Dave Oliveria started his journalism career in the days of hot type. Now, he’s one of The Spokesman-Review’s most popular bloggers. As his blog, Huckleberries Online, neared its third anniversary in February 2007, Oliveria reflected on this growing medium and how it’s changed him and the journalism industry.
When it comes to blogging, Oliveria says, interaction is key.
Q. Why did you decide to start blogging?
A. In 2004, we had the presidential election and I was probably one of the few in the newsroom who supported Bush. I wanted an outlet. I wanted to provide a conservative voice online to counter some of the liberal voices.
Over the course of time, the blog really got to be comment-driven. Although I steer the discussion, I don’t so much run the discussion. I let the community – the posters and the commenters – do that.
Q. How would you describe your blog?
A. It’s sort of an eclectic online magazine.
Q. What makes your approach to blogging different?
A. Well, with normal blogs, you post a thought or an opinion. I look at mine as sort of a hodge-podge, all of it intending to get interaction. That’s the goal. I post questions to get folks engaged in community-type topics. And some of it is patterned after my weekly newspaper column, which is a three-dot column in the form of Herb Caen. It goes through the whole column with bits or pieces that may not be related at all.
One element to me is I like to have fun. I’ll be going along real serious and all of a sudden, you’ll see a two-headed calf or somebody will Photoshop something. I don’t know from one minute to the next what I’m going to throw out there. The whole thing is that, by the time you get to the end of the day, you’ve learned something and had a good laugh.
Q. Why did you adopt that approach?
A. The idea of Herb Caen was, if you don’t like one item, go to the next one. And that’s my philosophy; I keep throwing stuff out there until I can hit on something that drives comments. Sometimes, I use my bloggers. There are about 42 bloggers here in North Idaho . Sometimes, when I’m tapped out, I go through their stuff. And what I’ve found out is: If you promote others, they’ll promote you.
Q. Where do you get your ideas?
A. I go online. I visit some national Web sites. I like throwing polls out there. If you have a good question, that’ll get interaction.
Then there’s my life experience. I do slice of life. It can be anything. It’s whatever’s rumbling around in my head. Like I had a problem with a parking machine in Spokane and it cost me $20 and it may cost me $40, so I wrote about that.
Also, people call and e-mail me with stuff. If it’s interesting, I’ll put it out there. My best idea is the Best of the Northwest, a compilation of newspaper articles and blog posts. I go through the online newspapers and post the best stories and online commentary. I run the Best of the Northwest daily right before 1 p.m.
Q. How has the blog changed since you started it in February 2004?
A. The biggest thing is it’s gone from a conservative political blog to a community blog that is intensely interactive. It’s far less political today, although I’ll throw out political subjects every once in a while because it’s like nectar to these guys. I try to keep my opinions to myself. If you read it for any length of time, you’ll know what I’m talking about. But I don’t throw it in your face.
Q. How have you changed since writing the blog?
A. I don’t get quite as excited about politics any more because I see the benefits to both sides, but I also see the down sides to both sides. I don’t think the nation is going to be saved by Republicans or Democrats. I guess where I’m at is that I just don’t get as excited about politics and I’m more interested in what’s going on locally.
Q. Why did your views change?
A. Because of the monster difference in interaction between newspapers and blogs. For example, right around Christmas a couple of years ago, I got fed up with the Christmas-bashing and I wrote a column in the newspaper about all these things that tick me off as a conservative. I got all kinds of response, but when you write a column, you get the letter to the editor three days later. It all takes process; it’s a one-on-one thing and it takes weeks to be discussed.
Online, you write something and you get an immediate response, an intense response. By the time something works through the newspaper, it takes weeks to digest. With blogging, you’ve done it in an afternoon.
Blogging is not for the faint of heart because, at any time, somebody can get in your face. As print journalists, we’re protected. When we write about something controversial, we can hide behind our telephone and our editors. As a blogger, they can get to you.
Q. What does that mean in terms of critics who say blogs allow people to rant and grow more entrenched in their views?
A. I think some blogs are like that. I think the political blogs tend to not only be one-sided but attract people of like mind. Like the Daily Kos, what conservative is going to go on there and beat their head into the wall to challenge the guy there? Like Michelle Malkin, why would a liberal go on there and beat their head against that wall?
Where somebody’s writing a political blog to attract like-minded people, to me, is an old form and not a very courageous form. I’m extremely proud that my blog has liberals and conservatives; we have evangelics and gays; we have a witch. We have a line-up that’s just wild. I had a lot of trouble with flame wars, but that’s more or less gone away.
Q. How did that happen?
A. I interact with the comments section quite a bit. I don’t keep a tight, tight rein. After three years, people know there are certain things you can’t do. I’ll let ‘em blast each other and blast public figures. But if they’re going toward libel or slander, I’ll take it down and send them a warning.
I can kill out comments, and I used to block people who got too carried away. But a computer-savvy guy can get around a block. So I’ve developed a 50- to 60-strong community of posters and they have a pretty good way of putting the muscle on people who are being inappropriate. They get on it pretty quickly.
I’ll still apply a brake every now and then. I’ll get on and comment pretty quickly. But most of it I just let go. Every now and then, if somebody’s being too much a fool, I’ll have fun with them. Sometimes, I’ll tell them they’re an idiot. Sometimes, I tell my editor, “You know, the customer isn’t always right.”
Q. You've spent about 13 years as a member of the editorial board. How does writing the blog differ from writing editorials for the print newspaper?
A. They’re totally different. When you write an editorial, you’re thinking of sentence structure, nouns and verbs. You’re concentrating on an idea and trying to be persuasive. You’re also writing for people who are expecting the piece to be technically sound and grammatically correct.
On a blog, you’re flying by the seat of your pants. You’re not sitting there proof-reading. You slam it in there and you make mistakes. I always hear about it in the comments section. My response is: “Look, I’m blogging at the speed of light. Would you rather me not blog as much and spend more time editing?”