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Milblogs - objcetive war reporting or subjective story telling

Page history last edited by Alina 12 years, 4 months ago




Milblogs - objective war reporting or subjective story telling?







An essay by Alina



War reporting is a hot topic. It is difficult to receive objective information since many reporters are influenced by one of the parties participating in the conflict. Especially in the War in Iraq this has been a debated topic. "Embedded journalists" have only reported from one side, information received from unknown sources has not been researched properly and fundamentalists spread propaganda about the War. The world does not know what to think. 

In this time blogs have gained importance as source for information since their authors write about their experiences in this conflict. But do the blogs really give the readers objective reporting of the events or are they rather a new type of subjective story telling? 


Blogs are personal and subjective reports of events. They are often referred to as sources for information about the ongoings in Iraq, but it is dangerous to do that. They are mostly influenced by the reader's motivation to write a blog, his/her subjective opinion and the reader's subjective understanding of the text. Thus blogs do not give the readers an objective perspective on the War in Iraq.


In the following essay theories about the subjectivity and its influence in the readers will be elaborated and the theories will be applied to a milblog written by an American soldier stationed in Iraq.  




Table of content


1. Definitions and Explanations

     a) Blog

     b) Milblog

     c) War

     d) The Blog: "Army of Dude"

     e) The Blogger


2. The Blogger's role

     a. I) verbal/pictorial communication

            II) Applied to "Army of dude"


     b. I) non-verbal communication

         II)Applied to "Army of Dude"


     d. I) the blogger's motivation

         II) Applied to "Army of Dude"


3. The reader's role

     I) reader-response-theory

     II) Applied to "Army of Dude"


4) Problem


5) Summary and Conclusion


6) Bibliography




1. Definitions and Explanations




According to Wikipedia  "A blog (a contraction of the term "Web log") is a Web site, usually maintained by an individual, with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. Entries are commonly displayed in reverse-chronological order. "Blog" can also be used as a verb, meaning to maintain or add content to a blog." (Blog, Wikipedia)




A milblog is  according to  Wikipedia   "a weblog devoted mostly or wholly to covering news events concerning an ongoing war." And: "The use of the term "milblog" implies that the author is with the military." (Warblog, Wikipedia)




When here speaking of war it is referred to the War in Iraq starting in March 2003 and ended May 2003. It is a still ongoing conflict.  (War in Iraq, Wikipedia)



The Blog:   "Army of Dude"


Alex Horton, the protagonist and author of this blog enlisted in the army August 5, 2004. He was stationed in Iraq and now lives back in the States. He has been blogging since Monday, April 24, 2006. Since then he has been telling his experiences in Iraq, his love story with a girl called Lauren and other experiences of his life.



The Blogger


Alex Horton is 23 years, male and lives in Austin, Texas. He served as soldier in the US-Army and was stationed in Iraq.



This is the picture of the protagonist Alex Horton, which the blogger pasted on his blog.




2. The blogger's role




An important aspect which influences the content and thus what the readers perceive is the way that a blogger wants to be perceived. Jan Schmidt, who wrote the book "Weblogs", says:

“According to socioligist Ervin Goffman (1976, 1977) all humans perform “impression management” in all situation of intercation, which means they stress certain aspects of their personality to live up to expectations and requets arising from a situation.” * (70) And futher: " Studies show that authors of personal homepages  select certain postive characteristics to portray online driven by  the motivation [...] to be perceived as competent and  likeable."* (71)


Internet communication might even push this effect, since the bloggers only have their blog, the entries and pictures they post, to convey a certain picture of themselves. Besides verbal communicatation non-verbal elements play an important role. The picture bloggers convey of themselves influences the way readers perceive the blog and situation the blogger is writing about.




Verbal/pictorial communication



 A selective choice of words and/or pictures imply a specific impression that the blogger wants to convey about a situation or object of telling. Thus the blogger openly expresses his subjective opinion.





Applied to "Army of Dude":


The blogger uses explicit polarizing words like:


In his first posting: "But this is not a blog to sing the high praises of my chosen profession, but rather a tool of expression for my disdain for the day in and day out mountains of bullshit..." ("Army of Dude" April 24, 2006)




In his posting three days later: "Every week, I'm going to pick out something that happened in the past five days that was the most assinine, redundant or worthless waste of time and effort." ("Army of Dude" April 27, 2006)


The Blogger does not only use words, but also pictures to clearly polarize:


His posting of April 25, 2006: "It's hard to describe what I do to people who have little or no knowledge of the workings of the Army. Now I have a new way of illustrating what I do every day.

Reenlist today!

If you were expecting a picture of elaborate training missions or a range or finding a cure for cancer, sorry." ("Army of Dude" April 25, 2006)





> The readers perceive the blogger as a critical and bored soldier, who does not have to work a lot in the army, the army as an institution not working very well.







