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Sunday, July 24, 2005

Letter in newspapers about Bloggers.SG

I got published in today's papers! Haha, I'm so obiang!

I wrote a letter in response to the report on Bloggers.SG last Sunday (the day the original article appeared and one day after the event). On Friday morning, Nora from the Straits Times called me (letter writers are required to furnish their addresses and phone numbers) to say that my letter had been selected to be published (no date given). It didn't appear on Saturday, so that kind of dashed my expectations. But it came out today, and I guess that makes sense, since Sunday's letters usually don't require responses.

To show how letters are edited, I'm posting my edited letter compared to the original. Note to Straits Times: this is not an affront to your editorial policies. This is just a lesson to show how letters from the public are edited for publishing.

(Red type indicate changes, striked out portions were part of my original letter.)
Dear Editor,

I refer to your the article, "1st bloggers' conference is one big yawn Yawn" (The Sunday Times, July 17).

I think that the reporters did not fully understand the nature of the conference, Bloggers.SG. As Lee Kin Mun a.k.a. aka Mr Brown was quoted as saying, the event it was meant to be a casual affair. That was the spirit of the conference and, to that extent, I think that it was a success.

Many conferences usually consist of discussion panels that focus on very specific topics. Such discussions can be similarly boring for people who are not exposed to those topics. However, these panels are important and open forums to increase the knowledge of the attendees and the public in general. (removed paragraph break) Likewise for Bloggers.SG.

(added paragraph break) The legal and technology panels may not have been everyone's cup of tea, but they were necessary to educate the bloggers. This is especially useful for those who are new to the scene. The questions posed were insightful and revealing about how much all of us have to learn about blogging.

The difference about Bloggers.SG is that it also served as an event for bloggers to network. As the organisers had stated, one of their aims was to show that the local blogging scene comprises more than Mr Brown, Mr Miyagi or Xiaxue.

(added paragraph break) At the start of the conference, we We were introduced to various blogging communities. Many of these were new to me and I value their contributions to the rich diversity of Singaporean blogs. (removed paragraph break) However, as your the reporters discovered, bloggers value their anonymity. This is not an alien concept in the online world. Even with e-mail addresses and instant messaging identities, many people operate behind false personas.

This is especially pertinent for bloggers. After the A*Star-Acidflask AcidFlask and Sarong Party Girl incidents, they have become more wary of revealing their true identities. This is due to the fear of backlash, whether real or perceived, from the government or other authorities.

Unfortunately, online anonymity is a double-edged sword. Bloggers themselves encounter difficulty in recognising one another. Bloggers.SG provided a safe and conducive venue to overcome this problem.

(added paragraph break) After the conference proper, many bloggers stayed on at the nightclub. Anyone who saw us would have witnessed many new friendships being formed. I personally made a handful of friends whom I would never have met otherwise. We are even talking about more get-togethers.

A cursory scan of blogs about the conference will bear this out. While attendees appreciated the panel discussions, they were more excited about the chance to meet fellow bloggers. Like science fiction convention attendees, we were glad and encouraged that bloggers are just ordinary people, too.

This then is why Bloggers.SG was not "a yawn" for the bloggers. It was only the first conference, yet it has set a high benchmark for future ones. One only needs to look at it from a different perspective to appreciate its importance and success for the budding blogging scene.
A few observations about writing a forum letter (in no particular order):
  • Do not use personal experiences unless the topic of the letter refers to something that you yourself experienced. This is not a General Paper essay.
  • Do not portray authorities negatively.
  • Keep paragraphs short (for newspaper column-formatting reasons).
  • Do not fluff, i.e. add extraneous information that seems to boost the image of your viewpoint.
  • Do not repeat a point in a subsequent sentence.
  • Reporters and their stories are not possessions of the newspapers, i.e. "you/your" are replaced by the impersonal "the".
So why did I write this letter? Primarily because I felt that the public at large needed an alternate viewpoint about the subject. Most people get their news and opinions from the local press. As far as I could tell (at the time I wrote the letter), the only alternative viewpoints about the conference could only be found in blogs. (This view was later negated when the Straits Times published a more positive report on Bloggers.SG in its Digital Times supplement on Tuesday.) But bloggers and their readers still form a small subset of the population, so most people would not have been aware of what we bloggers thought about the conference.

Also, to form a more knowledgeable and creative society, the population needs to be exposed to more than one perspective of an idea. This is the so-called marketplace of ideas, where ideas are raised and discussed to discover the more correct (though not necessarily the perfect) solution. Without alternative viewpoints, society will be stuck in a rut with just one set of ideas, which may or may not be beneficial.

And a marketplace of ideas is essential in a democracy, where people decide how to rule themselves, as opposed to a top-down autocratic society.

So back to the article at hand. If there had been no rebuttal to the original report, the public at large would assume that Bloggers.SG was really just a yawn and have an even lower opinion of bloggers. With my letter and the reports in Digital Times, there is now some balance to both sides of the argument, and I hope that the public can decide which one is more correct.


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Tym said...

Dude, nice letter.

And yes, the point about formatting your letter in short paragraphs is very important. Otherwise the paper will typically chop up your paragraphs to fit their column-inches, and that might ruin the flow of your thoughts.

jeffyen said...

Wow! I like the red colour comparisons!

lancerlord said...

hee hee. Took this in the morning. Not sure if it was you. Asked Cowboy and he confirmed. Wanted to email to you but I couldn't find your email in your blog.

Cowboy Caleb said...

Respect maximus to you dude!!!!

NARDAC said...

A very well-written letter indeed.

Passerby A said...

Hi Yuhui

Did you used to attend RCC at Moulmein? Your name is very familiar.

Passerby A said...

Thanks for dropping by my blog. I used to attend RCC 10 years ago (yikes!), was part of Randal Wong's gang. Hahaha... later on I got married and moved off to another church. I knew your sister.


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