, he said, in four years working as a freelancer overseas, he had not ever
gotten as much feedback and interest in his work as he had in the weeks of the
Iraq war through his blog. His writing was being published by one of the largest
circulation newsmagazines in the West, yet his blog audience cared about him,
worried about him, gave his work constant dialogue and feedback. He was blown
away by it.
I know I was affected by it as well, but in a different way. I’d never
met Josh or Carolina face to face, but as the war moved closer to Erbil, I found
myself worrying about them, involved in their stories, in their blogs. If I
didn’t hear from them by email regularly, I became very anxious. There
was a human face, a level of personal involvement, with war correspondents breaking
through the impersonal barrier of the affectation of the journalistic voice.
The Practices of Blogs and Klogs
In developing my intranet klog for Headline News, I turned to helpful klog evangelist
sites online such as Phil Wolff’s "a klog apart.” Wolff has
undertaken a form of dialogic, critical pedagogy to help klog evangelists in
organizations teach co-workers to communicate in blog-format, also looking at
issues involving teaching colleagues to write, not simply with words, but through
posting images, diagrams, audio and video clips, etc. In quite a number of posts,
he sounds very much like a composition teacher, seeking ways to encourage and
empower writers, to help co-workers not feel self conscious, to help them find
their voices. Without teachers and classrooms, the atmosphere for learning and
sharing invokes not only Paulo Freire, but also Peter Elbow (1973), in Writing
Figure 2: Phil Wolff’s “a klog apart”
site at http://www.dijest.com/aka
Wolff collects tips and tricks and future ideas for use of klog software from
his network of correspondents and contributors. These ideas range from the practical
to the theoretical to speculative “what if” projections and software
wish lists, like one big collaborative klog-brainstorming session. One post
suggests klogs can be used to help generate PowerPoint presentations. Another
addresses literacy problems in the workplace. One has tips for would-be writing
coaches. Another, ideas for empowering shy writers by developing mixed media
klogs with audio clips, video clips, captured white board graphics, etc. with
the idea that different thinking and learning styles will express themselves
in different ways.
Ethical and workplace power and politics are also discussed quite bluntly on
“a klog apart’ and on the klog Yahoo! discussion group, including
fears of panoptic surveillance by supervisors (Foucault 1977).
Peter Elbow would likely recognize these klog evangelists as leaders of a dialogic
writing workshop without teachers, with co-teachers, outside of traditional
classrooms. But this is also something more—something like the Freire
model as a response to oppression, a kind of oppression Freire himself would
be hesitant to name as such, centered as it is in the overprivileged West. But
if spontaneous and dialogic writing workshops are springing up in this medium,
is this not what Freire sought to foster outside the socially limiting and often
authoritarian spaces of traditional classrooms? As a tool that not only poaches
the texts of the mass media and business knowledge-making, but also discourses
of the classroom, klogs as envisioned by Phil Wolff have a very auspicious beginning,
at least in theory.
On the other hand, I can also describe the difficulties I had once my Headline
News intranet klog launched, well after the formal end of the war. Management
decided to hold six weeks of writing and script coding seminars conducted by
copyeditors, attendance required. I adjusted the klog I had built to specifically
support handouts and discussions from the seminars and was given the seventh
week in the schedule to hold klog training seminars.
The klog that I launched had anything but an auspicious beginning. Despite enthusiasm
from management and my own evangelizing, writers and copyeditors seemed ill
equipped to use it for anything except as a passive reference for handouts.
I billed the klog as a place to talk about the craft of writing and ways to
make our work better. People at Headline News are very ambitious and are always
training to move to their next position, often taking overtime, double shifts,
or overnight shifts to do it. Even so, they seemed not to have ways to talk
about craft, about what made writing good or bad for our particular context
and audience. Writers complained orally that copyeditors were unable tell them
what they were doing wrong, would instead just say, “this script sucks”
and leave it at that. I’d hoped our klog could address these issues in
script workshops. These are journalists, I thought. Writing is what they do.
Surely they will have a lot to say.
Instead I came to understand the very real barriers against posting to our klog,
barriers ingrained in the CNN workplace culture and probably many workplace
cultures. It wasn’t just fear of reprisals. People in low-end positions
striving to move up can be afraid to speak because it can hurt their chances
at promotion, despite honest management encouragement. Most could talk about
facts in stories but did not have a vocabulary to talk about writing, across
all ranks. These are also people who are exhausted, overworked, dragging themselves
through stressful television shifts that push them to the limit. After their
show gets off the air, they head out the door or to another training session.
Finally, to a person, I could not find anyone who was not intimidated by technology
and the Internet, even people who work in the control room or route video through
complex series of feeds in the CNN system. To post is to have a voice, however
it may be socially constructed, and to have confidence in that voice. I encountered
people who froze up staring at the “Post to Blog” button on our
klog, and those who thought they would never be able to figure out the blog
in the first place, despite working at terminals every day.
Our klog still has value as a database, a shell to hold training materials,
style guides, and official policies. It is more easily searched or cross-referenced
than the file on the mainframe that holds these materials. But that is top-down
communication. The grassroots empowerment with our klog never happened. As an
alternative, I tried to interest friends in the newsroom in creating personal
blogs, offering to help, still puzzled at the reticence of professional writers
in developing an outlet for what they did best. My best guess at why so few
took up my offer has to do with the learned impersonal tone of mass media journalism,
a tone that erases the author’s point of view. These are writers who spend
every day at work trying to erase their biases and points of view, to make their
writing voice sound like the voice of the anchor of the show they are on.