Non-Verbal communication




Design of the Blog



Title/Name of the blog, Layout, colors, pictures, links to other websites…



Stilistic elements



Usage of language: By using a specific form of lanuage (slang, military jargon, sophisticated words…) bloggers convey a certain image of themselves

Perspective of narration: Bloggers mostly use first-person-narration. Mario Klarer summarizes the implication of this narration: “The aim of first-person-narration by the protagonist is an account of his experiences and emotions as accurte as possible from his subjective perspective.” * (Klarer 50)

By reporting thinigs in first-person-perspective the reader is pulled into the situation and can connect with the protagonist.




Popcultural references

references to songs, pictures, movies, famous people reveals more information about how the blogger wants to be seen




Choice and order of topics in the postings

By chosing certain topics in his/her postings and by putting then into a specific order, the blogger intentionally shapes the information the reader will perceive




>      The blogger shapes the way readers perceive the protagonist, other people mentioned in the blog and the situation.








Applied to “Army of Dude”



Design of blog


-         Expressive captions and title of the blog: as he explains:



Army of Dude:

1. The state of the Army when overtaken by Generation Y kids. Long hair prevails, little or no kneejerk respect shown to superiors and a relaxed work environment that is a fast acting poison in an archaic bureaucracy.

2. The term replacing the advertising slogan "Army of One," which isn't a very slick campaign. There would be more recruits with "Dude, the Army will totally pay for college." They're selling a product, not a career. ("Army of Dude" April 24, 2006)


The picture that introduces the blogger and the caption underneath:  




War is serious business, nothing to see here! ("Army of Dude")



-         simple layout

-         bright and friendly colors

-         a lot of pictures documenting the events in Iraq

-         links to other blogs, news sites, awards he was nominated for


Stilistic elements

-         first-person-narration

-         military jargon (“A Dragon Skin plate will stop an AK-47 round at 20 feet.” ("Army of Dude" April 24, 2006)

-         slang: “shit” ("Army of Dude" April 27, 2007 and following postings)

-         sophisticated words (“disdain” ("Army of Dude" April 24, 2007))




Popcultural references

For example reference to Pink Floyd (December 10, 2007)



Choice and order of topics


Monday Photo Story: This is a series of entries that are about the events in Iraq and that are posted every Monday. The blogger explains:

"Every Monday I'll bring to you a riveting story from my tour in Iraq with pictures I've taken, unless otherwise noted." ("Army of Dude" November 5, 2007)


The love story: As the postings progress in time, a love strory between the protagonist and one of the readers develops. The blogger dedicates more than a couple entries to this topic.




>   The blogger seems like a normal (army) guy, he seems authentic, he conveys a picture of being sarcastic and critical towards the army (picture caption, his motivation to “express disdain.”)








Motivation to write a Blog


To evaluate a situation or object described it is important to know the motivation and thus intention of the blogger to write about this situation/object. Thus the writing can be interpreted more accuratly.


According to Jan Schmidt the sample of bloggers in the survey: "How I blog?!" the bloggers' motivation to blog is:


61,8 %  to document own thoughts and experiences

49,8 %  to exchange thoughts and experiences with others

44,1 %  to write about emotions

33,5 %  to impart knowledge about a specific topic

33,4 %  to keep in touch with family and friends   *   (160)





Applied to “Army of Dude":


In his first post on April 24, 2006, the blogger gives an idea of his motivation to start blogging:



“…I decided to create this here blog for e-posterity.”

“But this is not a blog to sing the high praises of my chosen profession, but rather a tool of expression for my disdain for the day in and day out mountains of bullshit and mundanity that I climb every day of the week dear reader, and it is a shame I didn't begin this along with my career.” ("Army of Dude" April 24, 2006)



> the bloggers claims to be motivated to express emotions, impart knowledge




In the blogger's comment section you can see that the protagonist's Dad leaves messages:



Jeff said...

A fitting coda to your life in the Army, but only a middle chapter in your story with much still to be told.

Looking at the shot of the two soldiers deep in concentration inside the Stryker, I was reminded of the similar tech manuals we used to study in the Navy.



December 4, 2007 6:58 AM ("Army of Dude" Dec 4, 2007)



>It seems as if the blogger wanted to stay in touch with family and friends



Futhermore the author blogs on November 11, 2007:



If you're a veteran, leave a comment telling your favorite story of your service, in war or in peace.


Alex 22 comments ("Army of Dude" Nov 11, 2007)


> It seems as if he wanted to exchange experiences, emotions with others


While writing about emotions and personal experiences a subjective reporting of events is questionable. Knowing the blogger's intentions it is easier to evaluate the situation blogged about.






3. The Reader's Role



 Another factor which plays an important role when investigating how a reader's perception us shaped by milblogs is the examination of the role of the reader and his impact on the text. 






This theory, developed in the 1960’s, focuses on a reader’s interpretation of a text. (Klarer 29). In this school of theory it is claimed that every reader perceives the text differently and this creates a new interpretation of a text for each reader, thus the interpretation of a text is considered as completely individual and subjective. Furthermore Klarer explains that readers establish certain expectations reading a text. While reading they complete the stories in their heads. (29)

This does not only influences the behvaior of reading, but also influences the perception of the content and thus situation which is told.

