23 July 2014

Another 100K Views, and a Sitrep on Mil-blogging Ops

The Red Bull Rising blogodometer recently turned over another 100,000 views, and, while I don't normally celebrate such arbitrary milestones, it seems like a good opportunity to take a breather—and to reflect on the current state of the greater mil-blogosphere.

Here's the quick historical context: Early in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, "war-blogs" (later "mil-blogs") started as an exercise in citizen journalism for people in uniform, enabled by the popular technology of the time. Mil-blogs offered readers first-person perspectives on life in the military, whether on the front lines or the home front. As the trend matured, many blogs were collected into anthologies or reworked into books. After troops returned or retired from service, many blogs evolved into commentary on current events.

Many have argued that the popularity of blogging—and mil-blogging in particular—has declined in recent years. There is, admittedly, some evidence supporting such conclusions. For example, the last official Milblogging.com conference of bloggers was conducted in 2012, although some early practitioners still gather for informal reunions. Milblogging.com is owned by Military.com, which itself is part of Monster.com. Another Military.com holding, SpouseBUZZ, appears to be thriving in its service to military families.

More recently, the Milblogging.com index of military blogs has gone silent, and the founder's Twitter feed is similarly quiet.

Finally, as noted earlier this month, Doonesbury's "The Sandbox" mil-blog digest has gone into "archive" status, and is no longer updating with new content. Perhaps the reports of mil-blogging's demise are not unexaggerated?

In a blog-post titled "A Good Blog is Hard to Find: War Lit on the Web," Army officer and educator Peter Molin offers some great suggestions regarding mil-blogs focused on writing and creating art about war. Here's his Situation paragraph:
[I]n the years since [Colby] Buzzell’s My War and [Matt] Gallagher’s Kaboom galvanized Internet reading audiences the blog format’s luster has fizzled a bit and the Internet has changed structurally. In the face of competition from faster-moving, quicker-hitting social media forms such as Twitter and Facebook, it’s hard not for blogs to smell a little musty. As big money has upped the standards for web-based mass media and created plenty of outlets for the most distinctive voices, personal websites can seem quaint or a little bland. Still, they persist, reflecting and shaping popular opinion in a quieter, but still insistent vein.
Regarding war-lit, then, it may be a case of "the blog is dead, long live the blog!" Make sure to check out Molin's recommendations. (Disclosures: Molin explicitly mentions the Red Bull Rising blog in this post; and Molin's "Time Now" blog has long been featured in my own blog-roll, at right.)

As chronicled elsewhere, I started writing blog when I was preparing myself and my family for a deployment to Afghanistan. Part of my job in uniform involved fluency in blogging, social media, and other technological tools, and I decided to learn by doing. I started writing the Red Bull Rising blog in December 2009, but under a pseudonym, in order to avoid confusing my day job and my personal time.

In other words, I only started mil-blogging long after mil-blogging was cool. It was already past its peak. But it's not dead yet.

At writing and technology conferences, I've argued that "blogging" isn't necessarily a form of writing, any more than "newspapering." Rather, publishing a regular, first-person dispatch—call it an "online journal" if you will—continues to be a vital form of journalism, whether communicated via newsprint, Blogger, Facebook, Twitter, or even Pinterest. With other practitioners, I've taken to referring to the enterprise as "on-line journaling," with some success.

On-line journaling isn't dead.

Last year, Time magazine discontinued Mark Thompson's "Battleland," but the Washington Post recently launched "The Checkpoint." And the New York Times' "At War" blog continues to publish, despite the fact that Deputy National Editor James Dau has moved on to additional duties.

There's also been a recent boomlet of blogs focusing on military culture, policy, and analysis, often featuring a set of contributors. At Foreign Policy magazine, Tom Ricks' long-established "The Best Defense" blog is one of the more inclusive in terms of guest-editorial content, although the magazine's addition of a paywall seems to have decreased some of the utility of the free-wheeling comments section.

By, through, and with the younger turks, however, are venues such as "War on the Rocks" and "War Council Blog." A couple of others, "The Bridge" and "Point of Decision," notably take advantage of the Medium.com platform and format. All are blogs of curated and contributed editorial content, what Wikipedia labels as "social journalism."

Whatever you call it, and whatever your interest—politics, policy, literature, or the latest news—it seems that the practice of on-line journaling about the military is alive and well.

The mil-blog is dead! Long live the mil-blog! And, most of all, keep reading!

16 July 2014

Lawton, Okla. is Site of 2015 Military and Arts Event

The Richmond, Ky.-based non-profit Military Experience & the Arts (M.E.A.) recently announced plans for a May 14-17, 2015 symposium of military veterans, advocates, arts practitioners, and others interested in exploring healing, history, and communication through the expressive arts. The event will take place on the campus of Cameron University, Lawton, Okla.

The organization's inaugural 3-day event, conducted July 2012 in Kentucky, comprised workshops, demonstrations, and performances by an engaged and diverse group of veterans, advocates, and artists.

Past "Red Bull Rising" blog coverage of the MEA organization and its related literary journals is collected here. A blog post reflecting on the 2012 event is here.

The MEA is currently seeking corporate and organizational sponsors for the 2015 event, as well as potential workshop presenters and facilitators. The group is also seeking volunteers to assist with activities at the event.

Starting Aug. 15, military veterans and spouses can register for a non-refundable $20 fee. Information about meals, lodging, and other accommodations is still pending.

In related news, the MEA has recently reopened submissions to its family of literary journals. Writers are encouraged to submit original fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and visual art through the organization's new Submittable portal. Simultaneous and previously published submissions are not accepted.

One caveat: Writers considering submission are strongly encouraged to review the organization's copyright and privacy statements. Because of previous licensing relationship, for example, submissions published in The Journal of Military Experience remain the intellectual property of Eastern Kentucky University following publication.

09 July 2014

Doonesbury's 'The Sandbox' Goes Into Archive Status

Excerpt from the 2006 announcement of "The Sandbox" project, then located on Doonesbury.com
"The Sandbox," a digest of mil-blogs and other original military writing, was recently placed into archive-only mode, back-dated to April 30, 2014. While for much of its run, "The Sandbox" appeared on the Slate magazine website, the content is now located on servers maintained by the Washington Post.

The site was created in October 2006 by Garry Trudeau, creator of the "Doonesbury" comic strip. Trudeau has used his art and multimedia platforms to consistently illuminate challenges faced by military personnel and their families, including: multiple deployments and separations; Improvised Explosive Devices; Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; Traumatic Brain Injury; Military Sexual Trauma; "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", and more. While new posts will no longer appear on the site, the content will be maintained indefinitely as a first-person testament to how military service members and families answered their country's call, and how they weathered those challenges with character and humor.

According to the April 30 post: "The Sandbox contains over 800 posts by more than 150 contributors. It is a vast body of work—the equivalent of three-and-a-half Lord of the Rings trilogies. You will be rewarded for roaming and exploring its depths." The final blog-post also features Doonesbury cartoons, photographs, and videos from its nearly 8-year history.

In 2007, some "Sandbox" content was published in a hardcopy anthology.

Content from the Red Bull Rising blog appeared on "The Sandbox" between 2010 and 2014. (Here's a list.)

In a post-script, editor David Stanford writes, "The Sandbox has been one of the most satisfying projects of my 35-year career as an editor. To all who contributed, thank you, for your service and your words. I am grateful for the friendships made here. Onward!"