How do groups evolve and contribute when shaping and being shaped by blog interfaces?
Partly the answer to that question can be found in the sudden rise to power
of the blog movement as a social force as compared to static web pages or pages
merely generated from databases, such as I studied in my research into the Xenaverse,
the constellation of fan web sites around the television show “Xena: Warrior
Princess,” (1998). While it may be too soon to tell, given the complexity
of forces arrayed within interfaces and cultures, I do believe the interactive
interface features unique to the blog social movement deserve a good part of
the credit for harnessing dialogic energy on the Web. I am not taking a technologically
deterministic stance when I say this, however. The interface features minus
the social movement could not create the same force alone, as Phil Wolfe has
written of in “a klog apart” and as I found out for myself with
the Headline News klog. It seems to be bit of a “chicken and egg”
question of which came first, the interactive features or the social movement
that rises up and is empowered by the interactive features. Bruce Garrison’s
(2001) study into a “critical mass” in the diffusion of online information
technologies in newsrooms also shows how gradual increases in adoption rate
can create a snowball social effect.
The Xenaverse was an empowered social movement that existed before the blog
interfaces became available. The connected communities and regular posters and
commenters around some of the most popular blogs, like Boing Boing or Kuro5hin
don’t have to be goaded into participating. They are people who seem to
feel they have something to say, and are technically adept enough to see how
useful the simple web forms can be. Yet offline groups don’t migrate into
online spaces nearly as well, no matter what opportunities exist, or how easy
they are to use, or even by virtue of the fact that the people in the group
are already skilled professional writers.
A Business 2.0 newsletter article considered the viability of “Management
by Blog?” (2003) and came to the conclusion that, despite many strong
proponents, the klog movement has not caught on yet. The article notes that
companies are still more likely to incorporate blog features into public customer
service web sites (such as Macromedia has done) than they are to use it as a
method for workgroup teams to pool thoughts, progress reports, documentation
for projects, etc, as another tool for computer support for collaborative groups,
in other words. Why the reticence? It may be because blogging grew up from a
grassroots social movement and not necessarily a dot.com business plan seeking
venture capital. Blogs didn’t show up on business radar until Google bought
Blogger. It could also reflect worker resistance to groupware blog tools, as
I found at Headline News.
The Business 2.0 article claims that the move of Google buying Blogger alone
gives the business knowledge-management klog camp such force that it can only
be the next big thing. On the other hand, anyone who follows the often-uncritical
hype of Business 2.0 has heard that story before. Many who have tried to launch
company intranet blogs realize that a bigger problem can be training and levels
of participation with harried and overworked colleagues, issues that Phil Wolff
at “a klog apart’ is more than prepared to address. I’m not
ready to declare such an easy victory for intranet-based knowledge logs primarily
because the borders and gates of intranets are still deeply affected by corporate
cultures built on information control, and are too rigidly exclusive for concepts
of information-sharing, both by turf-guarding employees within competitive corporations,
and by turf-guarding corporations that would rather live with restrictive technology
and knowledge management tools than experience a more democratized workplace.
We can see how deeply these interests are threatened by blog interfaces by looking
at what Time Warner did to attempt to control the flow of knowledge commodities
by its “intellectual assets.” Joshua Kucera was a freelancer, not
even a full employee of Time Warner, a distinction might has well have been
moot, since the issue was about leverage, power, and control of his intellectual
“scraps.” Also lost are the dialogues, the enrichment, the Freire-style
learning and growth that would ultimately improve knowledge products in the
workplace because certain topics are so off-limits they cannot be broached in
public discourse or on company intranets, except anonymously on “gripe”
blogs such as enronsucks.com and the like.
Personal blog sites of journalists in the employ of large, knowledge-commodity
organizations such as Time Warner release the same tensions and conflicting
issues into public spaces and thus reveal the very real disruption on a large
scale that klogs can create on a small scale within organizations as voices
enter into dialogues rather than listen to the one-way monologues of policies,
of being told what to think, about in-house corporate processes or the role
of the Kurds in Erbil. However, as I found with the Headline News klog, there
are still many challenges to be overcome before off-line groups can successfully
migrate to klog-style interactions.
As Paulo Freire set reflection, questioning, and dialogue as ideals in fostering
critical consciousness in Brazil, so also does the use of these same techniques
within a corporate environment let a genie out of a bottle. Freire discusses
how repression and backlash by elites are often the result of the “oppressed”
gaining too much power of voice and consciousness. While we are not seeing here
a military coup and repression as backlash such in Brazil, I do believe we are
seeing and will continue to see a backlash. Even so, the greatest counterforce
that keeps the genie from going back into the bottle may be what de Certeau’s
describes as the poaching technique of “la perruque,” “the
wig,” a worker’s own work disguised as work for his employer. This
is the site of cultural resistance I will be watching from my feminist cyborg
hybrid post as this phenomenon evolves, as a backlash drives some underground,
or at least, under the wig.
March 25, 2003
Goodbye for now
My editors have demanded that I stop posting to this site until the war ends.
And they pay the bills, so what can I do. Thanks everyone for reading, and
I hope to be back here soon. Peace, Josh.
Posted by Josh at 10:00 PM |Comments (33) |TrackBack (0)
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