The knowledge a reader has also influences his situation.


> The situation perceived by a reader is influenced by his subjective perception




Applied to “Army of Dude”:


In the commments left on the blogger's site you can get a small grasp of how readers perceive the entries:


Blogger Long-time RN said...

Most enjoyable posts, thanks for letting the civilian world see and hear parts of the military experience. Hope transition is smooth and life is good.

Cathy B

December 4, 2007 5:40 PM  ("Army of Dude" Dec 4, 2007)



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't decide if I love the writing more or the pictures and videos. What's funny is I've heard the same stories but they are still interesting everytime I read them! Please keep them coming Alex.

Tabitha Winton

November 27, 2007 8:22 AM   ("Army of Dude" Nov 27, 2007)


> These postings show, that the readers by reading the text feel close to the army and think they know what is really going on and secondly some of the readers already have a certain expectation when reading the entries, since they have heard stories before, and that will influence their perception of the bloggings. Thirdly it shows that the second reader/commentetor does not have personal experience with the army because she assumes the blogger's reports are a mirror of the real army life.



4. Problem


A problem might arise, when subjective story telling or subjective perception on the reader's side is taken as an objective fact. As Johanna Roehring states "Warblogs have gained number and readership during the Iraq War. Especially in printed media they have been absorbed more frequently and they are oftenly portrayed as a legitimate way of reporting the war. The Wired Magazine writes for example: ' Milbloggers offer an unprecedented real-time real-life window on war and the people who wage it.' " (Roering 117)


> A distinction between subjective story telling, subjective perception and objective war reporting has to be made


5. Summary and Conclusion



The readers' perception of a situation or object is shaped by two very important factors:

1. The blogger's verbal/pictorial and non-verbal  expression. This is applied in an author's style of writing, his design of the blog, popcultural referneces, and choice an order of topics. Here the blogger's motivation to write a blog is a lso a very important facot, since it shows the intentions the blogger has and the way a situation described could be interpreted.

2. The reader's subjective interpretation of the text. This is also influenced by the knowledge of a reader and the expectations he/she establishes for a text.


This graph gives summarizes the theories explained above:



"Army of dude" gives a good example to prove the theories elaborated above.

The protagonist appears as a critical soldier who is unhappy with the way the army as institution. He wants to interact with his readers and gives a subjective report of his experiences. For readers it is hard to distiguish objective reporting and individual opinion.


It is important for readers to distinguish between ojective war reporting and subjective story-telling. A milblog can give subjective insight to an individual soldier's life in Iraq but it does certainly not give an objective picture of the events in Iraq.  



* translated from German into English by author of the essay

6. Bibliography



anonymous."Photostory Monday - Groundhog Year". Webog comment. 27 Nov. 2007. "Photostory Monday -  Groundhog Year". Alex Horton. Army of Dude. 31 Aug. 2008 (armyofdude.blogspot.com)


"Blog." Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. 26 August 2008. 27 August 2008 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blog>.


Horton, Alex. "First and foremost". Weblog entry. Army of Dude. 24 April 2006. 31 Aug. 2008 (armyofdude.blogspot.com)


---. " 'What do you do in the Army?' ". Weblog entry. Army of Dude. 25 April 2006. 31 Aug. 2008 (armyofdude.blogspot.com)


---. "Stupid Shit of the Week".Weblog entry. Army of Dude. 27 April 2006. 31 Aug. 2008 (armyofdude.blogspot.com)


---. "Savor This day". Weblog entry. Army of Dude. 11 Nov. 2007. 31 Aug. 2008 (armyofdude.blogspot.com)


---."Photo strory Monday - New beginnings". Weblog entry. Army of Dude. 10 Dec. 2006. 31 Aug. 2008 (armyofdude.blogspot.com)


"Iraq War." Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. 26 Aug. 2008. 27 August 2008 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_in_Iraq>


jeff. "Photo story Monday - Peace out".Weblog comment. 4 Dec. 2007. "Photo story Monday - Peace out". Alex Horton. Army of Dude. 31 Aug. 2008 (armyofdude.blogspot.com)


Klarer, Mario. Eine Einführung in die anglistisch-amerikanische Literaturwissenschaft. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2007.


Long-time rn. "Photo story Monday - Peace out".Weblog comment. 4 Dec. 2007. "Photo story Monday - Peace out". Alex Horton. Army of Dude. 31 Aug. 2008 (armyofdude.blogspot.com)


Milblogs - Frontline Voices. yankeemom.2008. 31 Aug. 2008 (http://www.yankeemom.com/?p=237)


Roering, Johanna. "Getting the Word out". Reader: New Media and the Iraq War.  Sommersemester 2008: 113-121


Schmidt, Jan. Weblogs - Eine kommunikations-soziologische Studie. Konstanz: UVK Verlagsgesellschaft mbH, 2006.


"Warblog." Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia.28 July 2008. 27 August 2008 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warblog>.









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